In professional sports, a player’s position in the draft does a lot to establish expectations: a high draft pick better be impressive and fans rarely suspect late round draft picks to do much but fill the roster. Luckily, our expectations aren’t always 100% accurate.
Countless times, late round picks have developed into superstars, or at the very least, steals for their position. This obviously bites for the teams that passed the players up, but for fans of the franchise that snagged them, nothing’s better.
With that being said, why not take a look at some of the best late round picks for America’s three biggest professional sports leagues?
The Lakers drafted Pau Gasol’s younger brother Marc in 2007 in the 2nd round, 48th overall. In early 2008, The Lakers and the Grizzlies made a trade that would send Pau to LA and Marc to Memphis. Since Pau was an established talent, this trade seemed like a bad move to Memphis fans. However, in his first season as a Grizzly, Marc shot 53% from the field, breaking the franchise record set by his brother. He’s since become a pivotal part of the talented Grizzlies team and one of the most talented centers in the league. He’s been in two All-Star games and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
In 1999, the Spurs selected Manu Ginobili in the 2nd round, with the 57th pick overall. That’s the second-to-last pick in the entire draft. Since then, Ginobili has accomplished a great deal for any player, but an especially great deal for a player chosen that low. In his career alongside Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, Ginobili has taken home four NBA championships, made two All-Star appearances, and received the Sixth-Man of the Year Award in 2008.
The Golden State Warriors drafted Arenas in the 2nd round of the 2001 draft, 31st overall. He’d go on to make impacts on several different teams. Even in his rookie season, he proved to be a difference maker, averaging double figure scoring as a first-year starter. In the 05-06 season, during which he played for the Wizards, he averaged 29.3 points per game. In his career, he averaged over 20 points a game, was an All-Star twice, and named the league’s Most Improved Player in 2003.
During the 7th round of the 1999 draft, with the 213th pick, the Packers selected Donald Driver. Few players drafted so low have had the consistently impressive numbers that Driver had during his career. He accumulated 735 career catches and managed to have seven 1,000-yard seasons -- ending his career with just over 10,000 receiving yards. He still holds franchise records for receptions and receiving yards, and was able to help his team win a Super Bowl before retiring.
Sharpe was taken In the 7th round of the 1990 draft by the Broncos, 192nd overall. By the end of his career, he’d won three Super Bowls and was the NFL’s all-time leader in receptions by a tight end (with 815), receiving yards by a tight end (with 10,060), and receiving touchdowns by a tight end (with 62). Though these records have since been broken, Sharpe is still the first tight end to ever break 10,000 receiving yards. To top it all off, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
In the 2000 draft, Brady was selected in the 6th round, 199th overall, by the Patriots. This was one of the greatest late-round acquisitions of modern football, and Brady’s accolades would barely fit on this page. But, just to name a few: Brady has won three Super Bowls, holds the record for most Super Bowl touchdown passes, was the first quarterback to throw 50 or more touchdowns in a single season, and helped his team earn the longest winning streak in NFL history at 21 consecutive games over two seasons. He’s also been named league MVP twice and was the first one to win such an honor by unanimous vote since 1987. If that wasn’t enough, he and Joe Montana are the only players in NFL history to have earned the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards on multiple occasions.
With their last pick of the 1988 draft, the Dodgers selected Mike Piazza. He was selected in the 62nd round, 1,390th overall, as a courtesy to Piazza’s father, who was a longtime friend of the team’s manager, Tommy Lasorda. After Lasorda convinced the team to sign him and to eventually let him play as catcher, Piazza went on to become the greatest hitting catcher in the history of Major League Baseball. Piazza is a 12 time All-Star, won the All-Star MVP in 1996, and has 10 Silver Slugger Awards to his name.
Under the now-abolished “draft-and-follow” rule, Buehrle was selected in 1998 by the White Sox in the 38th round, 1,139th overall. Then, before being officially signed by the team, Buehrle’s progress and performance were monitored for just under a year. Since he was signed in 1999, he’s won nearly 200 games and pitched a 27-batter no-hitter as well as one perfect game. He’s also made four All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves.
Rogers only played high school baseball as a senior and was only noticed because a scout for the Rangers was there to look at another player. The scout noticed the strength of Roger’s arm (as he played shortstop), and it was enough to get him drafted as their pitcher. He was selected by the Rangers in 1982 during the 39th round, 816th overall. After his 26-year career, Rogers retired with a perfect game under his belt, 219 wins, and four All-Star appearances.