The best small-school NFL draft picks ever
49ers legend Jerry Rice was taken 16th overall in 1985 out of Mississippi Valley State. Doug Collier / AFP / Getty Images

The best small-school NFL draft picks ever

NFL prospects from small schools are often overlooked, but there have been many over the years who have turned into stars at the highest level. These 30 small-school NFL draft picks stand out among the best players in the history of the league.

 
1 of 30

Larry Allen, OG, Sonoma State

Larry Allen, OG, Sonoma State
James D. Smith / Icon Sportswire

Allen was famous for his raw strength, benching 705 pounds. Dallas stole the offensive lineman in the second round of the 1994 draft out of Savannah State, and he went on to make 11 Pro Bowls during his 14-year Hall of Fame career.

 
2 of 30

Elvin Bethea, DE, North Carolina A&T

Elvin Bethea, DE, North Carolina A&T
Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire

Bethea spent his entire 16-year career, from 1968-1983, with the Oilers after being selected in the third round out of North Carolina A&T in 1968. He was an elite pass rusher for most of his career, making eight Pro Bowls and later being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

 
3 of 30

Mel Blount, CB, Southern

Mel Blount, CB, Southern
Rich Graessle / Icon Sportswire

Blount was a key player during Pittsburgh's dynasty in the 1970s, winning four Super Bowls after he was drafted in the third round of the 1970 draft out of Southern. The cornerback was the 1975 Defensive Player of the Year due in large part to his 11 interceptions, and he made five Pro Bowls in his 14 seasons.

 
4 of 30

Terry Bradshaw, QB, Louisiana Tech

Terry Bradshaw, QB, Louisiana Tech
Wally McNamee / Getty Images

The first-overall pick in the 1970 draft, Bradshaw would lead a four Super Bowl dynasty in Pittsburgh. The quarterback won the 1978 league MVP, along with two Super Bowl MVPs, en route to his 14-year Hall of Fame career as a Louisiana Tech alum.

 
5 of 30

Harry Carson, LB, South Carolina State

Harry Carson, LB, South Carolina State
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Carson was a key player in New York's dominant 1980s defenses and made nine Pro Bowls over 10 seasons from 1978-1987. He was quite a find as a fourth-round pick in 1976 out of South Carolina State.

 
6 of 30

Richard Dent, DE, Tennessee State

Richard Dent, DE, Tennessee State
Owen C. Shaw / Getty Images

Dent was one of the key players on Chicago's vaunted 1985 defense, recording 17 sacks and seven forced fumbles in that historic season. He had a total of 137.5 sacks during his 15-year Hall of Fame career after being selected in the eighth round of the 1983 draft out of Tennessee State.

 
7 of 30

Brett Favre, QB, Southern Miss

Brett Favre, QB, Southern Miss
John Bieber / Icon Sportswire

Few quarterbacks in NFL history were more consistent for longer than Favre, who played 20 seasons in the league. He was selected in the second round of the 1991 draft by Atlanta before getting shipped to Green Bay the following year and went on to win three league MVP Awards and make 11 Pro Bowls.

 
8 of 30

Darrell Green, CB, Texas A&M-Kingsville

Darrell Green, CB, Texas A&M-Kingsville
John Iacono / Icon Sportswire

Green spent 20 seasons in Washington, making seven Pro Bowls and winning two Super Bowls. The cornerback was selected in the first round out of Texas A&M-Kingsville, later becoming the second NFL Hall of Famer the school produced after Gene Upshaw.

 
9 of 30

Joe Greene, DT, North Texas

Joe Greene, DT, North Texas
Cliff Welch / Icon Sportswire

"Mean Joe" Greene was one of the most ferocious pass rushers in the league during his time, and he made 11 consecutive Pro Bowls to begin his career in Pittsburgh. The Steelers selected him fourth overall in the 1969 draft out of North Texas, and he certainly earned that draft position, winning three Defensive Player of the Year Awards and four Super Bowls in his 13-year career.

 
10 of 30

Charles Haley, DE, James Madison

Charles Haley, DE, James Madison
Focus on Sport / Getty Images

Haley played in the NFL for 13 seasons between San Francisco and Dallas, winning a remarkable five Super Bowls. The Hall of Fame defensive end recorded 100.5 sacks during his career after a college career as a Division I-AA All-American at James Madison. The 49ers selected Haley in the fourth round in 1986.

 
11 of 30

Deacon Jones, DE, Mississippi Valley State

Deacon Jones, DE, Mississippi Valley State
Focus on Sport / Getty Images

Jones fell to the 14th round in the 1961 draft and turned out to be one of the greatest steals in draft history, playing 14 seasons as one of the game's greatest pass rushers. He made eight Pro Bowls after playing his college ball at South Carolina State and Mississippi Vocational College now known as Mississippi Valley State.

 
12 of 30

Willie Lanier, LB, Morgan State

Willie Lanier, LB, Morgan State
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Lanier won an AFL championship and Super Bowl in his 11-year career with the Chiefs after he was selected in the second round of the 1967 NFL Draft out of Morgan State. Among his NFL Hall of Fame accomplishments were eight Pro Bowls.

 
13 of 30

Howie Long, DE, Villanova

Howie Long, DE, Villanova
Owen C. Shaw / Icon Sportswire

Villanova isn't known for its football program, but Long showed enough in college to be taken in the second round of the 1981 draft by the Raiders. The Hall of Fame defensive end and TV personality played 13 seasons with the Raiders, recording 84 sacks and making eight Pro Bowls.

 
14 of 30

Sid Luckman, QB, Columbia

Sid Luckman, QB, Columbia
Vic Stein / Getty Images

Luckman put together a Hall of Fame career as the Bears quarterback from 1939-1950 after playing his college ball at Columbia. Among his career accomplishments were four NFL championships and three Pro Bowls after he was selected second overall in the 1939 draft.

 
15 of 30

Steve McNair, QB, Alcorn State

Steve McNair, QB, Alcorn State
Wade Payne / Icon Sportswire

McNair garnered Heisman Trophy consideration at Alcorn State in 1994, parlaying that success into becoming the third-overall pick in the 1995 draft by the Oilers. He stuck with the Oilers/Titans organization for 11 seasons, winning one league MVP and making three Pro Bowls. McNair finished his career after the 2007 season following two years in Baltimore.

 
16 of 30

Terrell Owens, WR, Chattanooga

Terrell Owens, WR, Chattanooga
Matt A. Brown / Icon Sportswire

One of the most explosive and enigmatic wide receivers in NFL history, Owens was enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame after a 15-year career that included six Pro Bowls, close to 16,000 receiving yards and 156 touchdowns. He was selected in the third round of the 1996 draft by the 49ers out of Chattanooga and famously gave his Hall of Fame speech at his alma mater after a falling out with the Hall of Fame committee.

 
17 of 30

Walter Payton, RB, Jackson State

Walter Payton, RB, Jackson State
John McDonough / Icon Sportswire

One of the NFL's greatest running backs in history, Payton was selected fourth overall in the 1975 draft out of Jackson State. He won the 1977 MVP Award along with NFL Man of the Year, an award that was later named after him. His career accomplishments included nine Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl victory and 16,726 career rushing yards, still second all time.

 
18 of 30

Jerry Rice, WR, Mississippi Valley State

Jerry Rice, WR, Mississippi Valley State
John G. Mabanglo / AFP

Widely known as the greatest wide receiver in the history of the NFL, Rice was drafted 16th overall in the 1985 draft by the 49ers. During his storied 20-year career, Rice won two Offensive Player of the Year Awards and three Super Bowls, and he was a 10-time All-Pro. The Mississippi Valley State alum is still first all time in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

 
19 of 30

Willie Roaf, OT, Louisiana Tech

Willie Roaf, OT, Louisiana Tech
Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

A mauling left tackle during his 13-year NFL career, Roaf didn't have to travel far after his college career at Louisiana Tech, going eighth overall in New Orleans in the 1993 draft. He made the Pro Bowl in 11 of his 13 seasons and was later inducted into the Hall of Fame.

 
20 of 30

Shannon Sharpe, TE, Savannah State

Shannon Sharpe, TE, Savannah State
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Sharpe had one of the best careers ever by an NFL tight end, and was a great find by Denver in the seventh round of the 1990 draft out of Savannah State. For his career, Sharpe won three Super Bowls and was a Pro Bowler eight times in 14 seasons between Denver and Baltimore.

 
21 of 30

Art Shell, OT, Maryland State

Art Shell, OT, Maryland State
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Shell had a Hall of Fame career in 15 seasons at tackle for the Raiders and later had two stints as the franchise's head coach. Selected in the third round of the 1968 draft out of Maryland State, Shell went on to make eight Pro Bowls and win two Super Bowls.

 
22 of 30

Jackie Slater, OT, Jackson State

Jackie Slater, OT, Jackson State
Stephen Dunn / Getty Images

Slater had a Hall of Fame career over 20 seasons with the Rams organization after he was selected in the third round in 1976 out of Jackson State. The tackle made seven Pro Bowls during his career. His son, Matthew Slater, has been a longtime special teams stalwart with the Patriots.

 
23 of 30

Jackie Smith, TE, Northwestern State

Jackie Smith, TE, Northwestern State
Wally McNamee / Getty Images

Smith spent most of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals after he was selected in the 10th round of the 1963 draft out of Northwestern State. The Hall of Famer made five Pro Bowls during his career, but unfortunately is remembered best for dropping a wide-open touchdown pass in Super Bowl XIII while playing with the Cowboys in his final game.

 
24 of 30

John Stallworth, WR, Alabama A&M

John Stallworth, WR, Alabama A&M
Focus on Sport / Getty Images

Stallworth was a great find by the Steelers during their historic 1974 draft, selected in the fourth round out of Alabama A&M. The wideout played 14 seasons in Pittsburgh, making three Pro Bowls and winning four Super Bowls.

 
25 of 30

Michael Strahan, DE, Texas Southern

Michael Strahan, DE, Texas Southern
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Strahan has had a great career as a TV personality after a Hall of Fame NFL career. He was selected in the second round of the 1993 draft out of Texas Southern and went on to make seven Pro Bowls and win the 2001 Defensive Player of the Year. He set the record for sacks in a season during that campaign with 22.5.

 
26 of 30

Gene Upshaw, OG, Texas A&M-Kingsville

Gene Upshaw, OG, Texas A&M-Kingsville
Sylvia Allen / Getty Images

Upshaw had a Hall of Fame career with the Oakland Raiders after he was selected in the first round of the 1967 draft. During his 15-year career, Upshaw made seven Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls. Following his career, he became executive director of the NFLPA.

 
27 of 30

Andre Reed, WR, Kutztown

Andre Reed, WR, Kutztown
Owen C. Shaw / Icon Sportswire

Reed was a steal for the Bills in the 1985 draft, falling to the fourth round. The Kutztown alum went on to make seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1988-1994 and also appeared in four Super Bowls with the Bills in his Hall of Fame career.

 
28 of 30

Jason Taylor, DE, Akron

Jason Taylor, DE, Akron
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One of the best pass rushers of his era, Taylor made six Pro Bowls and won 2006 Defensive Player of the Year after he was selected in the third round of the 1997 draft by the Dolphins out of Akron. He ended his 15-year career with 139.5 career sacks and was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

 
29 of 30

Aeneas Williams, CB, Southern

Aeneas Williams, CB, Southern
Mitchell Layton / Getty Images

Often overshadowed by Deion Sanders, Williams was consistently one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL and made eight Pro Bowls during his Hall of Fame 14-year career. The Southern alum was selected in the third round of the 1991 draft by the Cardinals, where he played 10 seasons before joining the Rams for his final four seasons.

 
30 of 30

Rayfield Wright, OT, Fort Valley State

Rayfield Wright, OT, Fort Valley State
Richard Stagg / Getty Images

Wright was a seventh-round pick in the 1967 draft by the Cowboys out of Fort Valley State and played his entire 13-year career with Dallas. After playing multiple positions early in his career, Wright settled in as the team's right tackle and made six consecutive Pro Bowls from 1971-1976, eventually getting inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Seth Trachtman is a fantasy sports expert and diehard Kansas City Chiefs fan still hoping for a Super Bowl win during his lifetime. He doesn't often Tweet, but when he does, you can find him on Twitter @sethroto.

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