It’s that time of year again, where college players hope to fulfill life-long dreams and NFL GM’s look to find their next franchise player. While the First Round of the NFL Draft tends to get the majority of the press coverage, the players chosen after Day One often determine whether a team struck out or hit the jackpot. With Round 1 of this year’s draft in the books, let’s take a look at some of the best draft steals to come out of the ACC in the last 20 years.
1. Kam Chancellor, Virginia Tech, S
5th Round (133rd overall) 2010
As a fifth-round pick, Kam Chancellor has done more in six seasons than most players do in entire careers. It didn’t take long for Chancellor to impose his hard-hitting style of play on NFL offenses, assuming the starting strong safety role in just his second season. As a founding member of the Legion of Boom, he has been selected to four Pro Bowls, been named to the second-team All-Pro team twice and was named a Seattle Seahawk captain at the start of the 2014 season. His crowning achievement came in 2013, when he recorded nine tackles and an interception in the Seahawks’ blowout win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
2. Brian Dawkins, Clemson, S
2nd Round (61st overall) 1996
Had Brian Dawkins fallen a couple more picks into the 3rd Round, he very well could have topped this list. Nonetheless, Dawkins is one of the best players and steals to ever come out of the ACC. A nine-time Pro Bowler, Dawkins led the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC Championship games, including four straight from 2002-2005. In a 2002 game against the Houston Texans, Dawkins became the first player in NFL history to record a sack, interception, forced fumble and touchdown reception in a single game. He is one of just 10 NFL players to join the 20/20 club (career sacks and interceptions), holds the Eagles’ record for games played, and had his #20 jersey retired by the Eagles in September 2012.
3. Elvis Dumervil, Louisville, OLB
4th Round (126th overall) 2006
Aside from having one of the best names in the NFL, Elvis Dumervil has established himself as an elite pass rusher. He was a stand out at Louisville, where scouts compared him to Dwight Freeney, but fell into the 4th Round due to concerns about size and fatigue. The Denver Broncos capitalized on scout’s apprehensions and watched Dumervil become the team’s leading sacker in just his second season. By 2009, his fourth season in the NFL, Dumervil led the league with 17 sacks. He’s been selected to five Pro Bowls and his 96 career sacks rank seventh-best among active players.
4. Devonta Freeman, Florida State, RB
4th Round (103rd overall) 2014
I know, the kid has only been in the league for two years, but anyone that follows the NFL or plays Fantasy Football knows why Freeman deserves to be on this list. He was the first Seminole to rush for over 1,000 yards since Warrick Dunn in 1996, yet NFL GMs picked seven running backs ahead of him before the Atlanta Falcons finally picked him up in the 4th Round. Freeman showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, but really emerged as one of the best and most versatile running backs in the NFL as a starter in 2015. Freeman finished the season as the only player in the league with 1,000+ yards on the ground and 500+ through the air. He tied for the league lead in rushing touchdown with 11 and led all NFL running backs with 14 total touchdowns. If Freeman keeps this pace up, he may find himself higher up on this list next time around.
5. Matt Hasselbeck, Boston College, QB
6th Round (187th overall) 1998
There are probably a couple flashier choices here, but there has to be something said for a 6th round pick that turns into a 17-year NFL career. The Green Bay Packers picked him up in the 1998 draft and he served as Brett Favre’s backup for two years before being traded to Seattle. There, Hasselbeck was eventually named the starter and led Seattle to five straight playoff berths and four straight division titles. In 2005 he lead the NFC in passer rating while taking the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL. To simplify things a little bit, a guy that never saw an All-Conference or All-American honor while in college ended up as a starter in the playoffs, Super Bowl and Pro Bowl.
***The Russell Wilson Rule: Some of you might be wondering where Russell Wilson is on this list. Although he very well could be the biggest steal in the draft since Tom Brady, but being drafted out of Wisconsin kept him from making the list.