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10 greatest undrafted players in NFL history

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All football fans should know that the draft is far from perfect, which is why players who go unselected end up being stars with some of the best undrafted NFL players becoming some of the best of all time at their position.

Frankly, it’s almost hard to name each of the greater undrafted NFL players because so many legends managed to fly under the radar coming out of college.

Best undrafted NFL players

Naming the best-undrafted football players could take all day, which is why we decided to limit our list to 10 players.

That left us with some tough decisions to make. However, we think that makes our list even better as we count down the 10 greatest undrafted players in NFL history.

10. James Harrison

James Harrison is surely one of the best stories of an overlooked player who became one of the best undrafted NFL players in league history. He was cut multiple times during the early part of his career and even spent some time in NFL Europe.


But the undersized linebacker kept trying and eventually found a long-term home with the Steelers.

Harrison eventually became a huge part of the Pittsburgh defense, going to the Pro Bowl in five straight seasons and winning Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. He was also a part of two teams that won the Super Bowl and had a stellar career with the Steelers despite being overlooked.

9. Willie Wood

Willie Wood went undrafted largely because African-American quarterbacks weren’t getting an opportunity in the NFL in 1960 when he left USC. But the Packers gave him a tryout with Wood requesting a switch to defense after a few days of practicing with the quarterbacks.

It was playing as a safety that Wood became one of the greatest undrafted NFL players in league history. He spent all 12 of his seasons with the Packers, the team that gave him a chance out of college.

During those 12 seasons, Wood was invited to the Pro Bowl eight times and was an All-Pro selection nine times. He led the NFL in interceptions in 1962 and was a part of five championship teams in Green Bay, including the first two Super Bowls, ultimately finding a home in Canton.


8. Jason Peters

Jason Peters played mostly tight end in college. But after he went undrafted, he evolved into one of the elite offensive tackles in the NFL. He became a starter in all but 10 of the more than 200 games he played in his career, making the Pro Bowl nine times and being named to the 2010s All-Decade Team.

Not only did he turn himself into an elite player but Peters also spent nearly two decades in the NFL as an undrafted player.

7. Willie Brown

As a cornerback out of Grambling State, not only was Willie Brown undrafted but he was also cut from the first team that gave him a chance. However, after the Oilers let him go, Brown landed with the Broncos and was a starter by the end of his rookie season.

From there, he would go on to become one of the best undrafted NFL players the league has ever seen. He became a four-time Pro Bowler but was also a five-time AFL All-Star before that. Brown is not only a member of the AFL All-Time Team but he was also on the NFL 1970s All-Time Team, as his Hall of Fame career spanned from 1963 to 1978, making him one of the top cornerbacks of his generation.

6. Antonio Gates

It should be obvious that Antonio Gates is one of the best undrafted NFL players of all time because he didn’t even play college football. When Nick Saban was the head coach at Michigan State, he wanted Gates to only play football, forcing him to transfer to Eastern Michigan and ultimately Kent State, where he only played basketball.

Of course, he went undrafted and overlooked before becoming one of the best tight ends of his generation, going to eight straight Pro Bowls during the peak of his career. At least for now, Gates holds the all-time record for touchdowns by a tight end and became the ninth player in NFL history with 100 receiving touchdowns in his career.

5. John Randle

If you saw John Randle play, you’d think there was no way he could have gone undrafted aside from the fact that he’s a little short for a defensive lineman. Randle always played bigger than his size, rewarding the Vikings for taking a chance on him.

Between 1993 and 1998, he was a First-Team All-Pro selection every year, establishing himself as the premier defensive lineman in the league during that time. Despite being an interior lineman, Randle led the league in sacks in 1997, finishing his Hall of Fame career with 137.5 sacks, racking up at least 10 sacks in eight consecutive seasons during the prime of his career.

4. Emlen Tunnell

Emlen Tunnell’s story is one that more football fans should know. Eventually, he would become the first African-American player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He also served in the Coast Guard before finishing his college career.

After going undrafted, Tunnell was an immediate star with the Giants, ultimately going to the Pro Bowl nine times and being a First-Team All-Pro on six occasions. As a safety, he was part of a championship team with the Giants in 1956 and again with the Packers in 1961, which was the final season of his Hall of Fame career.

3. Warren Moon

Warren Moon had to wait a long time to become one of the greatest undrafted NFL players ever. He spent six seasons in the CFL and won the Grey Cup five times before the Oilers gave him a chance.

Despite the late start, Moon would end up playing 17 seasons in the NFL, leading the league in passing yards twice and going to the Pro Bowl nine times. He even won Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1990. To date, he remains the only player to be inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

2. Richard Lane

Night Train Lane has one of the most amazing yet overlooked stories in pro sports.

He played just one season of college football and also spent some time as a minor league baseball player. Lane also served in the Army for four years, and it was only after his discharge that he asked the Rams for a tryout.

The rest is history, as Lane turned out to be one of the greatest undrafted NFL players.

As a cornerback, he amassed 68 interceptions in 157 career games, including six that went for touchdowns. He twice led the league in interceptions and was a seven-time Pro Bowler and 10-time All-Pro. Needless to say, Lane ended up in the Hall of Fame and still holds the NFL record with 14 interceptions in a single season.

1. Kurt Warner

Kurt Warner’s story is so amazing that they literally made a movie about it, so he has to be considered the best player ever who went undrafted.

Not only did he go undrafted out of Northern Iowa but Warner also had to play in the AFL and NFL Europe before getting a chance. Needless to say, he made the most of his opportunity during his second season with the Rams when he was anointed the starter after Trent Green tore his ACL.

All Warner did was lead the Rams to a Super Bowl win while spending three years orchestrating one of the most prolific offenses the NFL has ever known. After those three amazing seasons and two MVP awards, the rest of Warner’s career was the icing on the cake, as he eventually found his way to the Hall of Fame and into the movies.

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