I guess for those of you who follow professional football the way I follow college football, the NFL draft is your equivalent to National Recruiting Day. Now, I’m not one of those who sit at their computer all day scanning the different sites for the latest updates or, even worse, go to Athens to wait around to see which high school senior is going to bless us with his skills but I do admit that I have a passing interest in seeing who Georgia gets. Maybe even more important is whom the other SEC schools are getting to see what we’re going to have to compete with for the next few years.
But for NFL-junkies, the draft is the culmination of weeks of study. They’ve followed the different combines to see just how fast, how high, and how far the athletes can run and jump. They’ve even checked out the Wonderlic scores to see how smart the potential draftees are. But for all of this scientific and athletic evaluation, some players who are not originally thought to be worth a high round pick turn out to be some of the best players the game has ever seen.
I did some research and came up with a list of some of those players that, in my opinion, deserve recognition as some of the best draft selections of all time. Many of these players, even though they were low round picks, made the Hall of Fame. Let’s look at who some of those players are.
When you look at a list such as this, there are four men, all of them quarterbacks, that immediately come to the top of the heap- Joe Montana, Tom Brady, John Unitas, and Bart Starr. Many would argue with me in saying that Montana is the best quarterback ever but he has the stats to back it up. No, he doesn’t have the passing records of a Dan Marino, he has something better- 4 Super Bowl rings. Montana was only a third round pick in 1979 out of Notre Dame by the 49ers and he would go on to win three Super Bowl MVP awards. 39 times in his career Montana passed for over 300 yards in a game. Not bad for a third-round pick. Some guy named Jack Thompson was taken by the Bengals at quarterback in the first round. Think they are sorry?
Tom Brady does that better by three rounds. Brady, out of Michigan, was taken in the sixth round in 2000 by the Patriots. Twelve other quarterbacks, including Giovanni Carmazzi out of Hofstra, were taken ahead of Brady. Too slow, not a strong throwing arm, and not enough experience- these were the excuses the general managers of the other teams gave in not selecting Brady and all he’s done is lead the Patriots to three championships.
Then there is Johnny Unitas. “Mr. High Tops” was a ninth-round choice in 1955 out of Louisville but, surprise, not by the Colts where he had his great years. The Steelers, who actually cut him in pre-season, drafted him. He played semi-pro ball for one year before the Colts signed him and the rest, as they say, is history.
Bart Starr was, perhaps, the most over-looked of all four because he was taken in the 17th round out of Alabama. To think that Starr could have been the 200th player taken that year now that we have the ability to look back on his stellar career is unbelievable but true. Starr was, of course, the great leader of the Packers during their greatest years of the 60’s. Sure, he had the likes of Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Max McGee, and the great defensive players with him, but there is no question that Starr was the leader of the Lombardi’s team.
As stunning as it might be to think that these four Hall of Fame quarterbacks (well, Brady will be one day) could have been taken so low, here is a list of some other great players who weren’t first-rounders even though their career statistics would make you think they should have been,
Steve Largent- wide receiver, fourth round
Shannon Sharpe- tight end, seventh round
Ken Houston- safety, ninth round
Andre Reed- wide receiver, fourth round
L.C. Greenwood- defensive end, tenth round
Here’s an interesting footnote to the Greenwood selection. 1969 was a good year for the Steelers as they selected Joe Greene in the first round that year. Laying the foundation for one of the greatest defensive lines in the history of pro football, the “Steel Curtain” got its left side that year with both Greene and Greenwood. I’ll expand this theme next week by talking about some of the best drafts ever teams have made over the years. You won’t believe the Chicago Bears of 1965. Here are some other names who were low picks:
Dan Fouts- quarterback, third round
Roger Staubach- quarterback, tenth round
Rodney Harrison- safety, fifth round
Charlie Joyner- wide receiver, fourth round and also, John Stallworth, John Taylor, Mike Webster, Richard Dent, Art Shell and Terrell Davis all were taken in the third round or lower. The Falcons even got lucky in 1994 with their selection of Jamal Anderson.
It just goes to show you that all the best statistics in the world can’t make up for talent. Sometimes that talent doesn’t manifest itself until the player gets to the pros but when it does, it can produce draft magic. Let’s hope the home-town Falcons produce some this year.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.