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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top 10 Sleeper Draft Picks in NFL History

Top 10 Sleeper Draft Picks in NFL History

The best of the overlooked
Publish Date: 04/19/2024
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

Many of us will be gathered around the TV for the NFL Draft, one way or another, with friends, food, our team’s apparel, and maybe even, most likely, just tucked away in our brain, some preparation to give us some understanding of which players will on end up on each team.

We all agree that it’s essentially a big crap-shoot for the players taken this weekend to end up impacting the league and becoming great for many reasons, but in the end, the NFL Draft has become one the most significant events of the year for football fans.

Here are the top ten players who got picked nowhere near where they probably should have and became the best draft sleepers in history:


The criteria is simple: these guys slipped in the NFL Draft and ended up being some of the greatest players in NFL history. Current players do not qualify for this list.

10. Harold Carmichael

Drafted in 1971, 7th round, 161st overall

At 6’8, Harold Carmichael was the tallest receiver in NFL history and was a very productive one. As I detailed in my article, he was a member of the 1970’s All-Decade Team and helped lead the Eagles from the basement to the NFL’s biggest show for Super Bowl XV in 1980. Not bad for a seventh-round pick!

Carmichael was a decade or two before his time and will go down as one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game.

Video: Harold Carmichael Highlights

Harold Carmichael Highlights

9. Joe Klecko

Drafted in 1977, 6th round, 144th overall

As the key member of the famed “New York Sack Exchange,” he led the Jets in the early 1980s at both defensive end and defensive tackle.

My radio co-host Mike Goodpaster, detailed in his article about how Klecko became one of only two players in NFL history to reach the Pro Bowl at an astonishing THREE positions.

Video: Joe Klecko Highlights

Joe Klecko Highlights

8. Mike Webster

Drafted in 1974, 5th round, 125th overall

The 1974 draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers may be the finest in NFL history. After landing Lynn Swann in the first round, Jack Lambert in the second, and John Stallworth in the fourth, the Steelers picked center, Mike Webster, out of Wisconsin. Webster anchored the offensive line to protect Terry Bradshaw and open running lanes for Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier.

Webster was an incredible value pick in the fifth round, especially since he may have been the greatest center to have ever played the game.

Video: Mike Webster Ultimate NFL Career Highlights

Mike Webster Ultimate NFL Career Highlights

7. Steve Largent

Drafted in 1976, 4th round, 117th overall

The Houston Oilers drafted Largent but quickly traded him to Seattle for a late-round pick in the following year’s draft. All Largent did was become, at the time, the NFL’s all-time receiver with 100 touchdowns, over 800 receptions, and over 13,000 yards, all while playing on many woeful Seahawks teams. Was Largent considered one of the best players of the 1980s?

Video: Steve

Steve “Yoda” Largent Career Highlights

6. Richard Dent

Drafted in 1983, 8th round, 203rd overall

We all know how the draft works now and how the last pick of the 7th round is called “Mr. Irrelevant.” However, Richard Dent was anything but irrelevant. As the cornerstone of the defensive line in what many consider the most disruptive defense in the NFL’s history, he terrorized quarterbacks en route to amassing 137 1/2 sacks and earning enshrinement at Canton.

Did I mention the Bears got him in the 8th round??

Video: Richard Dent Ultimate NFL Career Highlights

Richard Dent Ultimate NFL Career Highlights

5. Andre Reed

Drafted in  1985, 4th round 86th overall

I’m not sure many could name any of Buffalo’s receivers who played before 1985, and dare I say, even after 2000. However, most do remember the great Andre Reed. Despite being a mid-round pick, Reed went to 7 Pro Bowls and was Jim Kelly’s favorite target as they dazzled the NFL in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

If Buffalo needed a first down, everyone in the building knew Reed would see the ball, and it didn’t matter. He used his speed and 6’2 frame to create separation and find ways to get open. He was also not afraid to go over the middle with linebackers and safeties, waiting to take his head off.

In the 1992 AFC Wild Card game against Houston, despite Jim Kelly and star running back Thurman Thomas not playing due to injury, Reed shined to help Buffalo overcome a 35-3 deficit, catching 8 balls for 136 yards and scoring 3 huge touchdowns.

Reed would finish with 7 Pro Bowls and help Buffalo reach four consecutive Super Bowls.

Video: Andre Reed Hall Of Fame Buffalo Bills Highlights

Andre Reed Hall Of Fame Buffalo Bills Highlights

4. Terrell Davis

Drafted in 1995, 6th round, 196th overall

When the Broncos drafted Terrell Davis in 1995, they hoped to run a “running back-by-committee” approach to help take pressure off of quarterback John Elway. Davis didn’t figure to get a lot of production, especially in his rookie season, but he turned heads with his special team’s play. He blew up so many returns forcing the coaching staff to notice his speed and moves, eventually earning the starting job.

Davis got better every season and became a franchise back. His 1,750 yards (following a 1,538 campaign the year before) in 1997 and 15 touchdowns led Denver to the Super Bowl, where he rushed for 157 yards (in THREE quarters!!) and scored 3 touchdowns to help Denver beat Green Bay. Oh, by the way, he was named MVP of that Super Bowl.

He didn’t stop there. The next year, he rushed for 2,008 yards and scored 21 touchdowns. The crazy thing about those numbers is that they could have been much better. The Broncos were so dominant in 1998 that they would bench Davis for much of the 4th quarter of several games. His teammates felt that he could have easily rushed for over 2,500 yards that year.

Unfortunately, an injury-shortened his career, but Denver has to feel good about a sixth-round pick being the driving force behind winning two Super Bowls.

Video: Terrell Davis 1998 Highlights

Terrell Davis 1998 Highlights


3. Shannon Sharpe

Drafted in 1990, 7th round 192nd overall

There are not a lot of 7th rounds picks that become one of the two or three best players ever at their position and go to the Hall of Fame. Shannon Sharpe, however, was one of them.

Sharpe finished his career with over 800 receptions, over 10,000 yards, and over 60 touchdowns and ranks in the top three for Tight Ends all time. He was named to 8 Pro Bowls, 4 First-Team All-Pro’s, and helped his teams win a total of 3 Super Bowls. Sharpe goes down in history as one of the best tight ends of all time.

Most 7th round picks last a year or two, and they are unable to make a roster. However, this 7th round pick went on to become one of the best.

Video: Shannon Sharpe 96 yard TD vs Raiders AFC Championship 2000

Shannon Sharpe 96 yard TD vs Raiders AFC Championship 2000

2. Joe Montana

Drafted in 1979, 3rd round, 82nd overall

When Montana came out of Notre Dame in 1979, he was not highly regarded. Thought to be too small and not much of an arm, he slipped in the draft, all the way to the third round. However, coach Bill Walsh saw more than raw, physical attributes but noticed his poise, football smarts, and the ability to lead and make key decisions late in games.

The rest is history. Montana went on to win 4 Super Bowls, 2 League MVPs, and 3 Super Bowl MVPs, cementing him in the minds of most as the greatest quarterback ever to play the game.

Video: Joe Montana Highlights (Final Version)

Joe Montana Highlights (Final Version)

1. Tom Brady

Drafted in 2000, 6th round, 199th overall

Suppose you’ve ever seen Brady’s combined pictures and video. When he arrived in New England, he told owner Bob Craft that drafting Brady was “the best decision this organization has ever made.”

Bold statement, but definitely a true statement. After winning 4 Super Bowls in an amazing 6 appearances, coming within a ridiculous catch of an undefeated season, 2 League MVPs, 10 Pro Bowls, and 2 first-team All-Pros, the argument is not which one of ten quarterbacks is the best. Instead, the argument is who was better, Brady or Montana?

It’s them and everyone else.

(Note: due to how the Draft and scouting were before 1970 and B.L.E.S.T.O, I chose not to include players from earlier than 1970. The drafts back then had very little analysis. Hardly any scouting and decisions were primarily based on statistics from sporting magazines, which is why you won’t find Deacon Jones, Bart Starr, Raymond Berry, and Roger Staubach on this list).

Video: Tom Brady Ultimate G.O.A.T Movie!

Tom Brady Ultimate G.O.A.T Movie!

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