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Bears have unearthed gems late in NFL Draft

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Not all of the greatest players in Bears history were high draft picks. Some were unearthed in late rounds and emerged as stars.

Here are some of the Bears' best draft steals of all time, listed in chronological order. To see how I rank them from 1-to-10, click here

Danny Fortmann, guard (ninth round in 1936)
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 he helped the Bears win three league championships in four seasons (1940, 1941 and 1943). Fortmann was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1965.

Joe Fortunato, linebacker (seventh round in 1952)
Fortunato was voted to five Pro Bowls in 12 seasons with the Bears from 1955-66. He was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1950s and selected as one of the top 300 players in NFL history. An outside linebacker, the Mississippi State product recorded 16 interceptions and 22 fumble recoveries during his career.

Stan Jones, guard (fifth round in 1953)
Jones played 12 of his 13 NFL seasons with the Bears from 1954-65 and was voted to seven straight Pro Bowls. Known as the first pro football player to lift weights on a regular basis, Jones was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1991.

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 second on the team's all-time receiving list with 4,616 yards and 40 TDs.

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 ninth on the Bears' all-time rushing list with 3,044 yards.

Richard Dent, defensive end (eighth round in 1983)
Dent developed into a monster pass rusher, becoming the Bears' all-time leader with 124.5 sacks. He was an integral member of a 1985 defense that is still considered by many as the best in NFL history, and he was named MVP of Super Bowl XX. Dent was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

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 Giants at Soldier Field, Gayle scooped up the ball after Sean Landeta whiffed on a punt and returned it five yards for a touchdown.

With the NFL draft taking place next Thursday through Saturday, senior writer Larry Mayer ranks the top 10 draft steals in Bears history.

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Larry Mayer

Bears Senior Writer

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