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Top 10 Undrafted NFL Players of the last 20 Years PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Grey   

Priest Holmes



10. Tony Romo - After a record breaking career at Eastern Illinois University, the 3-time Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, Romo went undrafted in 2003.  Shortly after the draft, the Dallas Cowboys signed Romo to back up Quincy Carter and Chad Hutchinson.  The following year, the Cowboys brought in Vinny Testaverde and Drew Henson, leaving Romo as the odd man out.  After a failed drug test forced Carter to be released, Romo was retained as the third string quarterback.  After years of waiting, Romo got his first start in week 8 of the 2006 season and never looked back.  Romo has become the “franchise quarterback” the Cowboys had been looking for since Troy Aikman retired.  Romo’s 24 career 300-yard passing games is a Cowboys record and his 95.6 career passer rating ranks third all time in NFL history.  After being passed by every team in 2003, Romo now finds himself as the face of one the biggest franchises in all of sports.

9. Jeff Saturday - After finishing up his career at UNC, every NFL team passed on Saturday in the 1998 draft.  The Baltimore Ravens signed Saturday as a free agent following the draft only to release him less than two months later.  Saturday didn’t play in the NFL that season and was without a team until the Colts signed him the following year.  In his first year with the Colts, he started two games.  By his second season,  Saturday became a fixture on the Colts offensive line starting 85 games in row.  Saturday lead a Colts O-line that gave up the least amount on sacks in the NFL three seasons in a row.  He has become a four time All-Pro and is widely regarded as one of the best centers in the NFL for the past decade.

8. Wes Welker - After a college career in which he ran back a NCAA record 8 punts for touchdowns, at Texas Tech, Welker went undrafted. Welker was invited to the combine but after measuring 5’8 and running a 4.65 40, no team was willing to use a draft pick on him.  He was signed by the Chargers and even made the team, only to be cut after week 1.  Welker was then picked up by the Miami Dolphins were he spent three seasons.  In 2007, Welker signed with the New England Patriots and has been rewriting the record books ever since.  Welker is the only player in NFL history to record 110 receptions three seasons in a row.  Welker has become an All Pro as well as revolutionized the slot position.

7. Jason Peters - Peters arrived at the University of Arkansas as a defensive tackle, left as a tight end, and became one of the best offensive tackles in the NFL.  After his junior year at Arkansas in which he caught 21 passes, Peters declared for the NFL draft.  After being projected to be drafted as high as the fourth round, there were no takers for the 336 pound tight-end.  Peters was picked up by the Buffalo Bills, where he made the practice squad.  While on the practice squad, he made the transition to offensive tackle.  By just his third season, Peters had earned the starting right tackle position, and a year later was first team All-Pro.  Less than five years after learning the position, Peters is now known as one of the best in the NFL.

6. Antonio Gates - Gates is different than everyone else on this list because he never played college football.  He was a first team All State Linebacker in Michigan during  High School, but instead chose to play Basketball in college instead.  After a very successful career at Kent State where he was a 20 point a game scorer and even lead his team to the elite 8 in 2002, there was no role for the 6’4” power forward in the NBA. The Chargers offered Gates a workout and the rest is history.  By Gates second year as a tight end he had set the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight-end.

5. James Harrison - Harrison played his college ball at Kent State and went undrafted in 2002.  The Steelers then signed him and Harrison spent the next two seasons bouncing on and off the practice squad.  In 2004, he was signed by the Ravens who then sent him to play in NFL Europe, and cut him before the start of the NFL season.  Harrison then returned to the Steelers during training camp and earned a roster spot.  After All Pro linebacker Joey Porter left the Steelers in 2007, Harrison was moved into the starting linebacker spot and quickly made a name for himself.  Harrison’s resume doesn’t just include multiple All Pro honors, but also a defensive player of the year, and the longest play in super bowl history.

4. Priest Holmes - Holmes spent his college career at Texas splitting carries in a very crowded backfield that included Rickey Williams.  When you take his lack of playing time in college, add a torn ACL and a poor combine showing, it was no wonder Holmes never heard his name called on draft day.  Holmes signed with the Ravens in 1997 and spent his rookie season on special teams.  By his second season, he was a 1,000 yard rusher.  After Holmes’ injury in his third season, the Ravens brought in Jamal Lewis to be the feature back and Holmes signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.  Once in Kansas City, Holmes put together one of the best three year spans of any running back in NFL history.  He not only won a rushing title and set the NFL touchdown record, he became the most feared weapon in football.  In 2002, he rushed for over 1,600 yards with 70 catches and 24 touchdowns in only 14 games, on his way to winning player of the year honors.

3. Rod Smith - Smith was a college All-American and set conference records -- the only draw back was he did it in Division 2.  After his career was finished at Missouri Southern State, no NFL team was willing to use a draft pick on the talented receiver.  He was signed by the Patriots after the draft but was cut shortly after and then landed with the Broncos.  Smith came to the Broncos hoping to just make the team, but retired with every Bronco receiving record.  Smith was the Broncos number 1 receiver for over a decade and a key member of 2 super bowl teams.  Smith had over 1,000 yards receiving 6 years in a row and 8 times total, even leading the NFL receptions one year.

2. John Randle - Randle went from undrafted in 1990 to Hall of Fame inductee in 2010.  Despite their being 12 rounds, Randle still went undrafted, but was signed by the Vikings during training camp.  By his third year in the league he was a pro-bowl player and had established himself as the best defensive tackle in the league.  Randle was most known by fans for the black face pain the wore during games.  He was known by quarterbacks all over for his 137 career sacks, the most ever by a tackle.  Randle was named to the all decade team for the 90’s after being named first team all-pro six years in a row.

1. Kurt Warner - Warner’s grocery store to Super Bowl story is well documented.  Warner spent his first three years at the University of Northern Iowa as the third string quarterback before finally starting his senior year.  Despite winning gateway conference offensive player of the year, Warner went undrafted in 1994.  It took Warner four years to make a NFL roster and only one season to win both league and super bowl MVP honors.  Warner went on to become one of the most prolific passers in NFL history, and retired last season with a long list of NFL recorders.  Warner’s career is the ultimate fairytale of undrafted player turn Super Bowl hero.       



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