The NFL Draft is undoubtedly the highest-touted amateur selection event in all of the four major American sports; the stars align in New York City and the brightest stars of the NCAA prepare to take a step into fortune, fame, and media over-exposure.
But, the history of the draft isn’t a kind one. Hence, not every college standout is promised NFL glory. Likewise, not all collegiate afterthoughts are guaranteed the same fate when playing under the big, American-colored, tri-lettered shield.
As such, there is seldom a more celebratory event in the NFL than a previously unknown athlete emerging from obscurity and into the heralded pigskin pantheon. Recently, RSVLTS got to sit down with one of such athlete at the Xbox One Loft in New York City. Victor Cruz, undrafted out of Umass, discussed on his lifelong gaming hobby, Xbox One’s “Playoff Face Off,” and his humble origins. While led us to produce this list of the all-time greatest undrafted NFL legends:
21. Tony Romo
Nowadays, being the quarterback of America’s (possibly most hated) Team draws the ire of spectators across the country. And, it is true that the quarterback that everybody loves to hate has never brought the star-craniumed squad a Lombardi Trophy.
But, it is difficult to deny Romo from a statistical basis—numbers that stand out as some of the best Dallas Cowboys history. The aforementioned says a lot, considering that Romo must share the statistical spotlight with the likes of Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman—two Hall of Famers.
20. London Fletcher
Recently referred to as the “ageless” linebacker by many different sports pundits; Fletcher’s most laudable NFL feat wasn’t his Super Bowl title with the St. Louis Rams nor was it his four consecutive Pro Bowl selections in the twilight of his career. Rather, Fletcher’s ability to spend six years with the Washington Redskins’ collective epitome of dysfunction is nearly inhuman.
Tolerating the Albert Haynesworth debacle, the Donovan McNabb fiasco, and—most recently—the feud between Robert Griffin III and now-fired Head Coach Mike Shanahan; Fletcher is a better man than most.
19. Sam Mills
The late Sam Mills is a player whose number is retired with two rival franchises: the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints.
Appearing in the league as an undrafted free agent after spending some time in the ill-fated USFL, Mills’ NFL career would be highlighted with 5 Pro Bowl appearances and over 1,000 career tackles.
18. Priest Holmes
Holmes—for a brief amount of time—was the brightest star in the NFL. Entering the league in 1997, Holmes was on the Ravens team that won the Super Bowl during the turn of the century. However, with Jamal Lewis largely as the feature back for the World Champion Ravens, Holmes had to go to the Chiefs to rise to prominence.
During his time in Kansas City, Holmes was selected to the Pro Bowl three times. In addition, he led the NFL in rushing in 2001 while winning the Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2002.
17. Drew Pearson
The original number 88 for the Dallas Cowboys, Pearson was Roger Staubach’s favorite target for many years. Remembered mostly for his iconic part in the legendary “Hail Mary” play—a prayer-filled pass that catapulted the Cowboys over the Vikings—Pearson became the standard by which Dallas receivers are judged. This is why every Dallas receiver who is projected to reach stardom has worn his jersey number—including Hall of Famer Michael Irvin and Pro Bowler Dez Bryant.
16. Rod Smith
A part of the Denver Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl seasons in the late 1990s, Rod Smith was the least likely star on a group of improbable Pro Bowlers. Starting on an offense with fellow unheralded college prospects Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe, Smith remains the only undrafted receiver to trump the 10,000-yard career receiving yards mark.
In addition to his 11, 389 receiving yards and two Super Bowl rings, Smith also has three Pro Bowl appearances.
15. Victor Cruz
To say that Cruz emerged from nowhere is an understatement—one that is equal to his status as an NFL superstar in caliber.
Coming from then- Division 1-AA school UMass, Amherst; Cruz quietly entered a cluttered Giants receiving corps—a crew that included: First round selection Hakeem Nicks, recent Pro Bowler Steve Smith, and slot-speedster Mario Manningham.
But, Cruz showed promise after a lightning laden performance in a pre-season game against the New York Jets. Unfortunately, a knee injury derailed Cruz’s 2010 rookie season. But, 2011 came to pass along with a new opportunity in the form of overpaid cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha—a game where Cruz rose to prowess and debuted his trademark salsa dance.
Recently, RSVLTS got a chance to sit down with Cruz at the Xbox One Loft in New York City. During the interview, Cruz reflected on his status as an athlete of humble scholastic origins. On this subject, Cruz said that it was “good” that UMass has experienced a veritable athletic renaissance.
14. James Harrison
Harrison is one of the few undrafted players who also boasts the title of “Defensive Player of the Year”. From Kent State University, Harrison was an athletic nomad during his first few seasons in NFL—a mini-odyssey that even saw him landing with the Rhein Fire, which is a team in the now-defunct NFL Europe.
A five-time Pro Bowler, the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, and a two-time Super Bowl Champion; there is a good chance that Harrison will have his likeness in enshrined in Canton in the future.
13. Jeff Saturday
A player who fell victim to the NFL’s obsession with size, the recently-retired Jeff Saturday will be remembered in the League’s lore as Peyton Manning’s right hand man and the guy who engaged with Manning in an epic display of verbal fisticuffs.
Originating from the University of North Carolina, Saturday ended his career with six Pro Bowl appearances and a Lombardi Trophy.
12. Wes Welker
One of the NFL’s smallest men has also been one of its most prolific pass-catchers. With towering receivers like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, A.J Green, and Demaryius Thomas dominating the NFL, Welker—with his comparatively modest stature—has etched his own legacy that is on par with the quartet of monstrous dynamos.
With five 100+ reception campaigns since 2007, Welker has also been selected to a quintet of Pro Bowls. And, it is likely that he will join Rod Smith as the only other wide receiver with over 10,000 career-receiving yards. Currently, Welker’s career total stands at 9,258.
11. Antonio Gates
A trend that started with Tony Gonzalez, Gates made the aforementioned idea into an over-pursued craze—the concept of turning basketball players into Tight Ends. And, while Gonzalez also played football in college, Gates exclusively played basketball—making him one of the least likely NFL stars in history.
Since his entry into the League in 2003, Gates has been selected to 8 Pro Bowls.
10. Arian Foster
Constantly labeled as the “Most Interesting Man in the NFL”, Foster’s Dos Equian nomenclature is second only to his sheer dominance while running the football.
With three Pro Bowl selections and a rushing title during his young career, Foster is currently averaging over 1,000 yards during each year of his tenure in the NFL.
9. Kurt Warner
It will be interesting when Kurt Warner is eligible for the Hall of Fame. During his career, he was a Super Bowl Champion, a 2- time NFL MVP. However, during the same span of time, he was a placeholder for Eli Manning—an afterthought who later revived his career with the Arizona Cardinals.
8. Jim Langer
A key anchor of the offensive line that helped plow the 1972 Dolphins to the NFL’s only perfect season, Jim Langer went undrafted in 1970, but would later appear in six Pro Bowls—a career that earned him a spot in Canton, Ohio.
7. Emlen Tunnell
Largely a player that goes forgotten, Tunnell was one of the most important players in NFL history. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967, Tunnell entered the league as an undrafted player in 1948—eventually becoming a member of the New York Giants. With 79 career interceptions, Tunnell’s total is two picks shy of the all-time record that stands at 81.
6. Marion Motley
Among the toughest players to ever step on the gridiron, Motley made it onto the field during the League’s early days—back in the 1940s. During this time, Motley won an NFL Championship, 4 AAFC Championships, and earned himself and induction into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1968.
5. Willie Brown
At one time, the Oakland Raiders were the most feared team in football. This aura was justified with players like Willie Brown. Undrafted in 1963, Brown began his career with the Denver Broncos before going to their western rivals.
A member of the Hall of Fame, Brown has been featured in a total of nine football all-star games—NFL and AFL combined.
4. Dick “Night Train” Lane
After many decades, nobody has managed to beat Lane’s single-season interception record. As a rookie, he tallied 14 interceptions—a feat that no defensive back has beaten. Lane would go on to earn a spot in Canton after seven Pro Bowl selections.
3. John Randle
Before Ray Lewis’ animated ferality horrified offensive players, there was John Randle. As an undrafted free agent, Randle signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 1990. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010—twenty years after his initial entrance into the League—Randle’s 137 sacks and seven All Pro selections continue to stand as examples for current defensive players.
2. Lou “The Toe” Groza
As a member of the Browns during their glory days, Groza doubled duties as a Kicker and an Offensive Tackle.
A member of the Hall of Fame, Groza appeared in nine Pro Bowls.
1. Warren Moon
Moon remains one of the most underappreciated players in NFL History. But, such was the case when he was still in college—a seemingly constant nature of being under reputed. Enshrined in Canton, Moon earned MVP Honors in 1990 while tallying nine Pro Bowl appearances during his widely unheralded career.