Top 10 Value Picks in the NFL Draft 2000-2020
So, to follow up my "Top 10 Busts" article, I thought I'd go deeper into the draft and rank the players that teams had concerns about, still drafted, and they then turned into potential Hall of Fame players.
Just like before, there are rules.
1. They cannot be first or second-round players. These are guys who were too short, too slim, too slow, played at a small school, or were just not very productive in college.
2. Most of these players are on, or had, a career that puts them on a trajectory to at least be in the conversation for the Hall of Fame.
3. This list is weighted. If a player was drafted in the fifth-round and had a similar career to a player drafted in the seventh-round, the seventh-rounder scores better.
4. No “flash in the pan” players who go crazy for two or three years and then collapse. They needed to have had a productive career start to finish.
5. No kickers or punters. Those guys are regularly picked off the street or found in the late rounds. For example, Ryan Succop was 2009’s “Mr. Irrelevant” and is still in the league, earning a ring with the Bucs this year.
With that out of the way, let’s get on with my selection of the biggest value picks since 2000.
#10 – Travis Kelce – Drafted #63, 3rdR, 2013 (KC) – A starter since his sophomore season, Kelce has been a productive weapon since then, though it would be ridiculous to say that his career hasn’t kicked into overdrive since Patrick Mahomes took over at QB. Averaging 88 REC, 985 Yds, and seven TDs per year, Kelce looks like he’s well on his way to Canton.
Draft report - "He won’t post the fantasy numbers to become a household name in the NFL, but he could be a Joel Dreessen-type player (eight years, 156 REC, 19 TDs) who is an asset as a blocker and a reliable target in the short passing game."
#9 – Stefon Diggs – Drafted #146, 5thR, 2015 (MIN) – Choosing to stay home in Maryland after the death of his father, Diggs still showed he was a playmaker, though his team’s mediocre performance during his time there likely didn’t help his draft stock. Once he hit the pros though, he hit the ground running, becoming the first Vikings rookie to earn consecutive 100-YD games since Randy Moss. Traded to Buffalo before the 2020 season, the combo of Josh Allen-to-Stefon Diggs looks like a dangerous one for the next several years.
Draft Report - "He plays almost exclusively in the slot and will be limited to that role at the next level. His routes are sloppy and he isn’t a physical receiver, despite having decent size for a slot receiver. While he definitely has NFL traits and can be a quality option in the slot, his skills are not special and he will be an easily replaceable part of an NFL roster."
#8 – Russell Wilson – Drafted #75, 3rdR, 2012 (SEA) – Transferring to Wisconsin after NC State released him from his scholarship, Wilson “just” led the Badgers to a Big Ten title and tossed 33 TDs (which at the time was second to Drew Brees for a single-season record but has since been broken). Despite his leadership and other intangibles, his size concerned teams. "If he was 6–5, he'd probably be the No. 1 pick in the draft," said Chris Weinke at the time. He’s gone on to make every scout look foolish. With 267 passing TDs already, it’s not a stretch to say that he’ll be Top-10 sometime in the next four years. Add eight Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl Championship (as of 2020) to that and he’ll be returning to Ohio eventually.
Draft Report - "Projects as a backup in the pros but could factor readily as an athletic, move-the-pocket, specialty-package weapon."
#7 – Adam Thielen – Undrafted Free Agent, 2013 (MIN) – Coming out of Minnesota State-Mankato, Adam Thielen had to attend two separate combines and a rookie tryout camp before the Vikings offered him a contract. Since then, Thielen has managed a pair of Pro Bowl appearances and a Second-Team All-Pro appearance with an average season of 75 REC, 992 Yds and eight TDs. It may be too early to say he’s a HOFer, but *shakes Magic 8-Ball* “Outlook is good”.
Draft Report – Because of Thielen’s ranking as a 2013 WR (outside the Top 50), I was unable to find a scouting report for him.
#6 – Richard Sherman – Drafted #154, 5thR, 2011 (SEA) – Switching from WR to CB following a knee injury in college, Sherman had two productive years for Stanford. Despite this, most NFL experts ranked him in the low-to-mid-twenties among cornerbacks in his draft class. Getting his first start in October of 2011, Sherman never looked back, racking up five First or Second-Team All-Pro awards as well as five Pro Bowl nods. A big play corner who enjoys baiting QBs, it’s not hard to see that at 6-foot-3 how he became one of the original “big corners”.
Draft Report - “Sherman is a size prospect with some good intangibles that will help him mold into a contributing backup corner for a press-heavy team. However, he does not possess the natural coverage instincts, fluidity or burst to be considered a future starter.” He was labeled a “Day 3” player.
#5 – Jared Allen – Drafted #126, 4thR, 2004 (KC) – Named a finalist this year for the Hall of Fame, Allen didn’t quite make it. The good news is that of the players ahead of him on the all-time sack list, only three (Julius Peppers, Terrell Suggs, DeMarcus Ware) are not in Canton. Why? Because they aren’t eligible yet. Regardless, it’s likely that no player has had a more circuitous route to the Hall, maybe in any sport. Born in Dallas, TX, raised in California and attended college at Idaho State, Allen was viewed by many as a long snapper, not a defensive end. 136 sacks later, he’ll be in Canton sooner rather than later.
Draft Report – “Narrow base, doesn’t play with power or leverage. When he has to work the offensive lineman’s outside shoulder, they can sink their hips and collapse him down inside. He must run completely around them. If he hits them, he gets stuck on them. Doesn’t string moves together very well. No closing burst, struggles to double back. Limited balance, on the ground a lot.”
#4 – T.J. Houshmandzadeh - #204, 7thR, 2001 (CIN) – Granted, “Housh” is the least likely player on this list to even enter Canton (unless he buys a ticket), but he was everything that a team hopes to find in a late-round pick: productive, reliable, tough and a team leader. Partnering with college teammate Chad Johnson, they made for a complimentary duo; Johnson the flashy speedster and Houshmandzadeh the sure-handed possession receiver.
Draft Report – I was unable to find a draft report for T.J., likely due to draft ranking (outside the Top 25) and how long ago the draft took place. Enjoy this commercial for NFL Fantasy though.
#3 – Antonio Brown - #195, 6thR, 2010 (PIT) – OK, so things have gone a little sideways for Brown over the last two years, signing with Oakland and New England and only playing one game between the two stops, a sexual assault allegation, domestic incidents, and a no-contest plea to Burglary and Felony Battery (two years of probation). But maybe (hopefully?) things are on the right track again. Signed by Tampa Bay midway through the 2020 season, Brown secured his first Super Bowl ring in January. Prior to that, he was one of the more dangerous receivers in the NFL averaging 93 REC, 1,245 Yds and eight TDs during his time in Pittsburgh.
Draft Report – “Very thin and small in stature. Lacks functional strength to beat the jam and will struggle to create separation against man coverage. Concentration lapses show up too frequently. Raw route runner.”
#2 – Antonio Gates – Undrafted Free Agent 2003 (SD Chargers) – Originally enrolled at Michigan State but transferred to first Eastern Michigan and then Kent State after Nick Saban wanted him to only play football. As many as 19 teams contacted Gates for a workout, but the Chargers were first in line and immediately offered him a contract. Finished his career as the Chargers career leader in receptions (955) and receiving yards (11,841) and as the NFL career TD leader for a tight end (116).
Draft Report – A scouting report for Gates was unavailable, likely due to the five-year gap between his HS playing days and the NFL Draft. Scouts DID agree that he had “good size and speed”. Yeah, I guess so.
#1 – Tom Brady - #199, 6thR, 2000 (NE) – Do we really need to go over this? Brady grew from sixth-round flyer, to back-up, to injury replacement, to best quarterback of all-time? *sigh* There, I said it. Tom Brady is the best QB in NFL history. With virtually every accolade that an NFL QB can attain already, PLUS seven (SEVEN!) championships, it wouldn’t matter if he was the first player drafted in 2000 (that would be Courtney Brown, for the record), he would have outstripped expectations.
Draft Report – “Awful. Not even on my board. Weak. He’ll make somebody a good husband or a good medical salesman. Could be a No. 2 in this league for a long time. Has the size but not enough arm.” I'll bet that the scouts who made those statements are glad this was anonymous.
Jason Witten - #69, 3rd R, 2003 (DAL) – “Disappointed. I didn’t see the athleticism and toughness I heard so much about." "Don’t like. Stiff and not very fast. Not a polished blocker. Should have stayed in school.”
Frank Gore - #65, 3rd R, 2005 (SF) – “Late second day pick because of knee concerns and lack of speed." "With his injury history, will he last?” “Low Wonderlic score (6), can he digest an NFL playbook?”
Dak Prescott - #135, 4th R, 2016 (DAL) – “Prescott is a project. His footwork needs to be adjusted and then drilled over and over again to erase years of bad technique.” “Tape shows a player who must improve his mechanics, poise and quickness.”
Tyler Lockett - #69, 3rd R, 2015 (SEA) – “Hands are inconsistent in traffic.” “Struggles with physical cornerbacks and can be redirected in his routes.” “Likely relegated to the slot only in the NFL.”