Cowboys found seventh-round diamond in Rayfield Wright
From Tom Brady to Brian Westbrook, ESPN.com ranks the top 50 draft steals.
And then there is Steve Largent. Taken in the fourth round by Houston and later traded to Seattle, he went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Seahawks.
Here are our top 50 draft steals. These lists reflect players selected since the NFL and the old American Football League merged drafts in 1967. For now, we'll leave off recent bargains such as QB Derek Anderson, WRs Anquan Boldin and Marques Colston, DE Osi Umenyiora and CB Asante Samuel -- until we see how their impressive early careers play out.
The Steelers made Southern California WR Lynn Swann their first pick in '74 and added Stallworth later. Although the former made some of the NFL's most spectacular plays, the latter was no slouch and had the longer and more productive career. And like his fellow Hall of Fame teammate, Stallworth was one of the game's premier wideouts in the postseason.
One of only 15 players to play in at least five Super Bowls, Wright finally became a fixture at right tackle after also seeing action at tight end and on defense in his first three seasons. The massive blocker was named to six Pro Bowls and was a member of the NFL's all-decade team of the 1970s. • Matt Mosley: Wright a respected ex-player, voice
Big Blue featured one of the best linebacking corps of the '80s, and Carson was the veteran presence, making plenty of plays for the Giants even before Lawrence Taylor arrived in 1981. The Hall of Famer was named to nine Pro Bowls in 13 seasons and won a Super Bowl ring (XXI).
Talk about a bargain. Before WR Jerry Rice became Joe Montana's favorite receiver in San Francisco, there was sure-handed Clark, who had 506 receptions in nine seasons with the Niners and made one of the more memorable catches ('81 NFC Championship Game) in NFL lore.
One of the more versatile linebackers of his era, the three-time Pro Bowler usually could be found around the ball and/or the quarterback, totaling 52 sacks and 24 interceptions in his 13-year career, which culminated with a Super Bowl win with the 1998 Broncos.
After selecting a quarterback by the name of Dan Marino in the first round, the Dolphins figured they should get him a receiver to throw to, which they took care of in the eighth round. What they didn't expect was that Clayton would set a then-NFL record with 18 touchdown receptions just a year later or that he would become Marino's favorite target for years to come.
The fourth Hall of Famer from the Steelers' incredible 1974 draft, powerful Webster was a vital cog in Pittsburgh's offensive front, and his ability to handle defenders one-on-one was huge. The former Badger was named to nine Pro Bowls.
The 6-foot-8 wideout was hard to overthrow, but more importantly, he was incredibly productive and consistent. He totaled 590 catches for 8,985 yards. Carmichael finished his career with 79 touchdown catches.
The two-time Pro Bowler was barely on the radar screen of NFL scouts in 1984. Byner would go on to rush for 8,261 yards. He was also an effective receiver out of the backfield (512 receptions), catching more than 50 passes in a season four times. • James Walker: Byner living his dream
Although WR Jerry Rice got plenty of much-deserved accolades, Taylor was a superb receiver, as well. In nine seasons with San Francisco, he amassed 347 receptions (43 for scores), excelled after the catch, was an excellent blocker and caught the winning touchdown pass from QB Joe Montana in Super Bowl XXIII.
A well-kept secret who played on one of the league's more dominant defensive lines while he was with the Eagles, Simmons could get after the quarterback (121.5 sacks). But that told only half the story of this athletic defender, who had a nose for the ball and also was a factor on special teams.
Nickerson was a solid player for six years in Pittsburgh, but he hit his stride in Tampa Bay. In seven years with the Buccaneers, Nickerson was named to the Pro Bowl five times. By the time his 16-year NFL career was complete, he had started 200 career games.
The most successful of Brett Favre's former backups, Hasselbeck has led the Seahawks to the playoffs five straight years, including a Super Bowl appearance (XL). Last season, the reliable QB became the focal point of the Seattle offense and responded with career numbers on the way to his third Pro Bowl.
In his eight-year career with the Falcons (88 games), the former Ute totaled 5,336 yards rushing and 34 TDs, was an effective pass-catcher out of the backfield, and was the key cog on Atlanta's Super Bowl XXXIII team.
Mecklenburg lasted as many seasons in the NFL as he did rounds in the draft. He also reached half that number in Pro Bowl appearances (6). Not bad for a little-known linebacker who started at Augustana College in South Dakota before transferring to Minnesota.
Russell S. Baxter, Ryan McCrystal, Jon D. Kramer, Jon T. Stewart, Chris Fallica and Paul Kinney of ESPN Research contributed to this report.
MORE NFL HEADLINES
- Jets clean house, fire GM Idzik, coach Ryan
- Harbaugh, 49ers mutually agree to part ways
- Rodgers returns, leads Packers to North title
- Bengals WR Green diagnosed with concussion
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
RANKING NFL DRAFT STEALS
Terrell Davis was selected by the Broncos in the sixth round of the '95 draft with little to no expectations. He finished his career with four 1,000-yard seasons and two Super Bowls titles. Below are ESPN.com's top 50 NFL draft steals. In Part 1, ESPN.com ranked draft busts.
• Top 50 draft steals: 1-15 | 16-30 | 31-50
• Kiper: 10 guys who surprised me
• Williamson: Waiting was hard for Sharpe
• Walker: Byner use 'Fumble' as coaching tool
• Mosley: Wright a respected ex-player, voice
• Sando: Houston keeps football, life in perspective
• Zoom Gallery: Notable steals
• SportsNation: Rank the top 10 steals
• Hashmarks: Draft steals for the ages, pre-1967
• Watch: Marcellus Wiley analysis
FROM BRADY TO WESTBROOK
1. Tom Brady, Patriots (2000)
2. Joe Montana, 49ers (1979)
3. Steve Largent, Oilers (1976)
4. Shannon Sharpe, Broncos (1990)
5. Ken Houston, Oilers (1967)
6. Terrell, Davis, Broncos (1995)
7. Andre Reed, Bills (1985)
8. L.C. Greenwood, Steelers (1969)
9. Charles Haley, 49ers (1986)
10.Rodney Harrison, Chargers (1994)
11. Charlie Joiner, Oilers (1969)
12. Art Shell, Raiders (1968)
13. Dan Fouts, Chargers (1973)
14. Richard Dent, Bears (1983)
15. Zach Thomas, Dolphins (1996)
16. John Stallworth, Steelers (1974)
17. Rayfield Wright, Cowboys (1992)
18. Harry Carson, Giants (1976)
19. Dwight Clark, 49ers (1979)
20. Seth Joyner, Eagles (1986)
21. Mark Clayton, Dolphins (1983)
22. Mike Webster, Steelers (1974)
23. Harold Carmichael, Eagles (1971)
24. Earnest Byner, Browns (1984)
25. John Taylor, 49ers (1986)
26. Clyde Simmons, Eagles (1979)
27. Hardy Nickerson, Steelers (1987)
28. Matt Hasselbeck, Packers (1998)
29. Jamal Anderson, Falcons (1994)
30. Karl Mecklenburg, Broncos (1983)
31. Bob Kuechenberg, Eagles (1969)
32. Mark Schlereth, Redskins (1989)
33. Hines Ward, Steelers (1998)
34. Mark Bavaro, Giants (1985)
35. Keenan McCardell, Redskins (1991)
36. Trent Green, Chargers (1993)
37. Greg Lloyd, Steelers (1987)
38. Marc Bulger, Saints (2000)
39. Tyrone Braxton, Broncos (1987)
40. Ahman Green, Seahawks (1998)
41. Larry Brown, Cowboys (1991)
42. Brian Sipe, Browns (1972)
43. La'Roi Glover, Raiders (1996)
44. Jesse Sapolu, 49ers (1983)
45. Leon Lett, Cowboys (1991)
46. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Bengals (2001)
47. Troy Brown, Patriots (1993)
48. Aaron Kampman, Packers (2002)
49. Joe Horn, Chiefs (1996)
50. Brian Westbrook, Eagles (2002)
RANKING NFL DRAFT BUSTS
In the first of a special two-part report on the draft, ESPN.com's ranked the top 50 draft busts.
• Top 50 draft busts: 1-15 | 16-30 | 31-50
• Kiper: 10 guys I can't believe failed
• Walker: Shuler enjoying second stint in D.C.
• Mosley: Leaf now at peace with NFL failure
• Yasinskas: No room for football for Westbrook
• Zoom Gallery: Notable busts
• SportsNation: Rank the top 10 busts
• Watch: Marcellus Wiley analysis