The best third round draft picks in NFL history

Profile Picture: Dan Halverson

April 20th, 2021

The NFL Draft gives teams the opportunity to reinvent themselves with impact players that may hold the key to success and glory. While the first round yields the highest percentage of future stars, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is also filled with players selected far lower.

Let’s take a look at the the five best third round draft picks in NFL history

5. Will Shields

Pick: 74th, 1993
Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 12x Pro Bowl, 2x All Pro, 2003 Man of the Year
Years active: 1993-2006

Will Shields was an Outland Trophy winner in college, yet somehow dropped to the third round where he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs, with whom he would spend his entire career.

Shields became a 12-time Pro Bowler and would go on to a Hall of Fame career marked by consistency and reliability. He never missed a game, and his 223 consecutive starts is a franchise record. Shields would have only two holding penalties called against him in the final 10 years of his career, and was recognized as a member of the NFL’s All-2000’s team.

4. Ray Nitschke

Pick: 36th, 1958
Team: Green Bay Packers
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 2x All-Pro, 2x Super Bowl champion, 5x NFL champion
Years active: 1958-1972

One of the most feared and recognized linebackers in NFL history, Ray Nitschke is an icon of the great 1960’s Green Bay Packers teams. He was the leader of the Packers’ elite defense that would go on to win five NFL Championships and two Super Bowls.

Nitschke was named to the Hall of Fame’s All-1960’s team, and is on nearly every notable NFL writer’s Top 100 list. His outstanding play helped contribute to the league's popularity, and make him an absolute legend.

3. Russell Wilson

Pick: 75th, 2012
Team: Seattle Seahawks
Accolades: 7x Pro Bowl, 2020 Man of the Year, 1x Super Bowl champion
Years active: 2012-present

Russell Wilson has somehow never won an NFL MVP award despite holding the fourth-highest passer rating of any quarterback in NFL history. The dual-threat QB has guided the Seattle Seahawks to relevance every year he’s been under center, and his ability to ignite a final drive is the stuff that keeps us glued to our televisions and eagerly awaiting each new snap of the ball.

Wilson is one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the history of the game and at the most impactful position on the field, his legacy will go down as one of the greatest third round steals of all time.

2. Fran Tarkenton

Pick: 29th, 1961
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 9x Pro Bowl, 1x MVP
Years active: 1961-1978

One of the most tenured quarterbacks of his era, Fran Tarkenton led the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances. While he has since been passed over by several of the day’s modern quarterbacks, at the time of his retirement Tarkenton led the all-time list in career passing yards and touchdowns.

It's difficult to compare players across eras, but anyone that held all-time passing marks at the time he hung up the cleats was clearly a worthwhile investment, and deserves to be mentioned among the greats.

1. Joe Montana

Pick: 82nd, 1979
Teams: San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs
Accolades: Hall of Fame, 8x Pro Bowl, 3x All-Pro, 2x MVP, 4x Super Bowl champion
Years active: 1979-1994

If not for Tom Brady, Joe Montana would go down as the greatest draft pick of all time, let alone the greatest third round pick. A Hall of Famer and two-time MVP, Montana was a consummate winner, who consistently came through in clutch time.

Montana was an eight-time Pro Bowl Selection, and winner of four Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers. He was named MVP of three of those Super Bowls, which is a testament to the importance he played on those teams, and to the impact players selected outside of the first round can have on a franchise’s future.