The 2016 NFL draft begins April 28 with the first round on prime time television. Twenty-five prospects will attend the event in Chicago hoping to hear their named called by commissioner Roger Goodell.
NFL franchises that are successful year-in and year-out, however, don’t just draft well in the first round. They have to find a few gems in the later rounds as well. These guys don’t get to walk across the stage and have their picture taken with their team’s jersey. They’re home waiting for a phone call.
Here are the 10 players who answered that call and provided their teams with the most draft value since 2000.
No. 10: Jay Ratliff
Before his career came to a strange end last season in Chicago, Jay Ratliff gave the Cowboys plenty of bang for their buck as a seventh-round draft pick (224th overall) in 2005.
Ratliff started every game for the Cowboys at nose tackle from 2008 to 2011 and made the Pro Bowl in each of those seasons. He’s the only player drafted in the seventh round since 2000 to make four Pro Bowls. No other seventh-rounder in this century has been to more than one Pro Bowl.
Ratliff had a career-high 7.5 sacks in 2008 and in 2009 added six sacks in earning a First Team All-Pro nod.
No. 9: Adalius Thomas
Like most sixth-round draft picks, Adalius Thomas had to earn his keep on special teams early in his career. Once he became a starter, his sack totals rose for four straight seasons.
Thomas had three sacks for the Ravens in 2002, four in 2003 (his first Pro Bowl season), eight in 2004, nine in 2005 and 11 in 2006. Thomas earned his second Pro Bowl berth and was named First Team All-Pro that year. A versatile defender who could line up in multiple spots, Thomas had 53 sacks in his career along with seven interceptions, 53 passes defended and 15 forced fumbles. He also returned three fumbles for touchdowns in his career.
In 2007, Thomas signed with the Patriots and wasn’t as productive. He was panned as one of Bill Belichick’s worst free-agent signings. But he didn’t have a bad career for someone who was drafted 186th overall. According to Pro Football Reference, he’s one of just three players drafted in the fifth round or later since 2000 to be a starter for eight years and have at least one All-Pro season. One of the other two was drafted 13 picks after Thomas in 2000. There might be a spot for that player on this list.
No. 8: Jared Allen
Jared Allen didn’t have a sunset to ride into when he announced his retirement, so he just “rode off.”
Allen’s entry into the league wasn’t quite as ceremonious. He was drafted in the fourth round, 126th overall, by the Chiefs in 2004. The Chiefs might have drafted him sooner had they known he’d have nine sacks in his rookie season.
In 2007, his last year with the Chiefs, Allen led the NFL with 15.5 sacks. It was the first of seven straight double-digit sack seasons for Allen. He led the league again with 22 sacks in 2011. Only Michael Strahan had more in a single season.
Allen was a First Team All-Pro four times and is ninth all-time with 136 career sacks.
No. 7: Alfred Morris
Drafted in the sixth round (173rd overall) in 2012, Alfred Morris was second in the NFL with 1,613 rushing yards in his rookie season. Accompanying him in the top five were three first-round picks (Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin) and a third-rounder (Jamaal Charles). Morris also was second with 13 rushing touchdowns.
Morris followed that with 1,275 yards, fourth in the league, in 2013. His yardage dipped to 1,074 yards in 2014 and 751 last season and in 2016 he’ll have to fight for carries in Dallas. But Morris isn’t the only member of the Redskins’ 2012 draft class who will be with another team next season. He provided more value than a certain first-round pick who’s now with the Browns.
No. 6: Robert Mathis
The Colts have a tendency to use the No. 1 pick on their franchise quarterbacks.
Their all-time sacks leader, however, was there for the taking in the fifth round.
Robert Mathis, chosen with the 138th pick in 2003, has 118 sacks and 51 forced fumbles. He’s had double-digit sacks five times in his career. He led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles in 2013 and earned First Team All-Pro honors. Mathis helped the Colts win the Super Bowl in 2006 with 9.5 sacks in the regular season and 1.5 more in the postseason.
Mathis tore his Achilles while serving a four-game suspension for PED use and missed the 2014 season. He bounced back with seven sacks in 2015.
No. 5: Julian Edelman
Perhaps you’ve heard of this quarterback who the Patriots drafted in a late round. He helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl and a lot of teams probably wish they had drafted him.
No, not THAT quarterback.
Julian Edelman was a quarterback at Kent State when the Patriots selected him in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, 232nd overall.
He also could return punts and kickoffs, and that’s what kept him on the roster as he caught just 69 passes in his first four seasons.
In 2013, after Wes Welker went to the Broncos and Aaron Hernandez went to jail, Edelman broke out and became the Patriots’ leading receiver with 105 catches. The next season, Edelman caught 92 passes and in Super Bowl XLIX had nine receptions, including the deciding touchdown with two minutes left.
Edelman was a seventh-round steal for the Patriots. But if it weren’t for another player on this list, who knows how his career might have turned out.
No. 4: Russell Wilson
All the fanfare leading up to the 2012 draft surrounded Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III and which one of those quarterbacks would be drafted first and which would be drafted second.
Neither has reached the Super Bowl.
Russell Wilson, taken with the 75th overall pick in the third round, has been to two Super Bowls with one Super Bowl ring to show for it.
The Seahawks haven’t missed the playoffs since drafting Wilson. There is one quarterback drafted ahead of Wilson who has a Super Bowl ring, but Brock Osweiler didn’t actually play in Super Bowl 50. No. 8 pick Ryan Tannehill’s never had a winning season, and No. 22 pick Brandon Weeden is one of the reasons Griffin found a job in Cleveland after he flamed out in Washington.
Wilson, meanwhile, led the NFL with a 110.1 passer rating in 2015. His career passer rating of 101.8 is second only to Aaron Rodgers all-time. Like Wilson, Rodgers has led his team to a championship, but the Packers had to use a first-round pick to get him. The Seahawks were able to draft championship building blocks Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner before drafting Wilson.
While more is expected from a third-round pick than a Day 3 pick, Wilson is one of just nine quarterbacks drafted in the third round or later to win a Super Bowl.
No. 3: Richard Sherman
Maybe it’s a good thing Richard Sherman was a Day 3 draft pick. It’s scary to think of what he would have said or done on the Radio City Music Hall stage had he been drafted in the first round.
The man who labeled Michael Crabtree a “sorry receiver” and taunted Tom Brady by asking “You mad, bro?” has a Super Bowl ring and three First-Team All-Pro honors since he was drafted in the fifth round (154th overall) in 2011.
Sherman led the NFL with 24 passes defended in 2012 and was second with eight interceptions. He led the league with eight intercepions in 2013, the year the Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII. His 26 interceptions are more than any defensive back drafted in the fifth round or later since 2000.
No. 2: Antonio Brown
Richard Sherman “held” Antonio Brown to six catches for 51 yards when the Steelers and Seahawks met last season, and the Seahawks won that game 39-30 at Seattle.
Brown ranks ahead of Sherman on this list, however, because he was drafted a round later and he’s threatening to rewrite the record books.
The Steelers drafted Brown in the sixth round (195th overall) in 2010, and since then they’ve been smart in keeping Brown over third-round picks Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders.
Brown has led the NFL in receptions for two straight years, catching 129 passes in 2014 and 136 in 2015. Marvin Harrison holds the single-season record with 143 catches in 2002, but Brown is the only receiver with two of the top five all-time seasons in the receptions category.
One record that Brown does own is 35 straight games with at least five catches and 50 receiving yards, and that only ended when Michael Vick replaced an injured Ben Roethlisberger last season.
Despite the rarefied air he occupies, Brown still handles special-teams duty and is tied with Antwaan Randle-El for the franchise record with four punt-return touchdowns.
No. 1: Tom Brady
There’s getting value, and there’s winning millions on a scratch ticket.
That’s essentially the payoff the Patriots have collected on their investment of the 199th overall pick in the 2000 draft.
16 years ago today, Bill Belichick turned 48 – and celebrated his birthday by making best draft pick in NFL history: pic.twitter.com/dN2uBIvWkj
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 16, 2016
Never underestimate the importance of those compensatory picks.
Brady is one of just three quarterbacks to win four Super Bowls. He won his fourth in 2015, four years after the last remaining quarterback drafted ahead of him was out of the league. His Hall of Fame resumé also includes 428 touchdown passes (third all-time), 58,028 passing yards (fifth all-time) and a 1.9 percent interception rate (second all-time).
The Patriots weren’t a quarterback-needy team when they drafted Brady. They had Drew Bledsoe, a three-time Pro Bowler who already had led them to a Super Bowl. In 2001, however, Jets linebacker Mo Lewis altered NFL history by knocking Bledsoe out of a Week 2 game.
No one needs to be reminded what happened after that. A lot of people might forget, however, that even after Brady led the Patriots to a 20-17 win over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, there was still Brady-Bledsoe debate on New England sports talk radio stations.
There’s no debate now.