Wednesday, April 27, 2011

NFL Draft Finds: 1990-1999

In the second of a three part series, The Canon Review takes a look at some of the best low round NFL Draft picks over the past 30 years. This installment features the best draft finds of the 1990s, and include a Hall of Fame tight end and three quarterbacks that rose from obscurity to become Pro Bowlers, including one that led his team to the Super Bowl. So, without further adieu, here are the top draft finds in each year's NFL Draft of the 1990s.

1990: Shannon Sharpe, Tight End, Denver Broncos, Pick #192 (7th Round)

Coming out of Division II Savannah State College, Sharpe was thought to be too small for a tight end, and too slow to be a wide receiver. On the other hand, Sharpe proved to be too strong for cornerbacks to defend, and too fast for linebackers to cover. The Broncos made him a tight end, and two years later, Sharpe played in the first of eight career Pro Bowls. Sharpe would go on to play for three Super Bowl winning teams, the 1997 and 1998 Broncos and 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Sharpe finished his career with 815 catches and 10,060 yards, becoming the first tight end in NFL history to exceed the 10,000 yard plateau. Earlier this year, Sharpe was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

1991: Keenan McCardell, Wide Receiver, Washington Redskins, Pick #326 (12th Round)

McCardell actually didn't suit up for the Redskins until his last season in 2007, but the 12th Round pick from UNLV proved to be a top-notch receiver for many teams over his 16 year career. Released by the receiver-rich Redskins in 1992, McCardell landed on the Browns, and after a 56 reception season in 1995, he became a free-agent and signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars. During his six year stint as a Jaguar, McCardell exceeded the 1,000 yard mark four times, and in 2002, McCardell caught two touchdowns for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl. McCardell retired in 2007, and his 883 catches ranks 14th in NFL history.

1992: Brad Johnson, Quarterback, Minnesota Vikings, Pick #227 (9th Round)

Johnson spent his college career at Florida State, backing up starter Casey Weldon. So when the Vikings picked Johnson in the ninth round, no one knew what to make of a quarterback with so little on field experience in college. Johnson spent the first two years of his career on the sideline, and didn't start a game until 1996, but he proved to be a solid quarterback and led the Vikings to a playoff berth in 1997. After an injury gave way to Randall Cunningham's remarkable 1998 season, Johnson was sent to the Washington Redskins, and in 1999, Johnson passed for over 4,000 yards as the Redskins won the NFC East. In 2001, Johnson was traded to Tampa Bay, and the very next year, Johnson was the starting quarterback on the Bucs' 2002 Super Bowl winning team. For his career, Johnson played in two Pro Bowls, threw for 166 touchdowns and 29,054 yards. Not bad for a career backup in college.

1993: Trent Green, Quarterback, San Diego Chargers, Pick #222 (8th Round)

After a decent career at Indiana University, only two players were selected after Green in the 1993 Draft, neither of which played a game in the NFL. For a while, it looked as if Green would never play in the NFL either, as he was cut by San Diego, then cut by the CFL B.C. Lions before ending up on the Washington Redskins practice squad. After an injury to Gus Frerotte early in 1998, Green stepped in for the Redskins and played admirably, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. Green signed with the St. Louis Rams after that season, but missed the 1999 season due to a knee injury suffered in pre-season. Thanks to the play of his former backup, Kurt Warner, Green was traded to Kansas City in 2001. There, he played six years and engineered a high-powered offense during his stint there. From 2003-2005, Green threw for over 4,000 yards in each season and led the Chiefs to the playoffs after the 2003 and 2005 seasons. Green retired after the 2009 season, finishing his career with 28,475 passing yards and 162 touchdowns. Green passed for 237.3 yards per game in his career, which puts him ninth in NFL history and ahead of such quarterbacks as Warren Moon, Philip Rivers, Donovan McNabb, and John Elway.

1994: Tom Nalen, Center, Denver Broncos, Pick #218 (7th Round)

The fifth-to-last pick in the 1994 Draft was used on Nalen, an undersized center from Boston College. He may not have been the biggest center, but Nalen's quickness and smarts made him the perfect center for Alex Gibbs' zone blocking scheme, and starting in 1995, Nalen blocked for six different backs that ran for over 1,000 yards in a season. Nalen was the starter on Denver's Super Bowl teams in 1997 and 1998, and for his career, Nalen played in five Pro Bowls and started 188 games. In 2009, Nalen was voted to the Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary All-Time team.

1995: Terrell Davis, Running Back, Denver Broncos, Pick #196 (6th Round)

The third Denver Broncos draft pick on this list, Davis was perhaps the most valuable member of Denver's back-to-back Super Bowl champion teams in 1997 and 1998. Coming out of Georgia, Davis was an injury-prone running back thought to be too slow. But Denver took a chance on Davis, and the move paid off right away as Davis ran for 1,117 yards in his rookie season. Over the next three years, Davis was arguably the best running back in football, and in 1998, Davis was the NFL MVP after becoming the third back in history to run for over 2,000 yards. A knee injury slowed down Davis in 1999, and he never truly recovered his previous form, but make no mistake, Davis was an impact player. For his seven year career, Davis ran for 7,607 and 60 touchdowns, and his career mark of 97.5 yards per game ranks fourth in NFL history.

1996: Zach Thomas, Linebacker, Miami Dolphins, Pick #154 (5th Round)

Thomas was a tackling machine at Texas Tech, but scouts thought that Thomas was too small and too slow to succeed as a middle linebacker in the NFL. The Dolphins took a chance on Thomas in the fifth round, and he was so impressive in training camp that coach Jimmy Johnson cut free agent acquisition Jack Del Rio and named Thomas his starting middle linebacker on opening day. Over the next 13 years, the first 12 with the Dolphins, Thomas was one of the best middle linebackers in the game. Thomas played in seven Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro five times during his career. Thomas finished his career with over 1,000 tackles, 20.5 sacks and 17 interceptions, and in 2010 the NFL named Thomas one of three middle linebackers (along with Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher) on it's 2000 All-Decade team.

1997: Jason Ferguson, Defensive Tackle, New York Jets, Pick #229 (7th Round)

Another University of Georgia product, Ferguson's draft status was put into danger after he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine, but after a positive review from Jim Donnan, Jets head honcho Bill Parcells took a chance on Ferguson late in the draft. The move paid off, as Ferguson started all 16 games in his second season, and was a mainstay on the Jets' defensive line until moving to Dallas in 2005 to play for his old coach Bill Parcells. Ferguson started for three seasons in Dallas, and when Parcells became president of the Miami Dolphins in 2008, Ferguson soon followed, helping to turn around a Dolphins team that went from 1-15 in 2007 to an 11-5 record. Ferguson retired during training camp last year, finishing his career with 127 games started, 21.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles, as well as a reputation as being a top-notch run stopper.

1998: Matt Hasselbeck, Quarterback, Green Bay Packers, Pick #187 (6th Round)

Hasselbeck had a decent but unspectacular career at Boston College when Mike Holmgren and Ron Wolf selected Hasselbeck late in the draft. Since Brett Favre was firmly in place as the Packers' quarterback, Hasselbeck sat on the bench for three years before he reunited with Holmgren after a trade to Seattle. Hasselbeck started the 2001 season as the Seahawks' starting QB, but didn't really flourish in the role until 2003, where he broke through with a season where he passed for 3,821 yards and 26 touchdowns, leading the Seahawks to the playoffs in the process. Since then, Hasselbeck has been the starting quarterback in Seattle with a great deal of success, leading his team to six postseason appearances and the Super Bowl in 2005. For his career, Hasselbeck has played in three Pro Bowls, and has completed 2,572 passes for 29,579 yards with 176 touchdowns. Hasselbeck is also the Seahawks all time leader in completions, passing yards, and completion percentage.

1999: Donald Driver, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers, Pick #213 (7th Round)

As it turns out, the Packers are pretty good at this draft thing. Coming out of Division 1-AA Alcorn State, Driver was the 25th receiver taken in the 1999 Draft. With the exception of Torry Holt, no receiver in that draft has more career catches, yards, and touchdown catches than Driver. Driver didn't become a starter in Green Bay until 2002, a season where he gained over 1,000 yards and made the first of three Pro Bowls. Driver continued to be the main target in the Packers' passing game, and from 2004-2009 he had a string of six consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. In 2010, Driver and his mates went on to win Super Bowl 45. Driver's 698 catches is the most in the rich history of the Green Bay Packers. He also has gained 9,615 yards and caught 53 touchdowns during his 12 year career.

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