The NFL is one of the most popular and competitive sport leagues in the world. Every year, hundreds of aspiring athletes eagerly await the annual NFL Draft to find out which team has selected them to play professional football. But while many of these young players have their dreams come true as they hear their name called during the draft, there are a few diamonds in the rough that slip through the cracks.
This article will explore some of the best undrafted players in NFL history; unsung heroes who made a huge impact on their respective teams despite not being chosen during the draft process.
Introduction to Undrafted Free Agents
Every year, there are hundreds of talented football players who go unselected during the NFL Draft. These players are known as “undrafted free agents” (UFAs), and usually receive offers from teams shortly after the draft ends.
While UFAs typically don’t receive as much attention as drafted rookies, they can often make an immediate impact on an NFL team and even become superstars over time.
John Randle: The Hall of Fame Defensive Tackle
One of the most successful undrafted free agents in modern-day NFL history is John Randle, a defensive tackle who went unselected during the 1990 Draft despite having an impressive collegiate career at Texas A&M-Kingsville.
After going undrafted, Randle signed with the Minnesota Vikings and would go on to become one of the greatest defensive tackles in league history, making seven Pro Bowl appearances, while amassing 137 sacks over his 14-season career.
In 2010, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his incredible accomplishments on the field.
Antonio Gates: The Star Tight End
Another prominent figure among UFAs is Antonio Gates, widely considered one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history. Gates had a successful college basketball career at Kent State but received no interest from any NFL teams leading up to the 2003 Draft due to his lack of experience playing organized football.
He had only played one year at Eastern Michigan before transferring to Kent State for basketball duties. However, he eventually signed with the San Diego Chargers and quickly established himself as one of the best tight ends in football. Gates recorded 844 receptions for 10,644 yards and 116 touchdowns over his illustrious 15-year career, which is second only to Jerry Rice (197) for the most receiving touchdowns of all time.
He was recognized with eight Pro Bowl selections and two First Team All-Pro awards throughout his remarkable playing days.
Troy Brown: A Versatile Weapon
New England Patriots wide receiver Troy Brown may not be a household name, but he sure deserves more recognition than he currently gets. After all, he holds multiple franchise records with Pats, including longest punt return (90 yards (ca. 82 m)) and the most receptions by any player since 2000 (557).
Brown didn’t get picked during the 1993 Draft partly because he was undersized as a wideout but proved doubters wrong when New England signed him shortly afterward. He would go on to appear in three Super Bowls with the Pats (winningall) while earning three Pro Bowl bids along the way.
He also played cornerback late in his career due to injuries and excelled there too, earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors during the 2004 season—an extraordinary feat considering he had last played defense in high school!
Kurt Warner: The Super Bowl MVP
Kurt Warner is another superstar who slipped through the cracks during the 1994 Draft despite being an accomplished quarterback at Northern Iowa University. No team saw enough potential to select him, so he ended up signing with the St. Louis Rams shortly afterward. Little did anyone know that Warner would go on to become one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, leading the Rams to two Super Bowls. This included XXXIV where he earned MVP honors after completing 24-45 passes for 414 yards (0.38 km) and three touchdowns.
He also won two AP MVP awards in the 2001-02 seasons, making him one of only four players ever to win it more than once. During his 11-year career, Warner amassed an impressive 32,971 passing yards, 208 touchdowns, and 128 interceptions, which is especially remarkable considering he didn’t take a single snap on draft day!
Undrafted free agents can often be overlooked heading into each season, but time and again they have proven that they can make big impacts within the right system. John Randle, Antonio Gates, Troy Brown, and Kurt Warner are just some examples of success stories that came out of nowhere, proving that every now and then, a hidden gem pops up in the ranks without warning.
As long as there’s hope and eager young talents who realize their dreams through hard work and dedication, we will never know what the next great undiscovered talent awaits us in the upcoming season or beyond!