Late draft gems have been common for Saints, NFL over the years

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Marcus Colston
Marcus Colston (#12) went from a little-known prospect out of Hofstra to a 2006 late-round pick to stardom with the New Orleans Saints (Photo: Parker Waters).

The NFL Draft later this week may offer the New Orleans Saints some intriguing opportunities, despite the fact that the Black and Gold currently hold just one choice in the first four rounds.

Both the Saints and the NFL have uncovered some gems in the late rounds over the years. It is not a dire situation when you get to the later rounds because the draft is far from an exact science. With some crafty scouting and projections, you may dig up a diamond in the rough.

Here are some examples on how successful the Saints have been in the mid to late rounds, as well as a list of other NFL legends lasting until the later part of the draft.

Most recently, former LSU and Brother Martin star William Clapp lasted until the seventh round of the ’18 draft and his future appears bright.

Thomas Morstead, a punter the Saints traded up to secure in the fifth round in 2009, has already punted a franchise record 551 times with a 46.9 yard average. He helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV and appeared in 2012 Pro Bowl.

Offensive guard Carl Nicks started 70 contests for Saints and ended up as a 2017 Saints Hall of Fame inductee. He was a fifth round pick in 2008 who was twice selected to the Pro Bowl.

Zach Streif, a seventh rounder in 2006, played until 2017 for a total of 158 games in a Saints uniform with 94 starts. The 158 games played are 11th most in franchise history. He helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV and now serves as the radio voice of the Saints.

Marques Colston, seventh rounder in 2006, played until ’15 as the team’s top receiving option. His 9,766 receiving yards, 711 catches and 72 career touchdowns all rank tops in New Orleans history. He played in 146 contests.

Tyrone Hughes, a fifth rounder in 1993, made the Pro Bowl as an outstandign rookie return man. The St. Augustine product set a NFL record with 347 combined return yards and two touchdowns in a single game against the Rams in ’94. A 2015 Saints Hall of Fame inductee, Hughes managed 8,410 career return yards with five touchdowns.

Torrance Small, a fifth round pick in 1992, played 10 NFL seasons including five 5 with the Black and Gold. He led the team with 50 catches for 558 yards and two scores in ’92 and tallied 176 catches for 2,180 yards and 16 touchdowns in his Saints career.

Fred McAfee, a sixth rounder in the 1991 draft, played 10 seasons over two stints in New Orleans and 17 overall NFL years. He paced the Saints in rushing as a rookie (494 yards) but later became a special teams dynamo in the league, playing in 122 games.

Gene Atkins, taken in the seventh round of the 1987 draft, played until ’93 with the Saints. He had 13 fumble recoveries plus 21 career interceptions in New Orleans, including three picks in one game to help clinch the franchise’s first division championship in a win against the Cardinals in ’91.

Eric Martin, a seventh rounder in 1985, played 143 games as a Saint. Like fellow seventh round steal Colston, Martin became the go-to wideout for New Orleans and led team in receiving from 1987-’92. He had 48 career touchdown catches (fourth in franchise history) and his 84-yard catch against Green Bay in 1986 still ranks as the third longest in Saints history. The LSU product and Saints Hall of Famer sits only behind Colston in franchise hitory with 7,865 receiving yards.

Johnnie Poe, a sixth round pick in 1981, played here until ’87. He had seven of his 17 career interceptions in 1983.

Dave LaFary, a fifth rounder in 1977 who played until 1985, lined up at both tackle and guard. He played in 109 games as a Saint with 58 starts.

Running back Don McCall, a fifth round choice in 1967, played in 1968 and ’70. He led the team in rushing (637 yards with four TD’s) in ’68.

Now, let’s just have a sampling of draft steals who became NFL greats.

Strong safety Rodney Harrison, fifth round pick by the Chargers in ’94, was a two-time All Pro pick who excelled over 15 NFL seasons. He won two Super Bowls with Patriots. Harrison is also the first NFL player to record 30 sacks and three interceptions in his career. Now an analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America, he racked up over $220,000 in fines for overly aggressive play during his career.

Running back Terrell Davis, famously a sixth rounder in ’95, played seven years in the NFL. The man knows as “TD” was a two-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Pro Bowler who had a Hall of Fame career cut short by injury. He was twice named the NFL Offensive Player of Year. In ’98, he accumulated 2,008 rushing yards with 23 TD’s, earning NFL MVP. During his 7 seasons, Davis rushed for 7,607 yards and 60 scores.

Another Hall of Fame standout, Shannon Sharpe, lasted until the seventh round where Denver snagged him in 1990. A three-time Super Bowl winner who played 14 seasons and went to eight Pro Bowls, The tight end was a member of the league’s 1990’s All-Decade team. Sharpe had 815 catches, 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns in 203 games played.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown, a sixth round pick by the Steelers out of Central Michigan in 2010, is entering his 10th season after moving over to Raiders. Called the “hardest working player in NFL,” the outspoken seven-time Pro Bowler already has 837 catches for 11,207 yards and 74 touchdowns. He’s added five more scores as return man. He has twice led the NFL in receiving.

Running back LeRoy Kelly, an eighth rounder in 1964, is in Canton. He followed in the footsteps of NFL legend Jim Brown in Cleveland. His 10 seasons in the Dawg Pound spoke volumes about Kelly’s talent. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and helped the Browns win the NFL title in ’64. He led the NFL in rushing twice and tallied 7,274 career yards with 74 touchdowns. Incidentally, Kelly wasn’t the only member in his family to excel in sports. His brother, Pat Kelly, played 15 seasons in MLB, earning All-Star status in 1973.

Hall of Fame edge rusher Kevin Greene, a fifth round pick of the Rams in 1985, was a five-time Pro Bowler who twice led the league in sacks. He was named the NFL defensive Player of the Year in ’96. Greene recorded 160 career sacks. In 1997, he earned fame of a different kind when he teamed with ex-Bears defensive line standout Steve McMichael, Roddy Piper and Ric Flair in WCW tag team wrestling.

Oh, there one more late round pick to mention. That is, he MUST be mentioned on any list like this one. The Patriots grabbed quarterback Tom Brady in the sixth round in 2000. Since then, he has won six Super Bowls, earned four Super Bowl MVPs and been selected to 14 Pro Bowls. Brady has the NFL mark for most games won by QB (237).

Don’t give up on the upcoming NFL draft on the last day. You never know who might be called only to end up as the next Hall of Famer.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau

CCS/Fox Sports/ESPN/WFAN

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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