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Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Fifth Round: Great conversion rates

By Sheldon Spencer
ESPN.com

Herschel Walker, Lester Hayes
The Cowboys mined some good seasons out of halfback Herschel Walker (left) before trading him to Minnesota; the Raiders converted Lester Hayes from college linebacker to a Pro Bowl cornerback.
Lester Hayes entered the NFL in 1977 as a project, a college linebacker who would have to convert to cornerback and learn the Oakland Raiders' bump-and-run defense.

Ten seasons later, he left the game with five consecutive Pro Bowl citations, two Super Bowl rings, a league defensive player of the year honor -- and seemingly millions of great quotes.

Now the former Texas A&M star ranks among the best fifth-round NFL draft picks ever, as compiled by ESPN.com for our best round-by-round team series.

When Hayes first joined the Raiders, he was not confident in his ability to fulfill their expectations. He pleaded with owner Al Davis to be converted to safety, but Davis insisted Hayes was made to be a corner. Hayes just had to convince himself.

"Logically, playing man-to-man -- and the Raiders will play man-to-man as long as there's a Statue of Liberty -- you're going to get beat," Hayes told Sports Illustrated in 1981.

"But it is imperative that you have a degree of cockiness. Bump-and-run coverage is my forte now. There's no mere mortal I fear. I am auspiciously euphoric."

Here's hoping you feel the same way about our other fifth-round selections, even the more controversial ones.

Take a look at one of our running back positions, for example.

Dorsey Levens (1994, Green Bay Packers) arguably has the edge over Herschel Walker (1985, Dallas Cowboys). In eight seasons as a Packer, Levens produced a great deal. He's got a Super Bowl ring, two Super Bowl appearances and a Pro Bowl citation, making a strong case for elevation from our "also considered" list.

Former USFL star Walker produced two Pro Bowl campaigns in 3½ Cowboys seasons, but no Super Bowl appearances for Dallas. In 1989, though, the Cowboys leveraged Walker's rights into a blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Vikings that had serious ripple effects, including bringing Dallas the players and draft picks that became the foundation for three Super Bowl-winning teams.

Sheldon Spencer is an NFL editor at ESPN.com. Thanks to ESPN's Stats & Information crew for their researching efforts, as well as Pro-Football-Reference.com and the Pro Football Hall Of Fame's Web site.