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Recent late-round draft picks who have hit it big in the NFL

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You hear it every year around draft time, the whispering that goes on when your favorite team has extra picks in the later rounds.

"Hey, Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick. Maybe our GM can uncover a guy like that!"


» 2015 NFL Draft: Quick-snap grades for all 32 teams


The whispering needs to stop: Brady basically was a once-in-a-lifetime outlier. But there's no question teams can find valuable players -- even stars -- in the later rounds.

By the way, Brady eventually will become just the second sixth-round pick to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame (the other is former Detroit Lions defensive back Jack Christiansen). There are nine former seventh-rounders, including Shannon Sharpe, and 22 more players who were drafted in the eighth round or later, including Richard Dent, Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Deacon Jones and Bart Starr.

Here are 12 sixth- or seventh-rounders who have hit it (relatively) big from the past five drafts (2010-14):

OT Kelvin Beachum, Steelers

The pick: 41st pick of 7th round (248th overall), out of SMU, in 2012 by Pittsburgh.
The buzz: Beachum redshirted as a true freshman, then started every game from then on for the next four seasons at left tackle at SMU. Among other things, his lack of prototypical size (he was 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds as a senior) and strength for the position led to him being a late-round pick. But he has started at left tackle for the past two seasons for the Steelers, and his work in pass protection has been outstanding, which probably shouldn't be a surprise considering he played for pass-happy coach June Jones at SMU.

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WR Antonio Brown, Steelers

The pick: 26th pick of 6th round (195th overall), out of Central Michigan, in 2010 by Pittsburgh.
The buzz: The Steelers struck it big with Beachum; they struck gold with Brown. He has put together back-to-back monster seasons -- a combined 239 receptions for 3,197 yards and 21 TDs in the past two seasons. He also has been one of the most dangerous punt returners in the league for the past four seasons. He left Central Michigan early and his lack of size and bulk (he was 5-10 and 179 at CMU) was said to be a problem. It hasn't been.

TE Charles Clay, Bills

The pick: 9th pick of 6th round (174th overall), out of Tulsa, in 2011 by Miami.
The buzz: Clay was an important part of Miami's passing offense the past two seasons, and the Bills hope they have improved their passing attack by signing him away from the Dolphins. Clay played in a spread attack at Tulsa and basically was a pass-catching fullback with suspect blocking skills. He has become an effective pass-catching weapon in the NFL.

RB Andre Ellington, Cardinals

The pick: 19th pick of 6th round (187th overall), out of Clemson, in 2013 by Arizona.
The buzz: He's too small (5-9, 199) to be an every-down back, but he nevertheless has been effective as a runner and receiver in his two seasons in Phoenix. He's a space player with speed.


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CB E.J. Gaines, Rams

The pick: 12th pick of 6th round (188th overall), out of Missouri, in 2014 by St. Louis.
The buzz: Gaines started 15 games for the Rams as a rookie last season, finishing with two picks, 14 pass breakups and 70 tackles. He predictably struggled at times, but it was a better-than-expected performance from a sixth-round pick. He was a three-year starter at Mizzouu, but a lack of size (he's 5-10) and top-end speed hurt him in the draft.

DE Greg Hardy, Cowboys

The pick: 6th pick of 6th round (175th overall), out of Mississippi, in 2010 by Carolina.
The buzz: Hardy was an uneven performer at Ole Miss, both on and off the field, and his off-field issues obviously have continued in the NFL. But his pass-rush skills are undeniable: In his last two full seasons, he had a combined 26 sacks. Not bad for a sixth-rounder.

OT Seantrel Henderson, Dolphins

The pick: 22nd pick of 7th round (237th overall), out of Miami, in 2014 by Buffalo.
The buzz: Henderson was a mega-recruit out of high school in St. Paul., Minn., but didn't come close to living up to the billing at Miami. He had off-field issues and never seemed fully invested in playing hard. But he has undeniable physical talent, and the Bills decided to make a late-round gamble on that. It paid off last season to an extent, when he started all 16 games. We say "to an extent" because he was inconsistent and looked bad at times. Still, if he decides to work hard, the Bills have a high-upside starter -- and one they got in the seventh round.

C Jason Kelce, Eagles

The pick: 26th pick of 6th round (191st overall), out of Cincinnati, in 2011 by Philadelphia.
The buzz: He's undersized at 295 pounds, but he is an excellent technician and one of the best centers in the league when healthy. His lack of size (he was a 280-pounder at Cincy) and power were knocks on him coming out of college.


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RB Alfred Morris, Redskins

The pick: 3rd pick of 6th round (173rd overall), out of Florida Atlantic, in 2012 by Washington.
The buzz: Morris won the starting job as a rookie and shows no signs of giving it up. Morris has rushed for 3,962 yards and 28 TDs in his three seasons. He lacks breakaway speed, but he's durable and runs downhill. His lack of size (he was listed at 5-9 and 219 as a college senior) and speed were big knocks on him coming out of FAU.

OT Derek Newton, Texans

The pick: 11th pick of 7th round (214th overall), out of Arkansas State, in 2011 by Houston.
The buzz: He was a two-year starter at left tackle for Arkansas State after transferring in from a junior college, but there were questions about his athleticism and strength entering the NFL. He moved to the right side with the Texans and has started in each of the past three seasons. The Texans obviously like him, as they signed him to a five-year, $26.5 million contract in March. A late-round pick getting rich brings a smile to every scout's face.

TE Mychal Rivera, Raiders

The pick: 16th pick of 6th round (184th overall), out of Tennessee, in 2013 by Oakland.
The buzz: His lack of size (6-3, 242) and speed and inability to get deep hurt him in the eyes of NFL evaluators. It hasn't necessarily hurt him with the Raiders, though; Rivera has started 13 games in the past two seasons, including 10 starts in 2014, and been a solid receiving threat (58 receptions in '14 and 96 in his two pro seasons).

G J.R. Sweezy, Seahawks

The pick: 18th pick of 7th round (225th overall), out of North Carolina State, in 2012 by Seattle.
The buzz: He's a perfect example of how the Seahawks have built their roster with a lot of no-name, late-round guys (well, no-name guys when they were drafted anyway). He played defensive end in college, but there were concerns about his lack of athleticism. The Seahawks moved him to guard, and once he fully grasped the position, he became a starter in 2013.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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