Top 10 undrafted players in NFL history

The NFL Draft has assumed added importance with each passing year, with teams intent on drafting the best college players into their sides in order to strengthen their rosters.

While the Draft consists of the cream of the crop and over 200 world-class players are drafted each year, there are plenty that end up missing the cut due to various reasons.

While many of these undrafted players tend to give up on their NFL dreams and pursue other passions, history suggests that had they stuck it out, they could have achieved plenty of success.

Across the NFL’s history, there have been tons of undrafted players who have gone on to achieve superstardom.

Here, we take a look at the top 10 undrafted players in NFL history:

#10. Lou Groza

Position: Offensive lineman/kicker

College: Ohio State

NFL career: 21 years (1946-67)

Teams: Cleveland Browns

Super Bowl titles: 0

Pro Bowls: 9

All-Pro Selections: 4

Lou Groza was responsible for putting the spotlight on the role of a kicker. After joining the Cleveland Browns in 1946, Groza would go on to play two positions – kicker and offensive tackle – specializing in both.

He was the greatest kicker to have ever graced the NFL at the time and was nicknamed ‘The Toe’ for his incredible ability to kick field goals from over 50 yards on a regular basis.

Groza made 234/405 field goals during his career as well as 641/657 extra points. He was a four-time NFL champion and nine-time Pro Bowler, even winning the NFL MVP award in 1954.

Despite his death in 2000, Groza will forever remain relevant considering the fact that college football’s best kicker award is named after him.

#9. Willie Wood

Position: Safety

College: Southern California

NFL career: 12 years (1960-71)

Teams: Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl titles: 2 (1966, 1967)

Pro Bowls: 8

All-Pro Selections: 5

Many teams would regret passing on Willie Wood in the 1960 NFL draft considering the career he would go on to have. After going undrafted, Wood wrote a personal letter to Green Bay head coach Vince Lombardi requesting a tryout.

Despite being a quarterback by nature, he opted for a switch to Safety, which proved to be a masterstroke.

Wood would play an integral role in the Packers’ success, ending up with five NFL titles and 2 Super Bowls.

Wood made 8 Pro Bowls and was also a five-time All-Pro Selection in his 12 years in the league. He also currently holds the record for the most consecutive starts by a safety in NFL history and at the time of his retirement in 1971, had notched up 699 interception yards on 48 interceptions.

He was also inducted in into the Hall of Fame in 1989.

#8. Willie Brown

Position: Cornerback

College: Grambling

NFL career: 16 years (1963-78)

Teams: Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders

Super Bowl titles: 3

Pro Bowls: 9

All-Pro Selections: 5

After being cut by the Houston Oilers in training camp, Willie Brown got his big break when he was picked up by the Denver Broncos.

He would go on to have a relatively successful career, making nine trips to the Pro Bowl and even winning the Super Bowl in 1976.

In his 16-year career in the NFL, Brown was a five-time All-Star and racked up 54 interceptions.

#7. John Randle

John Randle

Position: Defensive tackle/end

College: Texas A&M-Kingsville

NFL career: 14 years (1990-2003)

Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks

Super Bowl titles: 0

Pro Bowls: 7

All-Pro Selections: 6

John Randle’s journey to success in the NFL is truly heartwarming. Randle grew up in poverty and had to work odd jobs to make ends meet.

He began playing football in college and declared for the NFL draft in 1990. After being undrafted, Randle tried out for his brother’s team but was rejected on account of his stature.

However, he got a lucky break with the Minnesota Vikings, who picked him up as a free agent. Over the course of the next few years, Randle would develop into one of the best defensive tackles in the league, making seven trips to the Pro Bowl.

Randle also managed double-digit sacks in nine different seasons, including a league-leading 15.5 sacks in 1997.

Aside from his on-field displays, Randle was a colorful character not afraid to air his opinions and make his presence felt off the field as well.

At the time of his retirement in 2003, Randle had racked up 137.5 sacks and 471 tackles, which are phenomenal numbers for a player considered too lightweight to play in the NFL.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.

#6. Antonio Gates

Position: Tight end

College: Kent State

NFL career: 16 years (2003-present)

Teams: San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers

Super Bowl titles: 0

Pro Bowls: 8

All-Pro Selections: 3

Antonio Gates, over the course of his 16-year NFL career, has racked up a total of 11,841 receiving yards on 955 receptions as well as 116 receiving touchdowns – not bad for an undrafted free agent.

However, things could have been so different early on in Gates’ career. He was initially interested in joining the NBA, but was told his skillset didn’t quite fit into the league at the time.

As a result, he decided to give the NFL a go and was picked up by the San Diego Chargers. He had a phenomenal rookie season, as he caught 24 passes for 389 yards. He had a great understanding with then-quarterback Drew Brees and developed his game constantly in the following years.

Gates would go on to make 8 Pro Bowl appearances and is also a 3-time All-Pro. He racked up a total of five 900-yard seasons and, at the time of writing, Gates ranks sixth in career touchdown receptions, the most among all NFL tight ends of all time.

Gates is currently a free agent and is expected to announce his retirement from the sport in the near future.

#5. Adam Vinatieri

Position: Kicker

College: South Dakota State

NFL career: 23 years (1996-present)

Teams: New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts

Super Bowl titles: 4 (2001, 2003, 2004, 2006)

Pro Bowls: 3

All-Pro selections: 3

Adam Vinatieri is considered one of the greatest kickers of all time. A four-time Super Bowl winner, Vinatieri made clutch kicks throughout his career, winning numerous games for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts.

He was picked up by the New England Patriots in 1996 as an undrafted free agent. He remained with the Patriots for 10 seasons, cementing his reputation as one of the most clutch kickers in the league.

Vinatieri kicked the winning field goal in two of the three Super Bowls he won with New England. He would go on to sign with the Colts soon after, where he continued to enjoy success.

He picked up another ring during his time with Indianapolis, becoming the most successful kicker of all time.

Vinatieri set a ton of records during his (still ongoing) career, including the most consecutive field goals made, most combined regular-season and postseason games played (397), most career field goals made (599), most career points in NFL history (2,673) and most field goal attempts (715).

He is also the only kicker in NFL history to have scored more than 1000 points for two different teams.

At the age of 46, he is still featuring for the Colts and is the oldest player in the NFL. While he has struggled of late, missing a ton of field goals and extra point opportunities this season, his legacy as one of the greatest kickers of all time remains untarnished and he is undoubtedly a future Hall of Famer.

#4. Dick Lane

Position: Cornerback/defensive end

College: Scottsbluff Junior

NFL career: 14 years (1952-65)

Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Chicago Cardinals, Detroit Lions

Super Bowl titles: 0

Pro Bowls: 7

All-Pro Selections: 3

Richard Lane’s story is one of the most interesting on this list. He was working at the Los Angeles aircraft plant in 1952 when he decided to ask the Rams for a tryout. Impressed by his performance, he was signed up to the roster.

Lane broke numerous records during his rookie season. He produced a total of 14 interceptions, a record that stands till date, and also led the league in interception return yards.

Lane was known to be a destructive presence on the field and his ferocious tackling forced the NFL to change many of their rules.

Over the course of his career, Lane managed 68 interceptions, 1,207 interception return yards, and five touchdowns on interception, and is considered one of the greatest cornerbacks of all time.

Lane was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.

#3. Emlen Tunnell

Position: Safety

College: Iowa

NFL career: 14 years (1948-61)

Teams: New York Giants, Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl titles: 0

Pro Bowls: 9

All-Pro Selections: 4

Emlen Tunnell made history by becoming the first African American to play for the New York Giants. In his rookie season with the Giants, Tunnell put in some wonderful displays, appearing in 10 games and intercepting seven passes.

He would develop into an elite defender over the course of the next few years and was a four-time All-Pro selection.

However, despite his commanding presence on defense, the Giants could never win a Super Bowl during Tunnell’s time at the franchise.

He moved to the Green Bay Packers soon after but never enjoyed the same success, eventually announcing his retirement in 1962.

Tunnell’s 79 interceptions are the second-most in NFL history and he also became the first African American to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

#2. Warren Moon

Position: Quarterback

College: Washington

NFL career: 17 years (1984-2000)

Teams: Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs

Super Bowl titles: 0

Pro Bowls: 9

All-Pro Selections: 0

Despite an immensely successful college career, Warren Moon went undrafted in the 1978 NFL draft, forcing him to turn to the Canadian Football League for opportunities.

He enjoyed tremendous success with the Edmonton Eskimos and was picked up by the Houston Oilers in 1984.

Despite a shaky start to life in the NFL, Moon still threw for a franchise-record 3,338 yards in his first season.

Over the course of his 10-year career with the Oilers, Moon would go on to set 37 franchise passing records.

His success continued in his stints with the Seahawks, Vikings and Chiefs and he twice led the league in passing yards and had four 4,000-yard passing seasons.

Moon is a nine-time Pro Bowler and became the first undrafted quarterback to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Moon also had his signature No.1 jersey retired by the Tennessee Titans.

#1. Kurt Warner

Position: Quarterback

College: Northern Iowa

NFL career: 12 years (1998-2009)

Teams: St. Louis Rams, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals

Super Bowl titles: 1 (2000)

Pro Bowls: 4

All-Pro Selections: 2

Kurt Warner went undrafted in the 1994 NFL draft, but trained with the Green Bay Packers ahead of the new season. However, considering the fact that the Packers’ three quarterbacks at the time were Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, and former Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer, Warner never stood a chance of making the squad.

He was released and forced to stock shelves to make a living. However, he signed with the Arena Football League’s Iowa Barnstormers in 1995 where he went on to make a name for himself.

Warner went on to sign a futures contract with the St. Louis Rams in 1997 but was still only their third-choice quarterback.

However, in 1999, following an injury to starting quarterback Trent Green, Warner was thrust into the role and the rest, as they say, is history.

Warner went on to break numerous records that season, throwing for a whopping 4,353 yards with 41 touchdown passes and a completion rate of 65.1%.

He would lead the Rams to the playoffs and eventually the Super Bowl, where he set more records, throwing for two touchdowns and a then-record 414 passing yards against the Tennessee Titans.

Warner also led the Rams’ game-winning touchdown drive late on and was named Super Bowl MVP for his efforts.

Although he would never go on to win another Super Bowl, Warner remains one of the most successful quarterbacks of all time and easily the greatest to have gone undrafted.

He ended his career with 32,344 passing yards and 208 touchdowns and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.


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