Brady is gold standard for draft steals
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 their impressive early careers play out.
Drafted by: Patriots, sixth round, No. 199 overall, 2000
The Patriots weren't really looking for their next franchise quarterback; a solid backup would have suited them fine. The Patriots watched quarterbacks such as Giovanni Carmazzi and Spergon Wynn come off the board before they selected Brady. The rest is history.
The 49ers didn't exactly have to go off the beaten path to find Montana, but he was far from a can't-miss prospect coming out of Notre Dame. Even the 49ers weren't sure about his future when they drafted him, so much so that he backed up Steve DeBerg for a year and a half before becoming the starter.
Dealt to the expansion Seahawks before the start of the 1976 season, the Hall of Famer made the most of his abilities and still ranks in the top 20 all time in receptions (819) and yards (13,089) and is one of only seven players in league history with at least 100 touchdown receptions.
The eight-time Pro Bowler caught 815 passes for 10,060 yards and 62 TDs during his 14-year career with the Broncos and Ravens. He was a pivotal part of three Super Bowl championships with Denver (two) and Baltimore (one). • Bill Williamson: Waiting was hardest part for Sharpe
A star in the soon-to-be merged AFL, Houston was dealt to the Redskins in 1973 and paid immediate dividends. A 12-time All-Star, the hard-hitting defender was always around the football, returning nine of his 49 career interceptions for touchdowns and making countless other plays on defense and special teams.
Injuries shortened Davis' career considerably, but he still managed three Pro Bowls and four 1,000-yard seasons (including 2,008 yards rushing in 1998), and earned two Super Bowl rings (MVP of Super Bowl XXXII). Not bad for a guy chosen one pick after Dino Philyaw.
A small school from Pennsylvania gave the NFL one of the most productive pass-catchers in league history. Reed still ranks in the league's top 10 in receptions (951), receiving yards (13,198) and touchdown receptions (87). And he teamed with Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly for 65 TDs, the fourth-best tandem in NFL history.
In the first round that year, new Steelers head coach Chuck Noll opted for DT Joe Greene with the fourth overall selection. Nine rounds later, Pittsburgh added Greenwood, who proved to be one of the premier defensive ends of his time (six Pro Bowls) and teamed with Greene for a formidable left side of the defensive front.
One of the more fearsome defenders of the mid-'80s and '90s, Haley's versatility made him a terror. In 13 seasons with the 49ers and Cowboys, Haley totaled 100.5 sacks and remains the only player in NFL history to win five Super Bowls (two with San Francisco, three with Dallas).
The one-time Chargers standout remains one of the more physical safeties in the league and always seems to be in the thick of something. He has 33 interceptions and 30.5 sacks during his stellar career with the Chargers and Patriots.
Drafted as a defensive back by Houston, he found his real niche with the San Diego Chargers. The Hall of Fame wideout finished his career with 750 receptions for 12,146 yards and 65 touchdowns.
The massive tackle was a big part of one of the league's premier offensive lines and helped make the Silver and Black a perennial contender. An eight-time Pro Bowler who helped the Raiders win Super Bowls XI and XV, Shell was enshrined in Canton in 1989.
This Hall of Famer led one of the more prolific offenses in NFL history, and his ability to spread the ball around to his many talented targets is what made him so effective. Named to six Pro Bowls, Fouts still ranks No. 8 in league history in passing yardage (43,040) and No. 12 in touchdown passes (254).
The Bears probably didn't expect to land a four-time Pro Bowler and an integral part of their great 1985 Super Bowl championship defense, but that's exactly what they got from this little-known defensive lineman from Tennessee State.
Some teams were so concerned by Thomas' perceived lack of size (5-11, 228 pounds) that they drafted linebackers such as Whit Marshall and Percell Gaskins while Thomas remained on the board. Seven Pro Bowls later for Thomas, those teams are probably regretting those decisions.
Russell S. Baxter, Ryan McCrystal, Jon D. Kramer, Jon T. Stewart, Chris Fallica and Paul Kinney of ESPN research contributed to this report.
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