Detailed findings & methodology:
The drafts of the four major sports leagues have become shorter over the years. Basketball requires fewer players, so the NBA draft was shortened from 10 rounds to just two. Baseball franchises, on the other hand, need to fill out several minor league clubs, plus the Major League team, so the MLB draft now goes 40 rounds, but used to go even longer. Both the NHL and NFL have since been shortened to seven rounds.
We restricted this list to players who have played at least five seasons. It takes a long time to get a sense of how a player would perform throughout his career. Many recent last-round drafted players, like Nikola Jokic, are only now realizing their full potential. Jokic was a second-round pick by the Denver Nuggets in 2014. After years of gradual improvement, he earned his first All-Star game selection in the 2018-2019 season.
Many MLB players have been drafted multiple times — first out of high school, then college. Some baseball players, especially those who are not highly drafted out of high school, opt to go to college to get an education and hone their skills. After proving themselves at the college level, these players can be drafted dozens of rounds ahead of where they were selected a few years before.
To determine the best pro athletes drafted in the last round, 24/7 Wall St. used data from statistics sites such as the Sports Reference family of sites and Baseball Almanac. We used this data to rank the best players selected at the end of each major American pro sports league’s draft in the modern era.
To determine success we used individual accolades individual accolades, such as All-star designations and other awards like Gold Gloves, Jennings Trophies, and All-NBA or All-Pro designations. Players were also ranked by their statistics, using advanced metrics like point shares for the NHL, value over replacement player for the NBA, approximate value in the NFL, and wins above replacement in MLB.
The first MLB amateur draft was held in 1965. The end of the MLB draft is often irregular, with just one player selected in some later rounds. To account for this, we considered players selected with one of the final 30 picks in any year of the MLB draft to be in the last round. Each of the other three leagues — NHL, NBA, NFL — merged with a competitor league in the 1970s, beginning their modern era.