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Cream of the Crop: 6th & 7th Round (1999-2009)

Our last look at the cream of the crop was the 5th rounders from '99-'09. The voting ended up being a lot closer in this one than any other related article we've had.

The voting numbers went down, but we still had a significant enough sample size to get a good idea on who people thought was the best of the bunch with 760 total votes. Michael Turner was the leader with 39% of the votes (297), next in line was Aaron Kampman with 15% of the votes (118), and in third Robert Mathis with 15% of the votes (115).

Here's a look at how the rest of the results went: Shane Lechler (96 votes), Parys Haralson (62 votes), Trent Cole (26 votes), Steve Breaston (22 votes), Tim Hightower (11 votes), Johnny Knox (8 votes), Jerry Azumah (4 votes), Alex Bannister (1 vote).

I am combining the last two rounds because I feel any gem you find in either round is really quite amazing. There is a player in this final weeks look that should run away with all of the votes. It will be interesting to see just how many people vote against him. But the talent is undeniable and he is a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Well this was a fun piece to do, and I thank all of the fans who voted. Below, we will look at the players.


Donald Driver (213th pick overall, Packers) Alcorn State

Driver holds the franchise record for the most TD receptions of any wide receiver to play for the Packers. Driver was picked by the Packers in the 1999 NFL Draft in the seventh round (213th pick overall) out of Alcorn State University.

Driver is one of the most inspiring players in the NFL as he spent some of his teenage years living out of a U-Haul truck, dealing drugs and stealing cars before working his way to the NFL.[3] Driver showed a special connection with Brett Favre, and was Favre's most reliable receiver from 2002-2007.

On December 16, 2007 during a 33-14 victory over the St. Louis Rams, Favre broke Dan Marino's all-time record mark of 61,361 career passing yards. The new record came on a seven yard completion to Driver. [6] Driver was selected for the 2008 Pro Bowl.

In the NFC Championship game on January 20, 2008 against the New York Giants, Driver had the longest play in the playoffs of the Packers' franchise history with a 90 yard TD catch from Favre.[7]

On October 18, 2009, Donald Driver became the Green Bay Packers all-time leading receiver in catches, with 596 catches. He went on to catch 6 more balls for 107 yards in a 26-0 home victory over the Detroit Lions.


Tom Brady (199th pick overall, Patriots) Michigan

After playing college football at Michigan, Brady was drafted by the Patriots in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

He has played in four Super Bowls, winning three of them (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX). He has also won two Super Bowl MVP awards (XXXVI and XXXVIII), has been selected to five Pro Bowls (and invited to six, although he declined the 2006 invitation), and holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes in a single regular season. Brady has the sixth-highest career passer rating of all time (93.3) among quarterbacks with at least 1,500 career passing attempts. He was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year in 2005. He also helped set the record for the longest consecutive win streak in NFL history with 21 straight wins over two seasons (2003-04).[1]

In 2004 and 2007, Brady was named "Sportsman of the Year" by The Sporting News.[2] He was also named the 2007 NFL MVP, as well as 2007 Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, the first time an NFL player has been honored since Joe Montana won in 1990.[3]

Brady holds numerous regular season and postseason records, including most touchdown passes in a regular season (50), highest single-game completion percentage, regular season or postseason (26/28, 92.9%), most completions in one Super Bowl, most completions in Super Bowl history (career), the highest winning percentage of any quarterback ever during his first 100 starts (76 wins), and the longest streak of games with 3 or more touchdown passes (10 games). Brady is the fourth-fastest player to reach 200 career passing touchdowns (116 games). He is the first quarterback in NFL history to have reached said mark with under 100 career interceptions (he had 88 interceptions).


T.J. Houshmandzadeh (204th pick overall, Bengals) Oregon State

Houshmandzadeh was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the seventh round (204th overall) in the 2001 NFL Draft.

Houshmandzadeh had a modest rookie season, recording 21 receptions for 228 yards, while also being used to return punts and kickoffs. His most notable achievement was in a game against the Cleveland Browns, in which he set a franchise record with 126 punt return yards.

After the 2001 season, questions about Houshmandzadeh's speed and quickness led to him slimming down to his current playing weight of about 200 pounds, which increased his on-field performance remarkably. Houshmandzadeh has gained a number of rushing yards on reverse plays. In 2004, he rushed six times and gained 51 yards (8.5 yards per attempt); in 2005, he rushed eight times for 62 yards (7.8 yards per attempt) and scored his first touchdown.

Houshmandzadeh finished the 2006 season with 90 receptions for 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns, all career highs. His 90 receptions and nine touchdown catches led his team. He and Chad Johnson also became the first Bengals teammates ever to each record over 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.

Houshmandzadeh opened the 2007 season by scoring a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens and two touchdowns in the loss to the Cleveland Browns. Against the Seattle Seahawks, Houshmandzadeh totaled 141 yards on 12 receptions for one touchdown. By the end of the year, he finished with a franchise record 112 receptions for 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns. His 112 catches tied him with Wes Welker for the most in the NFL. He was also selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time in his career.

Houshmandzadeh was signed by the Seattle Seahawks on March 2, 2009 to a five-year $40 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. He had also been courted by the Minnesota Vikings.[6] The Cincinnati Bengals were Reported of giving him an offer but he countered the statement saying "Cincinnati's offer wasn't enough for me to continue to play there, I think I should be able to start fresh." He jokingly went on to say "I want to win some games for once", which is ironic given the differing fortunes of the two teams in the 2009/10 season.


Eric Heitmann (239th pick overall, 49ers) Stanford

In 2002, Heitmann was the first rookie to start a game on the offensive line for the 49ers since 1987, when Harris Barton started at right tackle. He finished the 2002 season starting 12 games, including two playoff contests. He switched to center in the absence of regular center Jeremy Newberry. After an injury-plagued 2003 season, he started all 16 games in 2004.

Prior to the 2005 season, he worked to get stronger and more powerful under the tutelage of renowned strength coach Johnny Parker. His work paid off early in minicamps, and the 49ers signed him to a 4-year extension in June 2005. He started in all 16 games including 10 at right guard and six at center during the 2005 season.

Heitmann was converted to full-time center for the 2006 season. However, on December 14, in a game against the Seattle Seahawks, Heitmann broke his right tibia with 6:13 left in the first quarter on a two-yard run by Frank Gore. Heitmann was down on the field for several minutes before being taken to the locker room on a cart. He consequently had surgery on his knee and finished the 2006 season on injured reserve after having started the first 14 games. For his dedication and commitment, Heitmann was given the Bobb McKittrick award, named after the late 49ers offensive line coach.

In 2007, Heitmann proved that he successfully recovered from his injury, as he once again started all 16 games at center.


Cato June (198th pick overall, Colts) Michigan

On April 27, June was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the sixth round (25th pick) of the 2003 NFL Draft with the expectation that he would play weak side linebacker. Colts coach Tony Dungy had had previous success converting college safeties into linebackers.[80] Colts President Bill Polian made the decision to draft him and have him converted.[81] June agreed to a three-year contract on July 23 with the Colts just before the voluntary rookie camp in advance of the full training camp.[82][83] During the 2003 NFL season, June was one of only two 2003 Colts draft choices not to make a significant contribution.[84] He sat out the first five games and played mostly on special teams the rest of the season.[85] Nonetheless, June, who wore #59 for the Colts, was on the roster for the 2003–04 NFL playoffs.[86][87]

After losing to the New England Patriots in the American Football Conference Championship Game and losing Marcus Washington who joined the Washington Redskins, the Colts shuffled their linebacker lineup and June was listed as a starter when the Colts arrived at mini-camp.[88][89] At the 2004 Colts training camp, June competed with Keyon Whiteside for the starting weakside linebacker position.[90] By the end of training camp, June was the starter,[91] and 2004 rookie Gilbert Gardner was the backup.[92] June made his debut as a starter in the opening game against the 2004 Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.[93] That season, the Colts used a 4-3 defense with a fourth linebacker on passing downs.[94] In week 5, June had a team-high ten tackles and his first interception in a 35–14 victory over the Oakland Raiders.[95] In week 15, June returned an interception 71 yards to the four-yard-line where he stepped out of bounds with 59 seconds remaining in the game at the RCA Dome, the Colts' home stadium. This prompted the fans to chant for Peyton Manning to enter the game to attempt to tie Dan Marino's single-season touchdown pass record. Since the Colts led the game 20–10 and had clinched the AFC South division, Manning took a knee instead.[96] Coach Dungy's scheme is designed so that the weakside linebacker is supposed to make the most tackles,[92] and June was the Colts' leading tackler by a wide margin that season.[97] June started every game that season.[98]

June was considered to be a fast linebacker[143][144] and a specialized talent with a better likelihood of success in a defensive scheme that was built around speed rather than size.[145] On March 17, 2007 he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who used the defensive scheme designed by Dungy.[146][147] The New York Giants and Colts were also interested in signing June.[141] The contract was believed to be a three-year, $12 million agreement,[141] but some later reports claim it was a four-year, $17 million contract.[147]

June signed with the Chicago Bears on December 1, 2009 [210] June was signed as a replacement for Lance Briggs who had a knee injury. He played on special teams on December 6, against the St. Louis Rams, but was inactive the following week against the Green Bay Packers. He was waived on December 14 and replaced on the 53-man roster by practice squad member James Marten when Briggs returned to good health


Andy Lee (188th pick overall, 49ers) Pittsburgh

He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 6th round (188th overall) in the 2004 NFL Draft and is currently serving a 6 year, $7.1 million contract that runs through 2012. The contract also included a $1.66 million signing bonus. He went to the University of Pittsburgh. He was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 2007 and 2009 seasons as the starting punter for the NFC. As of the end of the 2009 season Lee ranks 1st in 49ers history and 59th in League history with 24,896 punting yards in his career.

Lee earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2007 after setting numerous records on 105 punts (47.3 avg.) with a net average of 41.0 and NFL record 42 punts downed inside opponents’ 20-yard line. His yardage, gross average, net average and punts downed inside 20-yard line all set team records. His 4,968 punting yards in 2007 are an NFL single season record. His 42 punts downed inside 20-yard line broke Baltimore’s Kyle Richardson’s NFL mark of 39 in 1999. His 41.0 net average ranks second all-time in NFL history, trailing only Shane Lechler of Oakland (41.1 in 2007). He ranked second in NFL for gross average (47.3) and net punting average (41.0) to Oakland’s Lechler. Also led the NFL with 49 punts over 50+ yards, which was 16 more than second ranked St. Louis’ Donnie Jones (33). Recorded four games in which he dropped four punts inside 20-yard line. Lee played key role in 49ers 37-31 overtime victory at Arizona (11-25), booming a 58-yard punt in overtime that wound up pinning Cardinals on their own three-yard line. The punt helped set up 49ers winning touchdown on DT Ronald Fields sack and forced fumble in the end zone that was recovered by LB Tully Banta-Cain for game-winning score.

After earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors in 2007, he once again put up outstanding numbers, in 2008, as he set a career-high and team record with his 47.8 gross average. Also had a career long 82 yard punt against the New England Patriots on October 5th.

Andy returned back to his 2007 form in having a superb year and earning his second Pro Bowl selection.


Jay Ratliff (224th pick overall, Cowboys) Auburn

Ratliff was drafted in the seventh round (224th overall pick) of the 2005 NFL Draft by the Cowboys. He made his first NFL start on October 9, 2005.[1]

Ratliff played his first NFL game at Oakland (10/2) as part of the rotation for the defensive line and shared a sack with linebacker Scott Shanle. He made his first start the next week against Philadelphia (10/9) when the Cowboys opened in their nickel package. He was placed on injured reserve Nov. 1. In 2006 he played 16 games last season in the defensive line rotation. He made 17 tackles; four sacks, tied for third on the team; seven quarterback pressures, tied for the team lead; one pass breakup; and one forced fumble. He led the team with fumble recoveries, which tied for second in the NFL.

Ratliff became the starting nose tackle following an injury to Jason Ferguson early in the 2007 season.[2] He was signed a $20.5 million, five-year contract extension on December 14, 2007, to stay with the Cowboys through the 2012 season. The deal included an $8 million signing bonus.[3]

Ratliff was voted to the starting lineup of the 2010 Pro Bowl, his second Pro Bowl appearance.


Antoine Bethea (207th pick overall, Colts) Howard

Bethea saw action at both free and strong safety for the Colts in 2006, starting 14 games as a rookie. Alongside All-Pro safety Bob Sanders, Bethea helped the Colts' secondary manage the NFL's 2nd-ranked pass defense, surrendering just 159.3 YPG. In a week 3 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bethea made 12 total tackles, including 8 solo stops and one pass deflection. His best performance coming against the New England Patriots in week 9, he made 11 tackles and intercepted quarterback Tom Brady for his first career pick in the 27-20 win. Bethea nabbed two more picks in the 2006 post season, which saw his Colts go to Super Bowl XLI where they defeated the Chicago Bears 29-17. Bethea helped in the Colts' secondary limiting quarterback Rex Grossman to 165 yards passing while he was intercepted twice. He made four tackles in the game and made a pass deflection. Bethea's play during the 2006 season was so good that the Colts allowed safety Mike Doss to leave the team to test free agency.

Bethea would miss 3 games in his second year due to injury but still managed to put together a Pro Bowl year, collecting 95 total tackles and a team-leading four interceptions in 13 starts. His stellar performance included three double-digit tackle games and five-plus tackles in 11 games at the free safety position. Again the Colts finished the year with the 2nd-ranked pass defense in the league for the 2007 season. After Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu was unable to make the trip to Honolulu, Hawaii for the 2008 Pro Bowl due to injury, Bethea was selected as an alternate in his place, making the trip with fellow teammates Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, and Jeff Saturday.

Through midseason, Antoine Bethea managed to be the only starter in the Colts' secondary to start every game to that point with Sanders going down for 6 games and starting cornerback Marlin Jackson going down for the season after week 8. Colts coach Tony Dungy stated in an interview that he believes Bethea can be "that ball-skills safety that can have eight or nine picks in a year."[2] Bethea was credited with 126 total tackles at the end of the season and also intercepted two passes during the season, one coming in the last minute of a game against the Cleveland Browns which sealed the victory for the Colts.[


Nick Folk (178th pick overall, Cowboys)

Folk was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round (178th overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft. On December 30, 2007, against the Washington Redskins, he broke the Cowboys single-season record for most points by a placekicker (131). He made longest kick of his career, a 53-yard game winner against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football during his rookie season. Due to a timeout by Buffalo Bills head coach Dick Jauron, Folk's first attempt, which he made, did not count and the Cowboys had to line back up for another attempt, which he again made.[2][3] That season, he was selected as the kicker for the NFC during the Pro Bowl.

Folk was waived by the Cowboys on December 21, 2009 after he missed a 24-yard field goal against the New Orleans Saints two days before.

On February 23, 2010, Folk signed with the New York Jets.


Josh Morgan (174th pick overall, 49ers) Virginia Tech

In 2008 Morgan's preseason performances won him a place on the roster. He became ill just before the season and lost 15 pounds. He also missed time due to a one inch tear in his groin. Despite playing in only 12 games, Morgan showed real promise. He finished the 2008 season with 20 receptions for 319 yards, averaging 16 yards a catch with 3 touchdown receptions. He was named as a starter for the 2009 season.

On Oct 19, 2009 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco reported that Josh Morgan had lost his starting job to rookie Wide Receiver Michael Crabtree[1]. Though it does appear that Crabtree has taken over Morgan on the depth chart, it must be noted that both players, and Isaac Bruce got an official start against the Houston Texans on October 25, 2009. He has since than recovered his starting position and now starts opposite Crabtree.


Ryan Succop (256th pick overall, Chiefs) S. Carolina

Succop was selected 256th overall, the final selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, by the Kansas City Chiefs[2], thus earning him the title of Mr. Irrelevant. He said of being drafted last, "I didn't choose to be Mr. Irrelevant. It just worked out that way. I'm just trying not to get caught up in it and focus more on the task at hand, which is trying to come in here and help the team. It's not one of those things I really think about too much, to be honest."[1]

Succop and the Chiefs reportedly agreed on a three-year deal worth up to $1.2 million on June 17, 2009.[3] Succop was going to compete with Connor Barth for the starting kicker job. However, Barth was released in July 2009, leaving Succop to ultimately take the job as starting kicker.

On November 22, 2009, Succop kicked a 22-yard field goal in overtime to give Kansas City a 27–24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the defending Super Bowl champions.[4]

Succop finished his rookie season tying an NFL record for highest field goal percentage by a rookie in a season with 86.2%. He also passed NFL Hall of Famer Jan Stenerud for most field goals made by a rookie in Chiefs history. He was awarded the Mack Lee Hill Award by the Chiefs in 2009, and lead the team in scoring. He scored more points (104) than any other rookie in the NFL that year, and this placed him second in Chiefs history in scoring by a rookie.[5]