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Best NFL Draft Picks

A list of the 40 best NFL Draft Picks in the last 10 years. Sometimes late draft selections can make team scouts look like geniuses.

The 40 Best NFL Draft Picks of the Last 10 Years
By Duffysports     
40. Justin TuckDENew York Giants74 overall (3rd round) 2005

Tuck wasn’t even on the radar for this list until February 3rd, but after turning Tom Brady’s fourth Super Bowl an utter nightmare, he deserved to be mentioned. Of course, putting Tuck here is partially based on potential, because it looks inevitable that the he’ll turn into a perennial all-pro.
39. Grady JacksonDTTampa Bay Buccaneers193 overall (6th round) 1997

There’s a fine line between being fat and being good. Jackson is straddling that line— and it’s not pretty.

38. DeMeco RyansLBHouston Texans33 overall (2nd round) 2006

The 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year followed up a season in which he led the NFL in tackles by being named All-Pro in 2007. Not bad for a 236-lb middle linebacker who was thought to be too small to play in the pros.

37. Shaun PhillipsLBSan Diego Chargers98 overall (4th round) 2004

Phillips may not be the most famous Shaun in the San Diego linebacking corps, but he has been a huge part of the Chargers defense since joining the team four years ago. He is yet to make a Pro Bowl, but aided pass rushing extraordinaire Shawne Merrimane with 8.5 sacks of his own this past season.

36. Devin Hester KRChicago Bears57 overall (2nd round) 2006

Hester was drafted to be a cornerback. He turned out to the most dominant kick returner in NFL history. In his first two seasons, Hester has run back 11 kicks (both punts and kickoffs) to the house. Eventually teams will start to realize that Hester is the only chance the Bears have at scoring and just kick the ball out of bounds, but until then, he remains one of the most dangerous weapons in the league.

35. Mario WilliamsDEHouston Texans 1 overall (1st round) 2000

On Draft Day 2006, all we heard was how Williams will forever follow in the shadows of future game-changers Reggie Bush and Vince Young. But what a difference a two years makes. After racking up 11 ½ sacks in 2007, Williams was named AP Defensive Lineman of the Year (I didn’t know that was an award either) and even got votes for Defensive Player of the Year. Bush, whose longest run of his NFL career is just 22 yards— 16 yards fewer than Williams’ fumble recovery touchdown dash— proved that he may never be anything more than an explosive third-down back. Young passed for 9 touchdowns and 17 interceptions and was limited to 395 rushing yards while operating one of the NFL’s most anemic offenses. All of the sudden, it appears that Bush and Young are now chasing the legacy of Williams. Hats off to Charlie Casserly for making that pick. And by the way, hats back on to Casserly for resigning immediately after the draft.

34. Logan Mankins GNew England Patriots32 overall (1st round) 2005

New England has had success drafting offensive lineman in all rounds of the draft. Matt Light was a second-round pick in 2001 and Dan Koppen was a fifth-rounder in 2003, so why is Mankins a more impressive pick than those two? Because the Pats invested first-round money in him. If a fifth-round guard doesn’t pan out, it’s not a big deal. But if a first-round choice fails, then you’ve wasted a lot of money and the opportunity to draft another very talented player. When Mankins was drafted with the last pick of the first round in ’05, everyone had the same reaction…”Who?” With well-known players like USC’s Shaun Cody, Oklahoma’s Dan Cody, and Tennessee’s Kevin Burnett available, it took some Mel Kiper analysis to calm everyone down and convince the world that Mankins was indeed a wise choice. After being named to the Pro Bowl, however, Mankins no longer needs Kiper’s backing to prove that he is one of the best offensive lineman in the NFL.

33. Jared AllenDEKansas City Chiefs126 overall (4th round) 2004

Allen, who struggled with DUI’s early in his career, has cleaned up his life and now gets drunk off sacking the quarterback. He led the league with 15.5 sacks this season and was named to his first Pro Bowl.

32. Rudi JohnsonRBCincinnati Bengals 100 overall (4th round) 2001

Cincinnati didn’t miss a beat when Johnson stepped in for Corey Dillon several seasons ago. Rudi’s bruising running style seems to have taken its toll, however, as his career appears to have peaked in 2005 when he totaled a franchise-record 1,458 yards and 12 touchdowns.

31. Brandon Marshall
Elvis Dumervil
Denver Broncos119 overall (4th round) 2006
126 overall (4th round) 2006

It’s rare for a team to find two impact players seven picks apart in the fourth round. The 6-foot-4 230 lb Marshall was low on the draft radar because he went to a small school (UCF), but in 2007 he emerged as one of the top gamebreakers in the NFL, hauling in 102 passes for 1,365 yards and 7 touchdowns. Dumervil, a NCAA-record setter at Louisville, fell on draft boards because of his 5-foot-11 frame. However, he has a 6-foot-7 wingspan and a non-stop motor that has led to 21 sacks in his first two seasons.

30. Frank GoreRBSan Francisco 49ers65 overall (3rd round) 2005

A big-time recruit at Miami (Fl.), the 5-foot-10 workhorse suffered two gory (see what I did there) knee injuries that shortened his college career and hurt his draft stock. People knew Gore could play—he was Big East Freshman of the Year after averaging a whopping 11.3 yards per carry and had beaten out Willis McGahee for the starting job before suffering a torn ACL in his sophomore campaign—but his history of injuries and a 4.68 40-yard dash time scared away potential suitors. The Niners took a small gamble in the third round and it paid off big, as Gore rushed for an NFC-high 1,695 yards in 2006.

29. Marc BulgerQBNew Orleans Saints168 overall (6th round) 2000

It’s a shame that the Saints couldn’t make room for Bulger. He was cut shortly after the draft and eventually caught on as the Rams No. 3 quarterback. Thanks to injuries to Kurt Warner and Jamie Martin, Bulger got a chance to start in his second season and never looked back. West Virginia’s all-time leading passer threw for a league-high 4,301 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2006, was elected to the Pro Bowl twice, and was even named MVP of the meaningless game in 2004.

28. Matt Birk CMinnesota Vikings173 overall (6th round) 1998

Birk may not be the smartest guy out there, but he makes up for his embarrassing lack of general knowledge with raw strength and technique. He slid on the draft board for two reasons: 1. Teams are reluctant to use a first-day pick on a center and 2. Teams are reluctant to draft a player with such immense off-the-field problems. Luckily for the Vikings, Birk was able to put his shoddy past behind him and become a six-time Pro Bowler.

27. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila DEGreen Bay Packers150 overall (5th round) 2000

KGB recently surpassed Reggie White as Green Bay’s all-time sack leader. Originally dubbed a pure speed rusher, the San Diego State product has developed into a reliable every-down defensive end.

26. Edgerrin JamesRBIndianapolis Colts4 overall (1st round) 1999

It’s not often than the fourth player chosen in the draft constitutes a “great pick,” but this is the case with James. Edge set records at Miami, but until a 299-yard 3-touchdown outburst against UCLA, James didn’t take much attention away from Ricky Williams and his chase for the all-time rushing record. Williams was considered the best running back prospect in years, but Bill Polian instead selected James with Williams still on the board. At the time it certainly wasn’t the popular pick, but it turned out to be the correct one. Edge led the NFL in rushing his first two years and brought a new dimension to the Indianapolis offense that helped it become the league’s dominant attack for James’ seven years with the team. Of course, when James demanded a big money deal, Polian let him walk, drafted Joseph Addai, and won the Super Bowl. Nonetheless, the fact that Indy finally got over the hump as soon as James left is a mere coincidence. He has still succeeded in Arizona despite playing behind a sub-par offensive line, and is sure to be a Hall of Famer when his career is over.

25. Antonio Cromartie
Marcus McNeil
San Diego Chargers19 overall (1st round) 2006
50 overall (2nd round) 2006

A few players away from becoming a serious contender, San Diego took a lot of heat for using a first-round pick on Cromartie, who started just one game in an injury-riddled career at Florida State. Fortunately, Cromartie has lived up to the pressure of being a first-round pick and exceeded all expectations. At 6-foot-2 205 lbs, he is essentially Randy Moss playing defensive back. Cromartie, one of the most athletic cornerbacks to ever play the game, set an NFL-record with a 109.9999-yard missed field-goal return, snagged 10 interceptions, and was named First Team All-Pro in his second season. McNeil unexpectedly was thrust into the starting left tackle spot as a rookie and excelled in the role. He received votes for Rookie of the Year, made the Pro Bowl, and helped lead the Chargers to a 14-2 regular season record.

24. Marion Barber III
Brandon Jacobs
RBDallas Cowboys
New York Giants
109 overall (4th round) 2005
110 overall (4th round) 2005

Two of the most physical young running backs in the NFL were back-to-back Day 2 picks in 2005. Barber flew under the radar after sharing carries with Laurence Maroney in college and Jacobs, considered to be a short-yardage specialist coming out of Northern Illinois, fell because teams doubted his ability to be a feature back. Clearly, there aren’t many questions about either anymore. Both Barber and Jacobs have developed reputations for punishing defenders early in their careers and have seen their roles expand greatly each season. The best is yet to come for both youngsters.

23. Willis McGaheeRBBuffalo Bills23 overall (1st round) 2003

A possible No. 1 overall pick at the end of the regular season, McGahee’s gruesome knee injury in the Fiesta Bowl vs. Ohio State had NFL teams questioning whether he’d ever be able to play again. Somehow, McGahee, with a little help from agent Drew Rosenhaus, convinced several teams that he’d be able to return to his college form. The Bills took a huge risk in spending first-round money on McGahee, who sat out his entire rookie season, but it paid off. He was one of the most consistent tailbacks in the NFL with Buffalo and earned his first Pro Bowl last season with Baltimore.

22. Lance Briggs
Jason Witten
Chicago Bears
Dallas Cowboys
68 overall (3rd round) 2003
69 overall (3rd round) 2003

Three years after drafting Brian Urlacher out of New Mexico, the Bears scoured the great southwest for another star linebacker, and they found one in Arizona’s Lance Briggs. Most teams get top talent high in the first-round, but what separates the average teams from the contenders is the ability to find standouts like Briggs deep in the draft. With that being said, what separates the Bears from the contenders are Rex Grossman, Brian Greise and Kyle Orton. One pick after the Bears nabbed Briggs, the Cowboys found a gem of their own. Witten has emerged as the second best pass-catching tight end in the NFL and responsible for much of the success Tony Romo has enjoyed in his two years as the Dallas starter.

21. Mike Anderson RBDenver Broncos189 overall (6th round) 2000

The 27-year-old rookie was one of the greatest stories in the last decade of football. Anderson, who was a member of the marching band in high school because the football coaches thought he was too big to play running back, spent four years in the marines before enrolling at Utah, where he teamed with Carolina Panther wide receiver Steve Smith. Anderson came out of nowhere to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 when starter Terrell Davis went down and Anderson stepped in with 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns.

20. Mike VrabelOLBPittsburgh Steelers91 overall (3rd round) 1997

If Pittsburgh had held onto Vrabel, he would have undoubtedly landed higher on this list. After four seasons with the Steelers, Vrabel signed with New England, where he anchored three championship defenses and discovered a talent for catching 1-yard touchdown passes.

 19. Brian WestbrookRBPhiladelphia Eagles91 overall (3rd round) 2002

The Eagles didn’t have to go far to find Westbrook. A graduate of nearby I-AA Villanova University, Westbrook was an unknown to most teams in the draft. He didn’t play against top competition in college and because of his size, he wasn’t considered to be an every down back. In his five-year career, Westbrook has debunked all of those myths en route to becoming a top-five back in the NFL. His combination of speed, agility, and lower-body power is the closest thing the league has seen to Barry Sanders in years. Now if only Philly could find some receivers…

 18. Cato JuneLBIndianapolis Colts198 overall (6th round) 2003

A standout at the University of Michigan, June was considered too small at 6-foot 220 lbs to play linebacker in the NFL. His speed and quickness was a perfect fit in the Indianapolis defense, however, as June was voted All-Pro in 2005 and led the Colts with 142 tackles in their 2006 Super Bowl winning season. Though June didn’t have nearly as much success in his first season with Tampa Bay after signing as a free agent, his contribution to the Colts Super Bowl run makes him a true draft-day steal.

 17. Steve SmithWRCarolina Panthers74 overall (3rd round) 2001

It wouldn’t be outrageous to say that Smith is the best wide receiver in the NFL. Smith led the league in yards and touchdowns a few seasons ago while facing constant triple coverage, and even put up respectable numbers this year despite Jake Delhomme, David Carr, Vinny Testeverde, Matt Moore, Chris Weinke, Steve Buerlien, Rodney Peete, Kerry Collins, and Frank Reich all going down with injuries

16. Tiki Barber
Ronde Barber
New York Giants
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
36 overall (2nd round) 1997
66 overall (3rd round) 1997

One will go down as the face of his immensely successful franchise. The other will go down as the running back who foolishly passed up a Super Bowl to take a job with ABC.

15. Marques ColstonWRNew Orleans Saints252 overall (7th round) 2006

Everyone expected New Orleans’ top young talent to burst out of the gates with 2,240 yards and 19 touchdowns in his first two seasons. But no one expected that young talent to be Colston. For all the hype Reggie Bush has garnered, Colston has been the Saints’ most dangerous weapon since ’06.

14. Peyton ManningQBIndianapolis Colts1 overall (1st round) 1998

It’s difficult to consider the first pick of a draft to be a “great pick,” but in this case, Indianapolis deserves a lot of credit for its choice. At the time, many experts thought Ryan Leaf would turn out to be a better pro than Manning. Leaf was the fast-riser, he was the talk of the football world after a gutsy performance against Michigan in the Rose bowl, and in terms of upside, he was considered to be one of the best quarterback prospects in years. Of course, we all know how that turned out. Bill Polian and the Colts drafted arguably the best quarterback of all-time, and the Chargers settled for Leaf, who turned out to be one of the worst.

13. Al Harris CBTampa Bay Buccaneers169 overall (6th round) 1997

Tampa Bay may have drafted Harris, but the Bucs were not patient with the sixth round pick, who has since become one of the league’s premier cornerbacks with Philadelphia and Green Bay. Harris has dominated receivers over the years with his physical bump-and-run coverage, and perhaps more importantly, he was the pioneer of the “dreadlocks-flowing-out-of-the-helmet” movement that became intensely popular over the past few years.

12. Donald DriverWRGreen Bay Packers219 overall (7th round) 1999

As comfortable as Brett Favre is with Wrangler, I’m sure he’s a million times more comfortable with Driver. Green Bay’s electric wide receiver picked up right where Antonio Freeman left off as Favre’s go-to target, and ultimately played a large role in the success Favre had at the end of his career.

11. Dwight FreeneyDEIndianapolis Colts11 overall (1st round) 2002

The Colts actually took some heat for drafting Freeney early in the first-round. Though he was dominant at Syracuse, there were questions of how well his undersized frame would translate to the NFL. One Super Bowl, three Pro Bowls, an NFL-sack title, and $72 million dollars later, it’s safe to say Freeney has proved to be one of the most dominant pass rushers in the league.

10. Joey PorterOLBPittsburgh Steelers73 overall (3rd round) 1999

General managers are often reluctant spend Day 1 picks on small-school players such as Porter, who attended Colorado State, but in this case the gamble paid off big-time for Pittsburgh. Drafted after major-conference linebackers Chris Claiborne, Andy Katzenmoyer, Barry Gardner, Rahim Abdullah, and Johnny Rutlegde, Porter turned out to be the gem of the class. He was a three-time Pro Bowler for the Steelers and was instrumental in their Super Bowl XL victory.

9. Ed ReedFSBaltimore Ravens24 overall (1st round) 2002

The Ravens built the franchise with late-first round picks from Miami. Baltimore drafted Ray Lewis 25th overall in 1996 and then came away with gem in Reed six years later. The former Hurricane didn’t waste much time in making an impact, as he was named All-Pro every season since 2003 and won 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, when he broke the single-season record for interception return yardage. Reed will likely be the second Baltimore Raven behind Lewis to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

8. Asante Samuel CBNew England Patriots120 overall (4th round) 2003

Samuel highlights the ’03 draft that saw the Pats also select Ty Warren, Eugene Wilson, and Dan Koppen. The Central Florida alum was forced into the starting lineup as a rookie when Ty Law and Tyrone Poole went down with injuries. Samuel held onto his starting role the next season and improved every game as he helped lead the Pats to two Super Bowls. He was named All-Pro and voted into the Pro Bowl for the first time this season.

7. Jason TaylorDEMiami Dolphins73 overall (3rd round) 1997

Taylor, the 2006 Defensive Player of the Year, was considered a project when he was drafted because of his skinny frame and lack of experience against top competition at the University of Akron. Taylor’s superior quickness and length have given opposing tackles fits for the past ten years. The former third-round pick’s 117 career sacks rank third among all active players.  

6. TJ Houshmandzadeh WRCincinnati Bengals204 overall (7th round) 2001

Drafting Chad Johnson in the second round was a steal itself, but nabbing his college teammate TJ Houshmanzilla…or is it TJ Whosyourmomma, was an even better pick. While he’s played in Johnson’ shadow for his entire career, Houshmandzadeh is just beginning to receive his due as one of the top all-around wide receivers in the game. He tied Wes Welker for the 2007 reception lead with 112 en route to his first Pro Bowl.

5. Adalius ThomasLBBaltimore Ravens186 overall (6th round) 2000

Thomas won a Super Bowl in his rookie season and was named to the Pro bowl in his third year (2003), but didn’t officially take over a starting job until 2004. Since then, he has proved to be the most versatile defensive player in the NFL. The 6-foot-2 270 lb Thomas became the only player in league history to play 5 defensive position in one game when he lined up at outside linebacker, middle linebacker, defensive end, safety, and cornerback for the Ravens. Quickly recognized for his unreal combination of size and speed, Thomas became too expensive for Baltimore and signed a free agent contract with New England, where he played an integral role on the first team to start the season 18-0.

4. Bob SandersSSIndianapolis Colts44 overall (2nd round) 2004

Without Sanders, Indianapolis’ defense yielded an NFL-record 173 yards per game in the 2006 regular season. With him, they gave up only 73 per game en route to winning the Super Bowl. Considered a risky pick because of his lack of height (5-foot-8), Sanders took home the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 and has arguably become the single most valuable player to his team.

3. Hines WardWRPittsburgh Steelers92 overall (3rd round) 1998

Ward embodies the Steelers’ hard-working, blue-collar attitude that has made them among the most successful franchises of the past decade. The Steelers’ career leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns does much more than catch passes, however. His value as a downfield blocker and locker-room leader make him a truly special draft-day find.

2. Randy MossWRMinnesota Vikings21 overall (1st round) 1998

The Detroit Lions wish they had Matt Millen and his wide receiver fetish for the 1998 draft, when they selected cornerback Terry Fair the pick before Moss came off the board. Moss fell due to character issues, but teams quickly learned that character doesn’t exactly matter when you’re flying by and jumping over every cornerback thrown at you. Moss is certain to go down as one of the top five wideouts of all-time, if not the best.

 1. Tom BradyQBNew England Patriots199 overall (6th round) 2000

What is there to say? Brady is not only the top pick of the last ten years, but arguably the best draft choice in the history of any sport. I’ll just leave you with the list of quarterbacks selected ahead of Brady in this draft: Chad Pennington, Giovanni Carmazzi, Chris Redman, Tee Martin, Marc Bulger, and Spergon Wynn.