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Bears have unearthed gems late in draft

In the first of an eight-part series, we take a look at the most notable draft picks in Bears history who were selected in the eighth round or lower.

While the NFL Draft has consisted of seven rounds since 1994, it was 30 rounds in the 1940s and '50s before being reduced to 20 rounds in 1960, 17 in 1967, 12 in 1977 and 8 in 1993.

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Danny Fortmann was selected by the Bears in the final round of the first NFL Draft.

Three players the Bears drafted in the eighth round or lower are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: guard Danny Fortmann (ninth round in 1936), quarterback/kicker George Blanda (12th round in 1949) and defensive end Richard Dent (eighth round in 1983).

Fortmann was selected by the Bears in the final round of the first NFL Draft out of Colgate. During eight seasons, he was named All-NFL six straight years from 1938-43, and helped the Bears win three league championships in four seasons (1940, 1941 and 1943).

Standing just six-feet-tall and weighing 210 pounds, Fortmann was small for an offensive lineman even by 1930s and '40s standards. As a rookie in 1936, he was the NFL's youngest starter at the age of 20. He graduated from the University of Chicago School of Medicine while playing for the Bears and later served in the Navy during World War II.

Blanda played 10 seasons with the Bears from 1949-58, "retiring" as the franchise's all-time leading scorer with 541 points on 88 field goals and 247 extra points.

After one year away from the game, Blanda returned and remarkably played 16 more seasons—seven with the Houston Oilers and nine with the Oakland Raiders. He retired (again) in 1976—one month shy of his 49th birthday—as the NFL's all-time leader in seasons (26), games (340) and points (2,002).

When the Bears chose Dent in the eighth round of the 1983 draft, scout Bill Tobin said that the Tennessee State product was the best pure pass rusher he had graded. Dent slipped because he hadn't played against top competition in college and weighed just 224 pounds due mostly to a problem with his teeth that limited what he could eat.

With the Bears, Dent developed into a monster pass rusher, becoming the franchise's all-time leader with 124.5 sacks. He was an integral member of a 1985 Bears defense that is still considered by many as the best in NFL history, and he was named MVP of Super Bowl XX.

Here are six more notable players drafted by the Bears in the eighth round or lower:

Harlon Hill, receiver (15th round in 1954)
Hill played eight seasons with the Bears from 1954-61 and was voted to the Pro Bowl each of his first three years with the team. As a rookie, he set Bears receiving records with 1,124 yards and a league-leading 12 touchdowns. More than 50 years after he left the Bears, Hill remains the franchise's all-time leader with 40 TD receptions and ranks second with 4,616 receiving yards.

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A look at some of the most notable draft picks in Bears history who were selected in the eighth round or lower.

Johnny Morris, receiver (12th round in 1958)**
The only Bears receiver to compile more career yards than Hill is Morris, who caught 356 passes for 5,059 yards and 31 touchdowns over 10 seasons from 1958-67. Morris was a key member of the Bears' 1963 NFL championship team and he was voted All-Pro in 1964 when he led the league with 93 catches for 1,200 yards and 10 TDs. Morris later worked as a TV sportscaster in Chicago.

Doug Plank, safety (12th round in 1975)
Primarily a backup and special-teams player at Ohio State, Plank immediately earned a starting job with the Bears and became the first rookie to lead the team in tackles. A physical, hard-hitting force in the secondary, Plank played all eight of his NFL seasons with the Bears and remains one of the team's most popular players. The famed "46" defense was named after Plank's jersey number.

Roland Harper, fullback (17th round in 1975)
The perfect complement to superstar halfback Walter Payton, Harper arrived in the same draft as Sweetness and lined up in front of him at fullback for eight seasons. Harper was an excellent blocker, but he could also run with the ball, gaining a career-high 992 yards in 1978. Harper ranks eighth on the Bears' all-time rushing list with 3,044 yards.

Mark Bortz, guard (eighth round in 1983)
Bortz appeared in 171 games with 155 starts over 12 seasons with the Bears, lining up at left guard on some of the most dominant offensive lines in NFL history in the 1980s. The unit helped the Bears lead the NFL in rushing for four straight seasons from 1983-86. Bortz played defensive tackle at Iowa and was converted to offense when he joined the Bears.

Shaun Gayle, safety (10th round in 1984)
Gayle appeared in 144 games with 92 starts over 11 seasons with the Bears. Before serving as a regular starter from 1989-94, he contributed primarily on special teams. In a 1985 playoff win over the New York Giants at Soldier Field, Gayle scooped up the ball after Sean Landeta whiffed on a punt and returned it five yards for a touchdown.

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