NFL Draft Countdown: Top 10 5th Round Players of the Super Bowl Era.

In our last entry, we saw 6th round picks ranging from Hall of Famers, to future Hall of Famers, to guys who just had solid careers and made a few Pro Bowls. The 5th Round is different. Every single one of these guys, in my opinion, has (or will have) a legitimate claim to the Hall. I was stuck at 20 players for several hours before finally getting this list down to ten.

Ben Coates – #81, #87 Tight End – New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens

Coates with the Patriots.

Ben Coates played college ball for the Livingstone College Blue Bears, a Division II, historically black school in Salisbury, North Carolina. Due to the weak competition in the CIAA, Ben was only lightly scouted, before being taken 124th by the Patriots in the 1991 draft.

The original #87, big bodied, vertical threat for New England. Well before the days of the Gronk spike, Coates enjoyed a 9 year stint with the Patriots, amassing 5,471 yards and 50 touchdowns with the team before playing his final season in Baltimore, winning Super Bowl XXXV in limited action.

Coates’ first two seasons were nothing to bat an eye at, in 1991 and 1992, he had a combined 30 receptions for 266 yards and 4 touchdowns. That all changed when Bill Parcells arrived in Boston. Parcells, known for utilizing tight ends in the passing game, drafted Drew Bledsoe with the 1st pick of the 1993 NFL Draft, who leaned on Coates as a consistent receiver.

From 1993 to 1999, Coates played in 110 regular season games in New England. He was voted to the Pro Bowl 5 years in a row, between ’94 and ’98, and was a 3-time All-Pro. Coates’ best season came in 1994, when he racked up 96 catches for 1,174 yards, and 7 touchdowns. His 96 catch season would remain the highest number of catches by a tight end in a season until Tony Gonzalez caught 102 passes in 2004. In 1996, Ben played a major role in getting the Patriots back to the Super Bowl for the first time in over a decade, where they fell to the Packers, 35-21.

Coates finished his career with 499 catches for 5,555 yards and 50 touchdowns. When he retired he was the 4th all-time leading receiving tight end in NFL history, behind Hall of Famers Ozzie Newsome, Shannon Sharpe, and Kellen Winslow Sr. He is a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, and the New England Patriots Hall of Fame.

La’Roi Glover – #97 Defensive Tackle – New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, St. Louis Rams

Glover with New Orleans.

If you were growing up in the early 2000s like myself, La’Roi Glover was one of THE names on the defensive side of the ball. He was a menace as a pass rushing defensive tackle, which is so rare, especially nowadays with the popularity of the 3-4 defense and the nose tackle position. Anyway, La’Roi went to San Diego State University, where he was a four year starter for the Aztecs. He was drafted 166th overall in the 1996 draft by the Oakland Raiders.

For some unholy reason, Oakland only played Glover in two games in 1996, then waived him prior to the 1997 season. The Saints immediately picked him up, and Glover picked up 6.5 sacks and 24 tackles that season. He became a starter in 1998, and played every game over the next four seasons with New Orleans. In 2000, Glover had a career season when he sacked the quarterback a league leading 17 times, the second most by a DT ever, and totaled 54 tackles. He was voted to the Pro Bowl, named an All-Pro, and was the NFC Defensive Player of the Year.

In 2002, the Cowboys offered Glover a multi-year deal, and he took it, leaving the Saints behind. In his four seasons in Dallas, Glover was one of the best defensive linemen in the league, making the Pro Bowl every year. He was named an All-Pro again in 2002 and 2003. In 2005, the Cowboys switched to a 3-4 scheme, which Glover was too small for, and he was released due to salary cap restrictions following the season.

Glover was signed by the St. Louis Rams in 2006, where he started 41 games over three seasons. After the 2008 season, he officially retired, ending his 13 year NFL career. He finished his career with 433 tackles, 83.5 sacks, and 16 forced fumbles. On December 31st, 2010, Glover was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. Very well deserved.

Kevin Greene – #91 Outside Linebacker – Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers

Greene putting a hit on 49ers quarterback Steve Young in 1996.

Kevin Greene played college football at Auburn University, where he was a walk-on, and ultimately won the 1984 college Defensive Player of the Year Award. He was taken by the Los Angeles Rams 113th overall in the 1985 NFL Draft.

Greene wasn’t a starter until 1988, despite being second on the Rams in sacks the previous two seasons. In 1988 and 1989, Greene recorded 16.5 sacks, and was voted into the Pro Bowl and named an All-Pro after the ’89 season. The Rams switched schemes from 3-4 to 4-3, which hindered Greene’s ability to play his position. Despite this, he still racked up 26 sacks between 1990 and 1992.

In 1993, Greene was one of many big name players who took advantage of the first year of free agency. He signed a 3 year, $5.35 million deal with the Steelers, who ran the 3-4 scheme he loved. In ’93, he recorded 12.5 sacks, and in 1994 he led the league with 14 sacks. Greene was a member of the Pittsburgh AFC Championship team in 1995, where the team fell in Super Bowl XXX to the Cowboys.

Greene spent his final four seasons in Carolina, San Francisco, and Carolina again. Finishing in double digit sacks each year, and leading the league in sacks with 14.5 in 1996.

Greene retired following the 1999 season, in which he still tallied 12 sacks at the age of 37. He retired with 160 career sacks, only third to Hall of Famers Reggie White and Bruce Smith, 669 tackles, 23 forced fumbles, and 26 fumble recoveries. Kevin went to 5 Pro Bowls, was a 3-time All-Pro, led the NFL in sacks in 1994 and 1996, and was the NLF Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, at 34 years of age. He was named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team after his retirement.

The idea that it took Hall of Fame voters over ten years to vote the 3rd all-time leading sack artist in NFL history to the Hall of Fame irks me to this day. Thankfully, Kevin Greene was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, as one of the best pass rushers in the history of the league.

Lester Hayes – #37 Cornerback – Oakland Raiders/Los Angeles Raiders

Hayed exhibiting his unique pre-snap stance.

Lester Hayes played collegiate ball at Texas A&M, where he was an All-American. Hayes was drafted 126th overall by the Raiders in the 1977 NFL Draft.

Hayes became a starter in his second season, starting all 16 games of the 1978 season and recording 4 interceptions. In 1979, he picked off quarterbacks 7 times, two of which went for 6.

Hayes’ best season came in 1980, recording 13 interceptions. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was a First-team All-Pro, and went to his first Pro Bowl. The Raiders would go on to win Super Bowl XV that season, thanks in no small part to Lester.

Hayes went to four more Pro Bowls from 1981 to 1984, and was named an All-Pro in all four seasons. He would again help the Raiders win a championship, when they pounded the Redskins 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII.

Lester retired after the 1986 season, finishing his 10 year career with 39 interceptions and 4 pick sixes. He was one of the top shutdown corners of his era, and was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team following his retirement.

Robert Mathis – #98 Defensive End – Indianapolis Colts

Mathis strip sacking former teammate Peyton Manning in 2013.

Robert Mathis went to Alabama A&M University, a historically black college in Normal, Alabama. The Bulldogs play at the Division I FCS level. Mathis was a four year starter in college, and set the NCAA I-AA record for sacks in a season, with 20 during his senior year. The Colts drafted Mathis 138th overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. He went on to spend his entire 13 year career with Indianapolis.

Mathis was a backup and pass rush specialist in his first three seasons. Despite this, he recorded 10.5 and 11.5 sacks in 2004 and 2005, as well as forcing 6 and 8 fumbles respectively.

In 2006, Mathis started 16 games, recording 65 tackles and 9.5 sacks. That season, he helped the Colts make a playoff run, and defeat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

Mathis went to his first Pro Bowl in 2008, having tied his career high 11.5 sacks. He went back to the Pro Bowl in 2009, 2010, and 2012. 2012 marked the final year Mathis and teammate Dwight Freeney played together. In their decade together as one of the deadliest pass rushing duos in the league, they combined for 199 sacks and 12 Pro Bowl appearances.

In 2013, now the top pass rusher on the team, Mathis recorded his statistically best season. He led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, had 44 tackles, 10 forced fumbles, and a safety. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Year, was a First-team All-Pro, and went to his final Pro Bowl.

Mathis missed the entire 2014 season with a torn achilles tendon. He was never he same, as his numbers dropped in his final two seasons. In the final game of his career, Mathis recorded his NFL record 47th strip sack of his career. With that, his 123rd career sack, he passed Freeney (122.5) for 17th most all-time.

Mathis finished his career with 527 total tackles, 123 sacks, 52 forced fumbles, and 17 fumble recoveries. He was a 5-time Pro Bowler, and will be remembered as one of the most fearsome pass rushers of the 2000s and 2010s.

Hardy Nickerson – #54, #56 Inside Linebacker – Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers

Nickerson with the Bucs in 1998.

Hardy Nickerson went to the University of California, Berkeley, and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 122nd pick of the 1987 NFL Draft.

Nickerson became a starter in 1988, recording 99 tackles and 3.5 sacks in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. He would continue to play in Pittsburgh through 1992, totaling 426 tackles with the team.

In 1993, Nickerson became a Tampa Bay Buccaneer, and flourished in their 4-3 defense. That season he recorded an absurd 214 tackles, as he went to his first Pro Bowl and was named a First-team All-Pro. Nickerson went to four more Pro Bowls from 1996-1999, and was again named a First-team All-Pro in 1997 after a 105 tackle season.

In 2000, he was signed by the Jaguars, but unfortunately got hurt and only played 6 games. In 2001, he recorded 88 solo tackles in 14 starts in Jacksonville. In 2002, Nickerson became a Green Bay Packer, starting 15 games, and recording 85 total tackles. He retired after that season after 16 seasons in the NFL.

Nickerson is one of the most prolific tacklers of ever. His 1,270 solo tackles ranks 8th all-time. He was a 5-time Pro Bowler, 2-time First-team All-Pro, and was named a Second-team All-Pro twice. Nickerson was named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team prior to his retirement.

Richard Sherman – #25 Cornerback – Seattle Seahawks

Sherman (second from left) with fellow Legion of Boom members, Jeremy Lane, Earl Thomas III, and Kam Chancellor.

Love him or hate him, Sherman has been a top corner in the NFL since 2012. At 29 years old, he still has a lot left in the tank, but his numbers already reflect those of the best defensive backs the league has seen.

Richard received an athletic scholarship to Stanford where he played wide receiver as an underclassman, then switched to corner as a junior. He graduated in 2010 with a degree in communications. He was drafted 154th overall by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2011 NFL Draft.

As a rookie, Sherman only started 10 games, but led all other rookies with 17 passes defended and 4 interceptions. He became the #1 cornerback on the team in 2012, recording 53 tackles and 8 interceptions, en route to being named a First-team All-Pro. Sherman again recorded 8 interceptions in 2013, this time leading the NFL. He again was named a First-team All-Pro and was voted to his first career Pro Bowl. As the leader of the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom”, Sherman helped pave the way to the team’s first ever Super Bowl victory, shutting down Peyton Manning and the record setting Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Sherman was named a First-team All-Pro for the third straight season in 2014, as well as being voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. He interception 4 passes, after being targeted less and less, and again led Seattle to the Super Bowl. This time, they were defeated by the New England Patriots in Super bowl XLIX.

In the past two seasons, Sherman has been a Pro Bowler twice more, and was a Second-team All-Pro in 2015. His tendency to speak his mind and be very vocal through interviews and social media have given him an unwarranted bad reputation, but the fact remains, Sherman is elite. Through six seasons in the NFL, he has 30 interceptions and 92 passes defended. He also has 332 combined tackles, and five forced fumbles.

Assuming Sherman keeps playing at a high level, we could be witnessing the career of an all-time great defensive back. He more than belongs on this list.

Zach Thomas – #54, #55 Inside Linebacker – Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys

Thomas chasing down Corey Dillon c. 2004.

Zach Thomas played college ball at Texas Tech University. He was a three year starter, and was an All-American in both his junior and senior seasons. Thomas was drafted by the Miami Dolphins with the 154th pick in the 1996 NFL Draft.

He started every game as a rookie in 1996, recording 120 tackles and 3 interceptions on the year. In 1998, he was named a First-team All-Pro after a 138 combined tackle season.

Thomas was voted to 5 consecutive Pro Bowls between 1999 and 2003, and was a First-team All-Pro in 1999, 2002, and 2003.

In 2005 and 2006, Thomas had over 100 solo tackles. He was a Pro Bowler both years, a Second-team All-Pro in 2005, and a First-team All-Pro in 2006.

Thomas’ 2007 season was cut short by migraines induced by a week 2 concussion. He only played 5 games that season and was subsequently cut by Miami. In 2008, Thomas played his final season with the Cowboys, starting 14 games and recording 94 tackles.

Over his 13 year career, Thomas racked up an impressive 1,727 combined tackles. He forced 16 fumbles, and recovered 8 more, and recorded 17 interceptions. Thomas was a 7-time Pro Bowler, 5-time First-team All-Pro, 2-time Second-team All-Pro, and was named to the NFL All-Decade Team in 2010.

Herschel Walker – #34 Running Back – Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants

Walker during his tenure with the Cowboys.

Herschel Walker played at the collegiate level at Georgia. There he was a three-time First-team All-SEC, and won the Heisman Trophy in 1982.

The Dallas Cowboys drafted Walker with the 114th pick in the 1985 draft. This was an interesting move, as he was currently in his 3rd season as the running back for the New Jersey Generals in the USFL. The USFL folded after their 1985 season and Herschel reported to the Cowboys in 1986.

Walker played the role of backup to Tony Dorsett in ’86 and ’87. He also was a role player, lining up on passing downs as a wide receiver, and blocking for Dorsett as a full back in power run situations. In these first two seasons, Walker ran for a combined 1,628 yards and 17 touchdowns; and caught 137 passes for 1,552 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was named to his first Pro Bowl in 1987.

Dorsett was traded to the Denver Broncos in 1988, giving Walker the starting running back job, which he took in stride. In ’88 Herschel ran 361 times for 1,514 yards, and 5 touchdowns. He also caught 53 balls for 505 yards and 2 more touchdowns, en route to his 2nd Pro Bowl appearance.

In 1989, when Walker was at his best, the Cowboys traded Walker to the Minnesota Vikings for five players and six future draft picks. Four of those picks resulted in the Cowboys’ drafting Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, pro bowle defensite tackle Russell Maryland, all-pro cornerback Kevin Smith, and SHOULD BE Hall of Fame Safety Darren Woodson. All four of those players would win 3 Super Bowls with Dallas in the 1990s, and the Walker trade marked the beginning of the Cowboys’ dynasty.

In his two and a half seasons with Minnesota, Walker’s best year came in 1991, when he ran 198 times for 825 yards, and 10 touchdowns. The Vikings never got the player they wanted, and the Cowboys won out big time.

In 1992, the Eagles signed Walker in free agency, and got out of him his best season since 1988. Walker ran for 1,070 yards and 8 touchdowns and remained the Eagles’ top back until they signed Ricky Watters in 1995.

Walker played his final three seasons as a kick returner for both the Giants and Cowboys, before retiring at the end of the 1997 season. His up and down career still produced impressive numbers. At the time of his retirement, Herschel ranked 2nd all-time in all-purpose yards. His 18,168 total yards across rushing, receiving and returns was still ranked in the top 10 of the NFL a decade later. He scored a total of 84 touchdowns, but will mostly be remembered as a great college player, rather than an NFL star.

Mike Webster – #52, #53 Center – Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs

Webster with long time quarterback Terry Bradshaw.

“Iron Mike” Webster, arguably the greatest center to ever play in the NFL, was a Wisconsin Badger in college. Despite being considered the best center in the Big 10, he wasn’t drafted until the Steelers took him 125th overall, in 1974.

Webster spent the first two seasons of his career backing up long time starting center Ray Mansfield, but took over the job in 1976. Webster started 150 consecutive games at Center, until he was sidelined by injury for four games in 1986. He played two more years with Pittsburgh until his contract ran out after the 1988 season.

The Chiefs signed Webster to be their offensive line coach, however he opted to play instead, starting 23 games over the next two seasons before retiring at the end of 1990.

Webster is among the most highly decorated players of all-time. He was a member of all four Steelers Super Bowl wins in the 1970s, was a 9-time Pro Bowler, a 6-time First-team All-Pro, and was named a Second-team All-Pro once.

Webster started 217 games over 17 years in the league, and has the distinction of being on both the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team and the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. Webster was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.


1 Comment

  1. I was a big fan of Zack Thomas and Kevin Greene. True leaders on the defensive side of the ball.
    Mike Webster takes me back again. Reminding me of those great Steeler teams of the late 70’s. A bitter pill to swallow at times being a Cowboy fan during that time.
    I consider Lester Hayes one of the greatest CB to play the game. I loved his style and his unique stance before the snap of the ball. he was the original ball hawk corner.

    Liked by 1 person

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