The Redshirt Senior: Tom Brady and the Unconventional Path to Success

by Evan Griffith | 9/23/19 2:00am

Happy job-hunting season! If anyone turned to the sports section to try to get away from resume reviews and cover letter writing, you’re out of luck because I’m writing this to put off doing the same thing. In the spirit of the season, I wanted to take a look at some of the players in the National Football League who had a non-standard career path and found success in the league. The path to success is not a straight line and your self-worth is not related to the perceived success of others.

First, I would be remiss to not talk about *clenches teeth* the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. As everyone surely knows by this point, Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft, drafted in the sixth round. To put Brady’s career into context, this is every other quarterback drafted ahead of Brady in 2000:

Chad Pennington — Pick 18, New York Jets: played in the NFL for 11 years; 2002 NFL Passer Rating Leader; 2006 and 2008 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. 

Giovanni Carmazzi — Pick 65, San Francisco 49ers: Backup quarterback, played two seasons in the NFL.

Chris Redman — Pick 75, Baltimore Ravens: Backed up the Ravens for four seasons, alternated between backup and starter with Atlanta between 2007 and 2011.

Tee Martin — Pick 163, Pittsburgh Steelers: Career backup, four NFL seasons.

Marc Bulger — Pick 168, New Orleans Saints: 2003 and 2006 Pro Bowl Participant, 95 career starts with the St. Louis Rams.

Spergon Wynn — Pick 183, Cleveland Browns: Three NFL starts, four-year Canadian Football League career.

Among that group of quarterbacks, only Pennington and Bulger had any sort of sustained NFL success, and even then, that group only combined for two Pro Bowls. For context, Brady has 14 Pro Bowls to his name, in addition to five All-Pro nods, three NFL MVPs, nine Super Bowl appearances with six Super Bowl championships and four Super Bowl MVPs. Brady, whenever he retires, will go down as the best to ever do it — especially considering where he came from.

Brady is probably the best quarterback who was drafted in the late rounds in the modern era, but there are still quarterbacks who were drafted in the late rounds who achieved success. In 1956, Bart Starr was drafted in the 17th (!) round by the Green Bay Packers, and he went on to form the equivalent of Brady and Belichick with head coach Vince Lombardi. Starr led the Packers to five NFL championships and victories in the first two Super Bowls with Lombardi. He also was the Super Bowl MVP twice and was named to the Pro Bowl four times. There was also Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys, who was drafted in the 10th round in 1964. Even though he was drafted that year, Staubach didn’t play until 1969 due to fulfilling his military commitment with the Navy. How’s that for a non-traditional career path? Staubach led the Cowboys to two Super Bowl wins, winning one Super Bowl MVP in the process, and he made the Pro Bowl six times during his tenure as a Cowboy.

Staying on the offensive side of the ball, Bo Jackson was another player whose career path wasn’t super straight. Jackson won the Heisman Trophy at Auburn University before being drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1986. Before the draft, Jackson said he would never play for Tampa due to the front office lying about a visit Jackson took to Tampa not affecting his NCAA eligibility. Jackson, after refusing to play football in 1986, decided to play baseball for the Kansas City Royals that year. The next year, the Oakland Raiders spent a seventh-round pick on Jackson in the hope that he would return to football. Jackson only played in four NFL seasons, and he only played at most 11 games in those seasons due to the MLB season, but he was one of the most electrifying players in the league during that time, rushing for just under 2,800 yards during his career. That’s an average of roughly 700 yards per season, which is impressive considering Jackson never played more than 11 games in a season. Jackson would probably have gone on to have an even more successful career if he hadn’t suffered a season ending hip injury in 1990.

Another late round player who had a bit of an entrepreneurial kick was Deacon Jones. Jones was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 14th round of the 1961 draft and became a part of the “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line of the Rams during the ’60s. I mention Jones acted as an entrepreneur since he’s the one credited with coining the term “sack.” The NFL didn’t officially record sacks until 1982, but Jones retired as the all-time “sack” leader in the NFL with 194.5 at the time of his retirement. Jones also managed to put up 50 sacks over two seasons, recording 24 and 26 sacks over that time span. Jones also made the Pro Bowl eight times during his career.

So the point is, if you’re stressed out over the job hunt, you can still do great things — even if your career post-Dartmouth isn’t everything you initially wanted it to be.