14 of the Greatest Day 2 Picks in NFL Draft History

By Jennifer Hassan in NFL
| April 24, 2020 2:33 am PDT
Best Day 2 NFL Draft Picks in History

The NFL Draft takes place over several days. Round one is chosen on a Thursday, the first (and most hyped) day of the draft. Rounds two and three are chosen on day two, a Friday. Later rounds are selected on Saturday.

There are mixed emotions among players when day one wraps up and they remain undrafted. There is frustration and confusion as to why one wasn’t chosen in the first round. Sometimes there is rage when players deemed less capable are chosen before a player.

But there is also that niggling reminder in the back of the head that some players don’t get chosen at all. Suddenly, player focus shifts from “Round one, baby!” to “Dear God, let me be drafted!”

Here are some of the most surprising players passed up in round one who became some of the best day 2 NFL Draft picks in history.

Joe Montana, QB – 1979, Round 3, Pick 82

This three-time Super Bowl MVP out of Notre Dame was considered an unimpressive draft candidate by scouts, who thought Montana had a weak arm. San Francisco took a chance on him but confined him to the backup quarterback position in his rookie year.

He took over as starter for the team in 1980. Back in 1977, two years before Montana was drafted, the 49ers had a 5-9 record for the season. In 1978, the team was having a terrible year, recording 2-14. In 1979, the year Montana was kept as backup, the team managed to have another astonishingly bad 2-14 season.

In 1980, with Montana as starter, the team improved to record a 6-10, and in 1981, they were at 13-3 and won the Super Bowl.

The rest of the decade is history: a history of winning seasons and triumphant Super Bowl trips for San Francisco, all thanks to Montana’s “weak” arm and some pretty stellar wide receivers, like Jerry Rice.

The league voted him the Comeback Player of the Year in 1986 and the Offensive Player of the Year in 1989. The Associated Press (AP) considered him the best player in the entire NFL two years in a row, in ’89 and ’90. Not bad for an overlooked kid out of Indiana.

Russell Wilson, QB – 2012, Round 3, Pick 75

The mighty Mr. Wilson was a late grab by Seattle. Taken by Seattle at pick 75, there were five other quarterbacks in that draft class chosen before Russell took the call and donned his Seahawks cap.

It was one of the best draft choices Seattle has ever made in its 45 years as a team. Wilson is now considered one of the best steals in NFL Draft History.

It’s not that Wilson is perfect. He’s had his share of fumbles. Luckily, when he fumbles the ball, it’s usually recovered by a fellow Seahawk. But that’s about it for the flaws. Let’s move on to the diamond itself.

Wilson finished his rookie season with 26 touchdowns, throwing for more than 3,000 yards. He won various Rookie of the Week, Player of the Week, and Player of the Month honors for his performances in his first season with a delighted Seattle.

When Russell entered 2013, he was able to relax a little bit. His rookie year was over; he had proved himself a decent player. He could relax and find his true rhythm.

He found it, and the ‘Hawks had one of the best seasons in the history of the team at 13-3. Oh, and the team played well into the postseason. In fact, Seattle made it all the way to the Super Bowl to face the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos were favored to win Super Bowl XLVIII by two points. Instead, the Seahawks defeated the Broncos by a whopping 35 points in a wild 43-8 humiliation.

Wilson took the Seahawks to the Super Bowl again the next year, and the year after that, he signed a contract extension for $87 million and change. Seattle made it to the playoff season again in 2018, and the year after that, Wilson became the most highly paid player in the league.

Mel Blount, CB – 1970, Round 3, Pick 53

Mel Blount was a member of the Steel Curtain defense, the most intimidating defensive line in NFL history (think Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene). Blount himself is considered the most physical cornerback the league has ever seen.

Yet four other defensive backs were chosen before Blount in the 1970 draft. Those teams regretted those choices for the entirety of the 1970s.

Opponents were terrified to play the Steelers back in the 1970s when Pittsburgh dominated the league. Heck, I get scared just watching Blount’s highlights reel, decades after the violence happened!

Blount was so effective and dangerous that the NFL changed its rules to protect players from threats like him. The “Mel Blount Rule” was created to protect receivers from being beaten down constantly during play. According to the rule, defenders can only make contact with receivers within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

At any rate, before the ‘70s, the Steelers were a laughingstock of a team, as in “letting the ball bounce between their legs and then looking around for it in confusion” bad. Then Chuck Noll came on as coach, the Steel Curtain was stitched into place, and Super Bowls were won.

Blount was a Super Bowl Champ four times, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, the NFL’s leader in interceptions, a multiple Pro Bowler, and won many other accolades as well. He had 57 interceptions in his career and four touchdowns and is considered one of the greatest cornerbacks ever.

Tuffy Leemans, HB and FB – 1936, Round 2, Pick 18

This was the year of the NFL’s first-ever draft. The story goes that the owner of the New York Giants in the 1930s, Tim Mara, heard about a spectacular college player after his son had watched Leemans in a game while on vacation. Mara checked out the player for himself and drafted him soon thereafter.

Tuffy Leemans, now ensconced in the Football Hall of Fame, played on both the offensive and defensive lines for the New York Giants, excelling in both. As a rookie, he rushed for more than 800 yards, leading the NFL’s rookie class in rushing that year.

He had nearly a thousand carries in his career and rushed for more than 3,000 yards. He passed for 25 touchdowns and rushed for 17. The team created a “Tuffy Leemans Day” in 1941.

Unfortunately, that was the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, and suddenly, players were enlisting right and left. Nearly 1,000 NFL players and staff left the league to fight, and 19 players were killed in action, including Leeman’s teammate, tackle Al Blozis.

Leemans tried to enlist in two different branches of the armed forces but was denied because of an old football injury. He continued his play with the Giants.

Tuffy played eight years with the team that drafted him and then spent a couple more seasons with them as the backfield coach. In his playing years, he was considered one of the most dependable, sturdy players in the league, always coming through on both offense and defense.

Leemans was a Pro Bowler a couple of times, the league’s leader in rushing yards, a member of the All-Decade Team, and 1938’s NFL Champion.

Boomer Esiason, QB – 1984, Round 2, Pick 38

There was an NFL strike in 1987, and tensions in the league were running high. The season was shortened, and Esiason was rumored to be fighting with his coach. Yet the following season, Esiason took his team to the Super Bowl.

If you wonder just how big of an impact Esiason had on the Bengals, consider this: Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since he left. Not one. And that was nearly 30 years ago.

Of course, like any quarterback who is thrust into the spotlight, Esiason had some great receivers. But without his great left arm and his ability to calmly assess his receivers even when he’s one inch from being sacked, the Bengals would not have made it as far as they did.

Boomer became a voice for the fight against Cystic Fibrosis after his son was diagnosed with the disease while still a toddler. Esiason has been awarded the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, as well as the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

Derrick Henry, RB – 2016, Round 2, Pick 45

It didn’t take a psychic to foretell a successful pro football career for Derrick Henry, who rushed for more than 12,000 yards when he was in high school. He was a unanimous All-American and also picked up the Heisman before he took his place in the NFL.

As a member in college of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, Henry broke the record for most rushing yards in the school’s history. In his 2015 season at Alabama, he scored at least one TD in every one of the 15 games played and rushed for well over 2,000 yards.

Derrick Henry’s rushing attempts have made him the cornerstone of the Titans’ offense. “King” Henry was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after he rushed 238 yards in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Henry is reportedly on a high-calorie, low-carb diet to help him keep his BMI at optimal levels. He can’t eat indiscriminately, like a defensive tackle. He needs to keep his mass lean and agile, and so has to avoid certain foods that his teammates can enjoy in bulk, like bread.

But he does it willingly, so he can do things like lead the league in rushing yards (2019 season) and tie for the lead in rushing touchdowns (also in 2019).

Tennessee got lucky when they brought this running back on board, and they’re working to keep him in Titan colors.

Frank Gore, RB – 2005, Round 3, Pick 65

Gore is one of the best rushers the NFL has ever seen, one of the top three in NFL history in rushing yards (behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton). However, the most notable thing about him is that he got into college despite numerous issues that tried to keep him from even graduating high school.

The tough intensity of the gridiron is no big deal to Gore. He once had to live in a two-bedroom home shared among ten family members. While still in high school, he had to help his mom wean off her cocaine addiction. And he’s been plagued by injury time and again.

Gore also had a learning disability that was serious enough that college wasn’t even on the table. A coach got him tutors, and he worked like a madman in between football practice and taking his mom to dialysis.

But he worked his way into the University of Miami. The only problem was that the team already had enough running backs.

But Gore showed his mettle and rushed for 562 yards when he was still a freshman. Not surprising, then, that he’s rushed for more than 15,000 yards in his NFL career.

Gore has been selected for the NFL’s 2010 All-Decade Team and has been a five-time Pro Bowler. He’s now under consideration to be a Hall of Fame inductee.

Ray Nitschke, MLB – 1958, Round 3, Pick 36

Middle linebackers are deemed the toughest, grittiest players of any position. Considered “defensive quarterbacks,” they are the ones charged with getting to the ball-carrier and negating whatever play the offense has concocted.

Nitschke played professional football for 15 years, all of it with Green Bay. His first season with the team was a disaster. The Packers won one single game in the ’58 season. One month after this losing season, Vince Lombardi took over as head coach.

Ray Nitschke is considered one of the greatest Green Bay Packers players of all time, and Vince Lombardi used Nitschke to be the fighting spirit of his defensive line, the muscle behind the muscle. The team went on to win the first two Super Bowls with Nitschke shoring up the defense.

Nitschke made 25 interceptions in his career with the Packers. He made the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s. His number is one of the few jerseys the team has retired, and he’s in Green Bay’s Hall of Fame. Can the first 35 picks in his draft class say the same?

Art Shell, T – 1968, Round 3, Pick 80

A couple of Super Bowl trips and a bunch of Pro Bowl invitations has me thinking that this Round 3 pick was a pretty good deal for the Raiders. In Shell’s time with the team, they made it to nearly 25 playoff games.

One sportswriter called him the “G.O.A.T. power tackle.” He was said to have “great feet,” which could carry him downfield fast. That’s something you don’t often hear about a tackle. Shell has since been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Shell was drafted to try to defy the offensive power of the Chargers at that time. Hiring him paid off, as the Raiders’ playoff record attests. He played more than 200 games for the Raiders and made the 1970s All-Decade Team.

Shell went on to coach the Raiders (after Al Davis fired Mike Shanahan), becoming one of the first African American coaches in pro football. The first was Fritz Pollard, who coached in the 1920s. Thus, Shell was the first black coach in the NFL’s “modern” era.

After coaching the Raiders, Shell was a Senior VP for the NFL. The league has since voted Art Shell into the Top 100 Players of All Time.

Alvin Kamara, RB – 2017, Round 3, Pick 67

Kamara’s rookie season wasn’t too long ago, but his name is already on lips across the league. His rushing yard average is 5.0, with the league average for running backs at around a 4.0, and the very best running backs averaging right up there with Kamara.

As a senior in high school, he rushed for more than 2,200 yards and made 26 touchdowns. He was chosen to play in the Under Armour All-America Game. He enrolled at the University of Alabama, and his future seemed set.

So, how did he end up being chosen in round three?

Alabama said he couldn’t practice because of his attitude. He moved from the U of A to a community college and then to the University of Tennessee. He only started eight games with Tennessee, but he took his chances and entered the NFL draft instead of enrolling for his senior year in college.

Of all the running backs in his draft class, Kamara had the highest Wonderlic score, a test administered to draftees that gauges problem-solving ability. You can see him solve problems on the fly when he’s the ball carrier looking for an open route…and finding one.

The Saints took him, and he did so well that he was voted the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was also declared the Pepsi Offensive Player of the Year, and Kamara has been invited to the Pro Bowl every year he’s played so far.

Kamara didn’t show the kind of speed at the combine that you’d see in a top wide receiver, but you don’t notice it when he’s in play, ball in hand, outrunning a defender. Some people need the heat of the fight to show their true colors, and when it comes to on-field play, Kamara is on fire.

Marshal Yanda, G – 2007, Round 3, Pick 86

NFL paychecks are all over the place, and it’s pretty easy to see who’s considered a star in the league. When Yanda was drafted, he signed for about a million and a half dollars.

When, a few years later, Yanda signed a new, $32 million deal with Baltimore, forcing other players on the team to be offered much, much less, you knew the Ravens were aware of his value to the team. Yanda studied economics at the University of Iowa, so he knew the value of that contract, as well.

Yanda spent his entire football career with Baltimore, helping them become Super Bowl champs and getting himself elected to the Pro Bowl eight times, as well as being voted to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s.

Yanda is a member of the Baltimore Ravens Ring of Honor, acknowledged as being one of the team’s outstanding contributors. He was deemed one of the top offensive linemen in the league while he was on the Baltimore roster.

Terrell Owens, WR – 1996, Round 3, Pick 89

Some people love T.O., some people hate him, but you can’t deny that he could perform on the turf.

In the 16 seasons Owens played in the NFL, he moved from San Francisco, to Philadelphia to play with the Eagles, to his infamous stint with the Dallas Cowboys, to the Bills, to the Bengals, and then onto the Seahawks practice squad. He overdosed on pain medication, spit in another player’s face, and inspired numerous memes.

Of course, he was also the NFL’s leader in receiving touchdowns not once, not twice, but three times. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler, and the 49ers put him in their Hall of Fame.

When he played with the 49ers and scored a touchdown in Dallas’ stadium, he ran to the blue star that is the Cowboys’ logo and which is smack in the middle of the field, and stood in a victory pose, to the rage and incredulity of all the Dallas fans in the stadium. When he did it again, Dallas’ Teague tackled him on the spot and off the clock.

Owens wanted off of the San Francisco roster. The team initially struggled to keep him true to his contract, but eventually, a deal was struck, and Owens was on his way to Philadelphia.

While Terrell Owens played well with the Eagles, his personality caused issues…and sometimes fistfights. He wore other teams’ jerseys on his off-time and talked badly about his own teammates in interviews.

Despite Owens’ on-field prowess, his personality was hard to take and caused problems in team morale.

He moved on to the other teams listed above, who experienced the same issues other franchises had experienced with Owens: namely, “He’s amazing. And yet he’s still not worth having around.”

Owens was an amazing athlete, getting the job done over and over. But his personality was just too big for the teams that picked him up and brought him under contract. T.O. just literally wasn’t a team player.

Fun fact: when Owens was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he skipped the ceremony and hosted his own celebration at his alma mater. So far, he’s the only player voted into the Hall of Fame who didn’t show up for the award ceremony.

Dick Stanfel, G – 1951, Round 2, Pick 19

How many people can say they had a 50-year professional career in football? Dick Stanfel was a player with two NFL teams and a coach with four teams.

When Stanfel was 70 years old, Mike Ditka convinced him to come and coach the Bears’ offensive line. With Stanfel as the O-line coach, the Bears led the league in rushing three seasons running and made it to the Super Bowl.

But let’s back up. Stanfel went to the army before college; maybe that’s why he was so tough. An assistant coach once noted, “the rougher the game gets, the more Stanfel likes it.”

Coach Parker had just become head coach of the Lions, and Stanfel was his first pick. He was drafted by the Lions in 1951, but injury kept him from playing until the 1952 season.

When Stanfel took to the field in ’52, the team averaged nearly 29 points per game and had a 9-3 record. The Lions then beat the Browns in the NFL Championship Game.

The next season, their record was 10-2, and they went to the championship game again, again winning it by triumphing over the Browns. Stanfel was elected the team’s MVP.

Stanfel was traded to the Redskins because Washington’s new head coach had coached Stanfel in college. Although the Redskins’ seasons in those years were not great at all, Stanfel was elected to the Pro Bowl for all three years he was with Washington and voted to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1950s.

Cris Collinsworth, WR – 1981, Round 2, Pick 37

As a Florida Gator, Collinsworth, playing in the QB position, threw a 99-yard TD pass. It’s tied for the longest in the history of NCAA football. The irony is that his coach wanted him to try run plays, not pass plays. In college, Cris was the Tangerine Bowl’s MVP.

Collinsworth is quite tall, standing about 6’5”, and he was really fast at the time he was drafted by the Bengals. Opposing cornerbacks didn’t stand a chance. He outweighed and outran them, and he could snatch passes out of the air over their heads.

In his time playing with Cincinnati, he made more than 400 catches for 6,700 yards and 36 touchdowns.

Collinsworth made it to the Super Bowl once right at the beginning of his time with the Bengals and then again at the end of his run with Cincinnati. Superlative moments in which to begin and end a pro football career.

He went on to a broadcasting career, and that’s how many young football fans know him. But his most effective years were as a wide receiver in Cincinnati.

In Conclusion

If you think it’s amazing that these standout players weren’t picked up by teams until day two of the draft, consider how many other stars were picked much, much later.

There was Lloyd Mumphord, picked 401st, in round 16 of the 1969 draft. He took the Miami Dolphins to three Super Bowls, was captain of Special Teams, and has one of the highest records in the NFL for blocking punts and kicks.

Mumphord made 21 interceptions in his pro ball career, and the Dolphins remember him as one of their greats.

Another very late pick was Lou Creekmur, chosen by the Detroit Lions at pick 243 in round 26. He went on to be elected to the Pro Bowl eight times, honored in the Hall of Fame, and was three-time league champion in the 1950s.

And let’s not forget the undrafted players, some of whom—like Marion Motley of the Browns and Steelers—have been inducted into the Football Hall of Fame.

Football is life: surprise, defeat, injury, misery, a few more surprises, and then the victories that make it all worthwhile.

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