NFL Draft Countdown: Top 10 3rd Round Players of the Super Bowl Era.

Ronde Barber – #20 Cornerback – Tamp Bay Buccaneers

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Barber returning an interception 92 yards for a touchdown against the Eagles in the 2002 NFC Championship Game.

Ronde Barber played college football at the University of Virginia, alongside his twin brother, running back Tiki Barber. As a Cavalier, Barber was named First-team All-ACC in all three seasons at UVA, before leaving for the NFL after his junior season.

 

Ronde was drafted 66th overall by the Tampa Buccaneers in the 1997 NFL Draft. He only appeared in one game as a rookie, but started 9 games in 1998, recording 68 tackles and grabbing 2 interceptions. Barber had his best season in 2001, catching a league leading, career high 10 interceptions, deflecting a career high 24 passes, and tallying 58 solo tackles. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl and was named a First-team All-Pro.

In 2002, Barber was a Second-team All-Pro, and was a key component of a dominant Tampa Bay defense that dominated the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

Barber would go on to play 10 more seasons with the Buccaneers, never missing a start. He was named to three more All-Pro teams from 2004-2006, and went to four more Pro Bowls from ’04-’06 and in 2008.

Barber retired in 2013, finishing his career with 1,028 tackles, 28 sacks, 15 forced fumbles, and 47 interceptions. He is considered one the best run stopping corners in league history. His 14 defensive and special teams touchdowns are a Buccaneers franchise record, and he is the only player in NFL history with 45+ interceptions and 25+ sacks. Ronde will be eligible for the Hall of Fame after the 2017 season.


Mel Blount – #47 Cornerback – Pittsburgh Steelers

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Blount in 1982.

When you’re a 3rd round draft pick, who has such an incredible career that the NFL makes a rule to deny you, you might be an all-time great. Enter Mel Blount.

 

Blount played collegiate football at Southern University, a historically black, Division I FCS school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Mel was drafted 53rd overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970 draft, where he would play his entire 14 year career.

A massive cornerback, at 6’3″, Blount was played a significant role in the Steelers’ dominance of the 1970s and early 1980s. He bacame a starter in 1972, and used his size and strength to physically beat receivers in an era where downfield contact was far more accepted than it is today. In 1975, Blount had an incredible season, recording 11 interceptions in 14 games. He was a Pro Bowler, First-team All-Pro, and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year, leading Pittsburgh to their second straight Super Bowl.

In 1977, the NFL passed a rule, affectionately coined The Mel Blount Rule, which disallowed contact with a wide receiver more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The game was never the same, but Blount still performed at a high level, recording 28 interceptions from 1977-1983.

Blount retired after the 1983 season. In 189 games played, he totaled 57 interceptions, was a 6-time All-Pro, a 5-time Pro Bowler, and won four Super Bowls with the Steelers. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989, one of the most significant, game changing players there ever was.


Curtis Martin – #28 Running Back – New England Patriots, New York Jets

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Martin with the Jets.

Curtis Martin played college ball at the University of  Pittsburgh, where he suffered multiple injuries over his career. In 1995, Martin forwent his redshirt senior season in favor of the NFL draft. He was drafted 74th overall by the New England Patriots in 1995, and became an immediate contributor.

 

Martin rushed for 100+ yards nine times in his rookie season, finishing the year as the AFC’s leading rusher with 1,487 yards, and 14 touchdowns. He was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and went to the Pro Bowl. Martin ran for 1,152 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1996, going to his second straight Pro Bowl, and in ran for 1,160 yards in 1997 despite only playing in 13 games.

After the ’97 season, Martin became a free agent and was signed by the New York Jets, where he would play the remaining eight years of his career. Including his three seasons in New England, he rushed for 10 straight 1,000 yard seasons, his best year coming in 2004 when he rushed 371 times for 1,697 yards, and 12 touchdowns.

Martin’s career ended toward the end of the 2005 season when he suffered a career ending knee injury after 12 games. He finished his career with 14,101 rushing yards, good for fourth all-time, and 90 touchdowns. Martin was a 5-time Pro Bowler and a 3-time All-Pro in his 11 years in the league.

Martin was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012, and is considered one of the best free agent signings of all-time.


Joe Montana – #16, #19 Quarterback – San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs

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Montana with the 49ers.

Joe Montana, still considered by many to be the greatest quarterback to ever play in the NFL, was drafted 83rd overall by the San Franciso 49ers in the 1979 NFL Draft. He played collegiate football at Notre Dame, and didn’t receive much respect from scouts, who rated him a 6.5 out of 10. Those scouts were wrong.

 

Montana became the starting quarterback in the middle of the 1980, and in 1981 led the 49ers to an NFC Championship Game appearance against the Dallas Cowboys, in which Montana led a comeback drive culminating in the play now known as “The Catch”. San Francisco would go on to defeat the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI, giving Montana has first ring.

Montana led a loaded 49ers team to three more Super Bowls in 1984, 1988, and 1989, winning all four. Joe was voted to 7 Pro Bowls between 1981 and 1990, was a 5-time All-Pro, and won the NFL MVP in both 1989 and 1990, as well as Offensive Player of the Year in ’89.

He missed the entire 1991 season, and most of the 1992 season with an injury, ultimately leading to the emerging of Steve Young as the franchise’s new quarterback. Montana requested a trade in the spring of 1993, and wound up on the Kansas City Chiefs.

Montana was hurt for part of the 1993 season, however he still made the Pro Bowl, and led the Chiefs to the AFC Championship Game, where they fell short against the Buffalo Bills. In his final season, Joe led the Chiefs back to the playoffs but was unable to win.

In 1995, Montana retired after a prolific, 15 year NFL career. He threw for 40,551 yards and 273 touchdowns, for a 92.3 quarterback rating, however most importantly he won 4 Super Bowls in 4 appearances for the 49ers in the 1980s.

Joe Cool was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. Whether he is the GOAT or not, he will always be remembered as one of the finest quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.


Terrell Owens – #81 Wide Receiver – San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals

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T.O. with Dallas.

Terrell Owens played college football for Chattanooga, a Division I FCS school in Tennessee. He was a three year starter for the Mocs, and was drafted 89th overall by the 49ers in the 1996 NFL Draft.

 

T.O. started 10 games as a rookie in 1996, playing alongside his childhood idol, Jerry Rice. He caught 35 passes in ’96, for 520 yards and 4 touchdowns. Owens broke out in 1997, after Rice went down with a torn ACL, and in 1998 Terrell had his first 1,000 yard season, along with 14 touchdowns.

From 2000 to 2003, Owens was a four time Pro Bowler, and a three time First-team All-Pro with San Francisco. His best season came in 2001, when he caught 93 passes for 1,412 yards, and 16 touchdowns.

Owens wanted out of San Fran after miserable 2002 and 2003 seasons, and got his with prior to the start of the ’04 season, as he was released and signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. T.O. had another Pro Bowl and First-team All-Pro season with Philly, but was badly injured late in the season after he was horse-collar tackled by Cowboys’ safety Roy Williams. Owens sprained his ankle and fractured his fibula, but miraculously came back in less than two months in order to play in Super Bowl XXXIX. Though not fully healed, Owens had a great game, catching 9 passes for 122 yards, however the Eagles fell to the Patriots.

Prior to the 2005 season, Owens relationship with the Eagles ownership and management soured, and in the 2005 season, Owens’ relationship with quarterback Donovan McNabb went down the drain. He only played 7 games before being suspended by the team for 4 games and then deactivated for the rest of the year.

T.O. was released by the Eagles in March, 2006, and was quickly signed by their division rival Dallas Cowboys. Owens played 46 games in three years for Dallas, forming a rapport with “his quarterback” Tony Romo. Owens recorded 235 catches for 3,587 yards, and 38 touchdowns in three seasons with the Cowboys.

He spent his final two seasons in Buffalo and Cincinnati, still playing at a relatively high level, before being released by the Bengals after the 2011 season. He was briefly signed to the Seahawks in 2012, but was released. That would be the last time he would suit up in an NFL jersey.

Owens finished his 15 year career with 1,078 catches for 15,934 yards, and 153 touchdowns. T.O. was a 6-time Pro Bowler, 5-time First-team All-Pro, and was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. He led the league in touchdowns three times, in 2001, 2002, and 2006. He is 3rd all-time in reception touchdowns, 2nd all-time in receiving yards, and 8th all-time in receptions.

As of the Class of 2017, Owens is eligible for the Hall of Fame, however his antics on the field and the controversy that seemed to follow him everywhere may cost him in the long run. He certainly deserves to be enshrined off his gameplay alone.


Art Shell – #78 Offensive Tackle – Oakland Raiders/Los Angeles Raiders

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Shell in 1976.

Art Shell went to Maryland State College, a historically black school now known as the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Shell was drafted 80th overall by the Oakland Raiders in 1968, where he would play his entire career.

 

Shell was an elite blocker during some of the great Raiders teams in the 1970s. He played a major role in the team’s Super Bowl runs in 1976 and 1980.

In 169 starts over 15 seasons, Shell was voted to 8 Pro Bowls, was a 2-time First-team All-Pro, and a 2-time Second-team All-Pro. He was named to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

Shell went on to coach the Raiders for seven seasons between 1989 and 1994, and again in 2006. He finished his head coaching career with a 56-52 record, and an AFC Championship Game appearance in 1990.

Will Shields – #68 Guard – Kansas City Chiefs

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Shields blocking for Trent Green.

Will Shields doesn’t get enough respect. When people talk about great offensive linemen, their minds always seem to wander back to the good ole days. Not to knock anyone from the 1970s or 1980s, but there are few Guards to ever play at the level of Shields.

 

Will played collegiate ball at Nebraska from 1989 to 2002, where he was a consensus First-team All-American in ’92. He was selected 74th overall in the 1993 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Will was a 15 game starter during his rookie season in 1993. His only non-start, his very first game. He went on to start every single possible game in his career through 2006. That’s 223 straight games.

Shields blocked for Marcus Allen, Priest Holmes, and Larry Johnson during his career. Those three combined for 1,000 yard seasons five times behind the Chiefs’ line. He also blocked for 4,000 yard passer four times, once for Elvis Grbac in 2000, and three times for Trent Green from 2003-2005.

Shields went to 12 consecutive Pro Bowls from 1995 to 2006, was a three time First-Team All-Pro, and a four time Second-team All-Pro. He was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. He retired in 2007, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.


Jackie Slater – #78 Offensive Tackle – Los Angeles Rams/St. Louis Rams

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Slater in 1991.

Jackie Slater played college ball at Jackson State University, a historically black university in Jackson, Mississippi. He was drafted 86th overall in the 1976 draft by the Los Angeles Rams, where he would play his entire career.

 

Slater was a backup and special teams player for his first three seasons, but started all 16 games for the Rams in 1979. In 1980, he was part of an offensive line who allowed only 29 sacks.

From 1983 through three games in 1987, Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson ran for 7,245 yards and 56 touchdowns behind Slater and the Rams’ line.

Having started in 211 games in 20 seasons, Slater was named a Pro Bowler 7 times, including six consecutive times from 1985 to 1990. He was a three time First-team All-Pro, and a two time Second-team All-Pro between 1983 and 1989.

Slater won the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award in 1995. His son Matthew, a special teams star for the New England Patriots, won the award in 2017, the first father-son duo to do so.

Slater was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.


Jason Taylor – #55, #99 – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Miami Dolphins, Washington Redskins, New York Jets

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Taylor with Miami.

Jason Taylor played for the Akron Zips in his college days, where he was a three-year starter, and an All-American as a junior. He was drafted 73rd overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 1997 NFL Draft.

 

Taylor quickly became one of the best defensive ends in football, and headed a nasty Dolphins front seven alongside inside linebacker Zach Thomas. In his first three seasons, Taylor started 41 games, recording 16.5 sacks, and 88 tackles. He stepped up his game in 2000, sacking opposing quarterbacks 14.5 times. He was named a First-team All-Pro and went to his first Pro Bowl.

Taylor’s best season came in 2002, as he recorded a league leading 18.5 sacks, 45 solo tackles, and recovered 2 fumbles. He was named to his second First-team All-Pro and his second Pro Bowl that year. Over the next five seasons, he recorded double digit sacks four times, only missing out on 10 sacks by half a sack in 2004.

In 2008, Jason was traded to the Washington Redskins for a second round pick in 2009, and a sixth round pick in 2010. He played one year in Washington, recording 3.5 sacks in 8 starts. In 2009, Taylor re-signed with Miami for one season, before becoming a New York Jet in 2010. He was released after the 2010 season, and spent his final year back with Miami, sacking the QB seven times before retiring at the end of the 2011 season.

In his 15 year career, Jason played in 233 games, recording 139.5 sacks (7th most all-time), 525 solo tackles, and an NFL record 6 fumble recoveries for touchdowns. He was a Pro Bowler 6 times, a 4-time All-Pro, and the 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Taylor was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade team, and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August, 2017.


Jason Witten – #82 Tight End – Dallas Cowboys

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Witten in 2013.

Jason Witten played college football at Tennessee, where he was initially recruited as a defensive end. Witten was moved to tight end due to injuries in 2000. Jason didn’t like the move at first, but played 20 games at tight end before declaring for the NFL Draft in 2003. That year, the Cowboys selected him with the 69th pick, and the rest is history.

 

Jason started 7 games his rookie year, catching 35 passes for 347 yards and a single touchdown. He became the full-time starter in 2004, catching 87 balls for 980 yards, and 6 touchdowns, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Witten was already a star by 2006, when Tony Romo stepped in as quarterback for the Cowboys. Over the next decade, the two would find great chemistry with one another and be a dominant force for the Dallas offense. In 2007, Witten had his best statistical season, catching 96 passes for 1,145 yards, and 7 touchdowns, and was named to his first First-team All-Pro.

To this day, Witten is a 10-time Pro Bowler, missing out on what would have made 11-straight in 2011, despite a 79 catch, 942 yard, 5 touchdown season. He is a 2-time First-team All-Pro and a 2-time Second-team All-Pro.

Through 14 years in Dallas, Witten has caught 1,089 passes for 11,388 yards, and 63 touchdowns. He doesn’t seem to be slowing down either, and just re-signed with the team through 2021 with young Dak Prescott as his quarterback.

Jason has played in 219 consecutive games, only missing one game in his rookie season. He has started 163 straight, both records for tight ends. He is the Cowboy’s all-time leader in receptions, and is 7th in NFL history in receptions. He will be a Hall of Famer, precisely five seasons after he decided to hang up the cleats.

 

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