The best second-round draft picks in NFL history

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April 20th, 2021

Some of the best football players in history had to sit through a whole round of picks before they got to hear their name called in the NFL draft.

From the league’s all-time leading passer to a three-time MVP, here are the five best second round draft picks in NFL history.

5. Michael Strahan

Pick: 40th, 1993
Team: New York Giants
Accolades: Super Bowl XLII champion, NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 7x Pro Bowler, 2x NFL sack leader
Years active: 1993-2007

After setting a school record for sacks (19) as a senior at Texas Southern, Michael Strahan became the seventh defensive end selected in the 1993 NFL Draft.  

Initially, Strahan’s career with the New York Giants was a bit underwhelming. He played just six games his rookie season because of injuries, but experienced a breakthrough in 1997, when he recorded 14 sacks and earned his first Pro Bowl nomination.

In 2000, he tallied 9.5 sacks and helped the Giants reach the Super Bowl, where they fell, 34-7, to Baltimore.

The next season, Strahan set the NFL record for sacks, with 22.5, which earned him NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He again topped the league in sacks (18.5) in 2003, and was a key piece in the New York Giants' upset Super Bowl win over the then-undefeated New England Patriots in 2007.

In that contest, Strahan took down quarterback Tom Brady for the final sack of Strahan’s career. 

He retired the year of his Super Bowl win with 141.5 career sacks, the sixth most by any player. Strahan is also one of five players from his draft class who are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

4. Mike Singletary

Pick: 38th, 1981
Team: Chicago Bears
Accolades: Super Bowl XX champion, 2x NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 10x Pro Bowler
Years active: 1981-1992

At Baylor, Mike Singletary set the single-season school record (232) and career record (662) in tackles, before he was selected in the second round by the Chicago Bears.

In 1981, the linebacker became a starter midway through the season and was a nearly unanimous all-rookie selection. The following year until his retirement in 1992, Singletary ranked first or second in tackles on his team in every season, and missed just two games (both in 1986) during his 12-year career.

In the Bears' 1985 Super Bowl-winning season, Singletary won Defensive Player of the Year, after he recorded 109 solo tackles, three sacks, three fumble recoveries, and one interception.

In Super Bowl XX, he broke up a pass that would have resulted in a touchdown, and tied a record for fumble recoveries, with two.

Singletary won Defensive Player of the Year a second time in 1988. His 10 Pro Bowls mark a team record, while his 172 starts rank second in franchise history, behind Walter Payton.

Singletary is one of seven players from his draft class, including Lawrence Taylor, who are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

3. Brett Favre

Pick: 33rd, 1991
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings
Accolades: Super Bowl XXXI champion, 3x NFL MVP, 11x Pro Bowler
Years active: 1991-2010

A former star at Southern Miss, Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre was the third quarterback taken in the 1991 NFL draft.

Dan McGwire and Todd Marinovich were the two signal callers picked ahead of Favre, but it was the "Gunslinger" from Mississippi who went on to a far more illustrious career.

After attempting only four passes in his rookie season with the Atlanta Falcons, Favre was traded to Green Bay, where he spent most of his 20-year NFL career.

With the Packers, No. 4 guided the franchise to two Super Bowl appearances, and one title, while he earned three consecutive NFL MVP awards (1995-1997), set a multitude of NFL and franchise records, and was nominated to the Pro Bowl nine times.

Favre also made the Pro Bowl in his one season with the New York Jets, in 2008, and again in 2009, with the Minnesota Vikings.

In 2010, Favre announced his final retirement from football. He ranks fourth in career passing yards and touchdown passes, and holds the record for most consecutive starts, with 321 (including the playoffs) — a milestone that will likely never be broken.

Of his 1991 draft class, he and cornerback Aeneas Williams are the only players who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

2. Rob Gronkowski

Pick: 42nd, 2010
Teams: New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Accolades: 4x Super Bowl champion, 5x Pro Bowler, NFL Comeback Player of the Year
Years active: 2010-2018, 2020-present

Before former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski came out of retirement to reunite with Brady in Tampa Bay, he was already considered one of the greatest of all time at his position.

Since rejoining the NFL in 2020, he has further padded his remarkable résumé. In Super Bowl LV, the 42nd overall pick out of Arizona set the record for most Super Bowls (5) with at least one reception, and joined Jerry Rice as the only players with multiple receiving touchdowns in multiple Super Bowls. 

The five-time Pro Bowler won three more Super Bowl titles and set a number of NFL records while playing in New England.

In 2011, he became the first tight end to lead the league in receiving touchdowns, with 17, which also broke the all-time single-season record for most touchdowns at his position. 

Gronk is tied with Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss for most offensive touchdowns (28) in a player’s first two seasons, and he owns NFL postseason records for a tight end in receptions (89), receiving yards (1,273), and touchdown receptions (14).

The one knock on his career has been his issues with injuries, but when healthy, the 6'6", 265-pounder has been a nightmare for defenses.

1. Drew Brees

Pick: 32nd, 2001
Teams: San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints
Accolades: Super Bowl MVP (2010), 2x NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Comeback Player of the Year, 13x Pro Bowler
Years active: 2001-2020

Following a record-setting career at Purdue, quarterback Drew Brees fell to the second round in the NFL draft because of skepticism over his height and arm strength.

With the 32nd overall pick, Brees landed in San Diego, where he endured early struggles, before a breakout 2004 campaign.

The following season, Brees suffered a torn labrum in his throwing arm during the final game and left San Diego in free agency. Only New Orleans, a franchise which boasted just seven winning seasons, was willing to take a chance on the injured passer.

The risk paid off well, as Brees brought a new era of success to the Big Easy. He led the franchise to seven division titles, three NFC Championship appearances, and guided the Saints to their only Super Bowl win in 2010.

In 2021, the longtime veteran retired with a slew of records, including the NFL's all-time record in passing yards (80,358) and completed passes (7,142). Brees also ranks second all time in career touchdown passes (571) and career completion percentage (67.7%).

He led the league in passing yards seven times and in touchdown passes four times, which are both NFL records, and threw at least one touchdown in 54 consecutive games, which shattered what was once considered an unbreakable milestone by Johnny Unitas.

His 13 Pro Bowls are one shy of the record, shared by five players, including Brady.