Since its first edition in 1936, the NFL Draft is one of the key events of the football season. When ESPN started broadcasting it in 1980, the football fans around the country and worldwide got a great opportunity to watch their favorite teams choosing their future stars.
However, over the years, a bunch of guys made it to the NFL undrafted and had impressive careers. In case you didn’t know, 17 undrafted players are included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Let’s take a look at the top undrafted players in NFL history.
After playing for the Louisville Cardinals, Joe Jacoby went undrafted, so he signed with the Washington Redskins for training camp. The rest is history, as the Redskins got a tremendous offensive lineman for the next 13 years.
Jacoby and the Redskins have won three Super Bowls in that span (1983, 1988, 1991). Joe finished his career as a four-time Pro-Bowl and a two-time All-Pro.
Larry Little was a key guard for the Miami Dolphins’ O-line that dominated the league in the early ‘70s. He played all 14 games for the undefeated 1972 Dolphins team and won a couple of Super Bowls in a row with Miami.
Little is a five-time Pro-Bowl and All-Pro. Since 1993, Larry is a proud member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here’s the second Hall-of-Famer on my list, as Emmitt Thomas had a brilliant NFL career despite going undrafted. He spent 13 years playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and won the Super Bowl in 1969.
Thomas was arguably the best cornerback of his time. He had nine interceptions in the 1969 season, while five years later, Thomas recorded 12 interceptions. Emmitt holds the Chiefs franchise record with 58 career picks.
At the end of his playing career, Emmitt was a five-time Pro-Bowl and a one-time All-Pro. Interestingly, Thomas won a couple of Super Bowls as a coach for the Washington Redskins.
After failing to get selected in a 12-round 1978 NFL Draft, Warren Moon went to Canada to win five straight CFL titles with the Edmonton Eskimos. He joined the Houston Oilers in 1984 and started 139 regular-season games in the next 10 years.
Moon hasn’t won the Super Bowl, still becoming a Hall-of-Famer. He’s a nine-time Pro-Bowl and the 1990 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Warren tossed for 4689 yards and 33 touchdowns in 1990 and had three more seasons with 4,000-plus yards.
Although he was overlooked at the 1997 NFL Draft, Priest Holmes took the league by storm in his sophomore season with the Baltimore Ravens. He had 233 carries for 1008 yards and seven touchdowns, and after four years in Baltimore and the victory in the Super Bowl XXXV, Holmes decided to join the Kansas City Chiefs.
During his first three seasons with the Chiefs, Priest established himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL. In 2002, he ran for 1615 yards and incredible 21 touchdowns. Next season, he racked up 1420 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns!
Holmes finished his career as a three-time Pro-Bowl and a three-time All-Pro. He was the 2002 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, while Priest still holds the Chiefs franchise record for the most touchdowns.
Antonio Gates hasn’t won the Super Bowl in his career, but he’s still one of the best tight ends ever. Gates wanted to play basketball, so he transferred from Michigan State to Kent State and had an excellent college career with the Golden Flashes.
However, Antonio was too short to succeed in the NBA, so the 6-foot-4, 255 pounder decide to train football and give it a shot in the NFL. Gates spent his whole professional career with the Chargers and holds the NFL record for the most touchdowns by a tight end (116).
Antonio is an eight-time Pro-Bowl and a three-time All-Pro which tells you a lot how good he was.
Back in his college days, Rod Smith dominated Division II at Missouri Southern, breaking almost every school and conference record. Smith spent 12 years in the NFL playing for the Denver Broncos and will be remembered as one of the best wide receivers of his generation.
Rod helped the Broncos to win two straight Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. The three-time Pro-Bowl had a tremendous 1997 season, posting 70 catches for 1180 yards and 12 touchdowns. Back in 2001, Smith had career-high 113 receptions for 1343 yards and 11 scores. He surpassed the 1,000-yard line in eight of his last 10 seasons.
James Harrison tortured his opponents for 15 years, spending most of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He won two championships with the Steelers in 2006 and 2009 even though many considered him too short to play linebacker.
Harrison has been one of the most dominant defensive players for years. He’s a five-time Pro-Bowl and a two-time All-Pro, while James won the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Kurt Warner had a solid college career at Northern Iowa, but no NFL team was interested in drafting him. Therefore, Kurt worked in a supermarket for $5.50 an hour and trained hard to become the NFL quarterback.
Warner started playing for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League in 1995 and became a superstar in no time. After a short spell in the NFL’s European League in 1998, Warner joined the St. Louis Rams for the 1998 NFL season as a third-string signal-caller.
Kurt played only one game in his rookie season. However, he got the starting job in 1999 and led the Rams to a glorious Super Bowl campaign. Warner tossed for 4353 yards and 41 touchdowns in the regular season and added 1063 yards and eight scores in three playoff games.
The Rams defeated Tennessee 23-16 in the Super Bowl XXXIV, and Warner became the first QB with 400-plus yards in the Super Bowl.
Kurt was a two-time MVP, a four-time Pro-bowl, and a two-time All-Pro, while in 2017, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Last year, Adam Vinatieri played his 24th NFL season. Many of his teammates hadn’t been born when Adam made his NFL debut for the New England Patriots in 1996. Vinatieri has won three Super Bowls with Bill Belichick and New England, adding one more title in his first season with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006.
Adam Vinatieri had a brilliant NFL career, although it’s still unknown if he’s going to retire ahead of the 2020 NFL season. Vinatieri is already a legend thanks to a couple of game-winning kicks in Super Bowls, while he scored more points than any player in NFL history.