In this article, I’ll rank the NFL’s top 20 second-round draft picks of the last 20 years. I prioritized longevity, career accomplishments, and team value, although there is a good mix of future Hall of Fame legends along with more recently drafted players. Let’s get to work.
20 Best NFL Second-Round Picks in the Last 20 Years
The NFL draft this year saw hundreds of rookies enter the league with hopes of carving out great careers. The expectation is typically that the best players will come from the first round, but there have been plenty of excellent talents to come out of the second round, as well. Here is a full breakdown of some of the best among them.
#20: WR Michael Thomas – #47 to the New Orleans Saints (2016)
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Michael Thomas. A fast start to his career peaked with a record-breaking 149-catch season in 2019 where he also led the league with 1,725 yards and won Offensive Player of the Year honors.
In the three years since, Thomas has played in just 10 total games and has caught just 56 passes. Recurring foot and ankle injuries have taken away some of the prime years of what could have been an all-time great career. If Thomas can regain health this season, his ranking on this list could be much higher.
#19: RB Maurice Jones-Drew – #60 to the Jacksonville Jaguars (2006)
Maurice Jones-Drew holds a special place in the hearts of fantasy football players everywhere as one of the most productive running backs of his generation. MJD earned All Pro nods from 2009-2011, a three-year stretch where he amassed an incredible 5,386 yards from scrimmage and 34 total touchdowns.
MJD’s peak was short and his personal success unfortunately never translated to success for his team as the Jaguars only finished with a winning record once in his eight years there. Still, that three-year stretch was as impressive as any we’ve seen in recent years.
#18: WR A.J. Brown – #51 to the Tennessee Titans (2019)
Universally regarded as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, A.J. Brown is coming off a season with 1,496 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first year in Philadelphia. He earned his first All Pro selection in the process. Brown just turned 26 years old and it seems like he’s just getting started.
A disconnect between Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and the front office seemingly led to A.J. Brown’s trade to the Eagles last year, and Vrabel’s frustration by the move was only further justified this past season.
#17: C Creed Humphrey – #63 to the Kansas City Chiefs (2021)
The most recent player on this list to be drafted, Creed Humphrey fell to Kansas City with the second-to-last pick in the second round in 2021. It felt somewhat fated for the Chiefs, who were coming off a Super Bowl LV loss where their offensive line was exposed by a ferocious Buccaneers pass rush.
Humphrey has far exceeded expectations thus far. He put together one of the best rookie seasons for an offensive lineman in modern league history in 2021 and followed it up with an All Pro nod last year, likely his first of many. Humphrey just turned 24 years old and will likely be snapping the ball to Patrick Mahomes for a very long time.
#16: CB Darius Slay – #36 to the Detroit Lions (2013)
Longevity is very difficult to achieve in the NFL, especially at cornerback, one of the most challenging positions to play. However, Slay has spent nearly a decade as one of the league’s best starters at the cornerback position.
Slay’s best season came in 2017 with the Lions when he led the league with eight interceptions and 26 pass deflections. A Pro Bowler in his first two years in Philadelphia, Slay hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and came very close to adding a Super Bowl to his resume this past season.
#15: RB Nick Chubb – #35 to the Cleveland Browns (2018)
Despite being the Browns’ third player selected in the 2018 draft, Nick Chubb has become a defining player for the franchise. Chubb has four straight 1,000-yard seasons and is coming off a career year with 1,525 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, earning his first All Pro selection in the process.
Still only 27 years old, it feels like Chubb has multiple more seasons of elite production in him. He should be a top candidate for the NFL 2020s All Decade team and could be a future Hall of Famer.
#14: WR Anquan Boldin – #54 to the Arizona Cardinals (2003)
Checking in at #14 on the all-time receiving yardage list, it’s only appropriate that Anquan Boldin check in at #14 on our list here. Boldin spent the bulk of his career in Arizona, where he won Offensive Rookie of the Year and registered five 1,000-yard seasons.
From there, Boldin landed in Baltimore, where he helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XLVII. Boldin was the leading receiver for Baltimore in that game, finishing with six receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. Despite not being named to the NFL 2000s All Decade team, Boldin was one of the best wide receivers of the 2000s.
#13: Shaquille Leonard – #36 to the Indianapolis Colts (2018)
In what became a lost season for the Colts, Shaquille Leonard played in just three games last year amidst two back surgeries. Prior to last season, he was enjoying a decorated beginning to his careers with a Defensive Rookie of the Year award and four All Pro selections.
Lingering health concerns for Leonard keep him a bit further down this list than he likely would have been, and general manager Chris Ballard recently cautioned fans that he might not be ready for the start of the season. Let’s hope he’s back on the field in full force this season.
#12: OG Joel Bitonio – #35 to the Cleveland Browns (2014)
Joel Bitonio has been an absolute iron man for the Browns. He has started in every game in six straight seasons. He’s also working on a five-year streak of both All Pro and Pro Bowl nominations.
The Browns took a slight gamble with Bitonio’s five-year contract extension in 2017 after he ended both the 2015 and 2016 seasons on Injured Reserve, but prior injury issues have completely dissipated at this point.
#11: RB Derrick Henry – #45 to the Tennessee Titans (2016)
It’s still hard to believe Derrick Henry went in the second round after his Heisman-winning campaign in Alabama’s championship season in 2015. Henry won a slew of other awards that year and his leading rushing statistics immediately translate into the NFL.
In the 2019 and 2020 seasons, he led the league in both rushing yards and touchdowns, earning All Pro nominations in both years. The Titans’ offensive line has some issues to sort through, but Henry made the Pro Bowl for the third time last year and should do so again if he can stay healthy.
#10: DE Calais Campbell – #50 to the Arizona Cardinals (2007)
Still slated to start in his 16th season at 37 years old, Calais Campbell’s longevity in the NFL has been nothing short of remarkable. His peak came from 2014 to 2020, a stretch where he was a Pro Bowler every season and an All Pro player three times.
Campbell isn’t the same elite run defender he once was, but he still contributed strong play across the board for Baltimore last year. He’ll bring coveted leadership and consistency to a young Atlanta defense attempting to make a leap.
#9: QB Jalen Hurts – #54 to the Philadelphia Eagles (2020)
Premature? Maybe, but the Eagles found their franchise quarterback in the second round, and that afforded them the financial flexibility to build a stacked roster that just represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. Hurts, to his credit, likely would have been the MVP last season had he not missed two games with an injury.
Hurts had 4,461 combined passing and rushing yards and 35 combined touchdowns. He also led the Eagles to a 14-1 record as a starter. He was rewarded with a five-year, $255 million contract this offseason and will look to continue to build on a Second Team All Pro campaign.
#8: Davante Adams – #53 to the Green Bay Packers (2014)
While eight receivers were drafted before Davante Adams in 2014, it wound up a blessing for him to land in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers. Adams started slow, but he has double digit touchdowns in all but one season since 2016. He’s led the league in touchdown receptions twice over that span.
Adams is working on a streak of three straight First Team All Pro nods and six straight Pro Bowl selections. The quarterback situation in Las Vegas is rocky right now, but Adams looks to be in the prime of a legendary career.
#7: RB LeSean McCoy – #53 to the Philadelphia Eagles (2009)
Part of the NFL 2010s All Decade team, “Shady” helped define the running back position for his generation – no player scored more touchdowns, ran for more yards, or gained more yards from scrimmage than LeSean McCoy did from 2010 to 2019.
McCoy was part of two Super Bowl championships, albeit one where he didn’t play with the Buccaneers in 2021. Still, McCoy’s longevity was impressive at a position where the shelf life is very short – he had ten straight seasons with at least 195 touches. Along the way, he was named a First Team All Pro twice and a Pro Bowler six times.
#6: Eric Weddle – #36 to the San Diego Chargers (2007)
Eric Weddle was the fourth safety off the board in the 2007 draft, but he became by far the best with All Pro nominations in five straight seasons from 2010 to 2014. Weddle also made the NFL 2010s All-Decade team.
Perhaps the crowning accomplishment of Weddle’s career came after he retired. With the Rams hurting at the safety position, Weddle returned and led the team in tackles on their way to the Super Bowl championship.
#5: DT Chris Jones – #37 to the Kansas City Chiefs (2016)
While the Chiefs are more thought of for their high-flying, explosive offense, it’s impossible to ignore how important Chris Jones has been to the team’s recent success. Since entering the NFL, Jones has arguably been the best interior defensive lineman outside of Aaron Donald.
In addition to the two Super Bowl championships, Jones has four All Pro and Pro Bowl nominations in his seven-year career. Jones has been a consistent performer in the Chiefs’ biggest games, and if he continues on this current trajectory, he’ll be a future Hall of Famer.
#4: LB Lavonte David – #58 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012)
Part of a historic linebacker draft in 2012, Lavonte David has remained one of the league’s best players at his position ever since. It was clear early in his career that David was special as he earned a First Team All Pro selection in his second season at just 23 years old.
David was integral to Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl championship in 2020, the second in franchise history, and that ring will put him in favorable company when it comes to future Hall of Fame consideration.
#3: OT Andrew Whitworth – #55 to the Cincinnati Bengals (2006)
While the accolades in Andrew Whitworth’s career are undeniable, it’s perhaps even more impressive that he played a full season in 11 of his 16 years in the NFL at one of the most difficult positions in football. In the process, he earned two First Team All Pro nominations.
Whitworth turned 40 years old prior to Super Bowl LVI, but his blind side protection for Matthew Stafford was critical to the Rams’ most recent Super Bowl win. That championship cemented Whit’s legacy as one of the best offensive tackles of the modern era and a future Hall of Famer.
#2: LB Bobby Wagner – #47 to the Seattle Seahawks (2012)
Just the fifth linebacker off the board in the 2012 draft, Bobby Wagner has six First Team All Pro selections and 8 Pro Bowl nods to his name. In 2014, Wagner helped the Seahawks win their first Super Bowl in franchise history as part of the historic “Legion of Boom” defense. He was also named to the NFL 2010s All Decade team.
Wagner is perhaps the defining player of the best era of Seattle Seahawks history, and it feels wrong that he didn’t spend his entire career with the Seahawks. After a one-year All Pro stint with the Rams, he’s back in Seattle for the 2023 season and remains one of the best at his position.
#1: TE Rob Gronkowski – #42 Overall to the New England Patriots (2010)
Arguably the best tight end of all time, Rob Gronkowski was an undeniable centerpiece in the Patriots’ historic dynasty. He has the most combined receptions (23) and receiving yards (297) by a tight end in NFL history. In 2017, he led the NFL with 17 receiving touchdowns, becoming the first tight end to ever lead the league in that category.
If all of that wasn’t enough, Gronk was one of the best blockers of all time at his position. Gronk was a four-time Super Bowl champion, four-time First Team All Pro, and five-time Pro Bowler. He also made the NFL 2010s All Decade team. Gronk retired in 2022 (for the second time) with a first ballot Hall of Fame resume.