Top 10 Undrafted NFL Players Of All Time
The NFL Draft is the main way for the best and most promising college football players to sign with a professional team. Some of the sport’s most legendary talents have found themselves in the NFL after being drafted.
Names like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson were all early picks.
However, being drafted doesn’t guarantee success. There are hundreds of picks made each year, and players that get selected in the later rounds often go on to have unimpressive and anticlimactic careers in pro football.
Yet, many great talents somehow get missed by the scouts and go undrafted. Despite this crushing setback, many of these players didn't give up and managed to get themselves onto the rosters of NFL teams. Of these, here are the best undrafted NFL players of all time.
10. Willie Wood - Safety
Key Stats: 48 interceptions, 699 interception yards
Willie Wood missed out on being drafted in 1960. He played for USC as a quarterback and safety, becoming the first African American quarterback in the Pacific Coast Conference (now the Pac-12).
Not giving up on his dream, Wood wrote a letter to Vince Lombardi, who was head coach at the time, requesting a tryout. Lombardi agreed and shortly afterward, Wood was signed as a rookie free agent.
However, after training with the Packers’ quarterbacks for a few days, Wood decided he was better suited to playing defense. He was recast as a free safety and became a starter in his first season. He remained loyal to the Packers until he retired in 1971 as one of the best undrafted NFL players ever, before going to work as a coach for another decade.
9. John Randle - Defensive Tackle
Key Stats: 471 tackles, 137.5 sacks, 1 interception
John Randle started his college career at Trinity Valley Community College but later transferred to Texas A&M University-Kingsville. His brother, Ervin Randle had been signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1985, and John wanted to follow in his footsteps.
However, he went undrafted in 1990. His brother’s team has given him a tryout but considered him to be too small but he managed to get signed by the Minnesota Vikings. Again, Randle stayed with the team for a decade, before signing for the Seattle Seahawks in 2001.
During his career, Randle played in 7 Pro Bowls and was the NFL sacks leader in 1997. As well as being one of the best undrafted NFL players to compete in the league, he’s also been entered into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
8. Bill Willis - Defensive Tackle
Key Stats: 99 games, 1 interception
Bill Willis was one of the first two African Americans to play pro football after signing for the Cleveland Browns in 1946. While undrafted, Willis got the opportunity to play due to his connection to Paul Brown who had been his coach while at Ohio State.
Willis helped the Browns to become NFL champions in 1950, as well as playing in 3 Pro Bowls between 1950 and 1952. He also got inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
7. Jim Langer - Center/Offensive Guard
Key Stats: 2 fumble recovers, 110 games started
Jim Langer had a difficult journey into the NFL. He went undrafted in 1970, but then signed with the Cleveland Browns. However, he was dropped by the team after just a few weeks but Langer still managed to get picked up by the Miami Dolphins. Before then, Langer had played a few positions, but the Dolphins moved him to center but only played in a few games during his first two seasons.
He overcame this though, and eventually started in 110 of the 151 games he played in. Langer also competed in 6 Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls in 1972 and 1973.
6. Joe Perry - Fullback
Key Stats: 8,378 rushing yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 53 rushing touchdowns
Joe Perry went undrafted in 1948 but was offered a $9,500 salary by the LA Rams. He turned it down though, opting to join the San Francisco 49ers where he earned less than half of this. It was here where he earned the nickname “the Jet” for being incredibly fast.
Perry was certainly one of the best undrafted NFL players of all time, playing in three Pro Bowls and becoming the NFL rushing yards leader in 1953 and 1954. In 1969, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the first year he was eligible.
5. Dick Lane - Cornerback
Key Stats: 68 interceptions, 1,207 intercepted return yards, 6 touchdowns
Dick “Night Train” Lane was a cornerback that went undrafted in 1952. Working in an aircraft plant in Los Angeles, he took a bus each day that drove past the LA Rams’ office. One day, he walked in and asked for a tryout. Little did he know, that little bit of initiative would lead him to becoming one of the best undrafted NFL players of all time. His request was successful, though he only remained with the Rams for one year.
Lane played for the Chicago Cardinals for five years before joining the Detroit Lions for a further five. During that time he played in seven Pro Bowls and won NFL Interceptions leader in 1952 and 1954. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974.
4. Warren Moon - Quarterback
Key Stats (NFL): 49,325 passing yards, 291-233 TD-INT, 58.4% completion, 22 rushing touchdowns
Warren Moon went undrafted in 1978, so signed for the Edmonton Eskimos, a team in the Canadian Football League. He remained there for six seasons, five of which saw them win the Grey Cup (the Super Bowl of the CFL).
This got Moon signed for the Houston Oilers, a team he remained with for 10 seasons. He remained in the sport until 2000, after two decades of professional football. During that time, he won NFL Offensive Player of the Year, NFL Man of the Year, and NEA NFL MVP.
3. Emlen Tunnell - Defensive Halfback/Safety
Key Stats: 79 interceptions, 1,282 interception return yards, 258 punt returns, 2,209 punt return yards
Emlen Tunnell enrolled at the University of Toledo in 1942 and began playing football. However, he broke his neck when an attempted tackle was blocked. He fought his way back from injury but eventually dropped out in 1943. He then served in the US Coast Guard from 1943 to 1946, earning a Silver Lifesaving Medal for heroism. He then went back to college, this time at the University of Iowa, making 541 yards of total offense and 28 passes.
In 1948, he hitchhiked from his home in Garrett Hill to New York City to ask Jack Mara for a tryout. This dedication worked, and Tunnell was signed, remaining with the team for a decade. During that time, he helped the Giants win two NFL Championships, played in 9 Pro Bowls, and was awarded the New York Giants Ring of Honor.
He served a few more years at the Green Bay Packers before working as a scout and then a coach for the Giants until 1974. In 1967, Tunnell became the first African American player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
With such dedication and perseverance in the face of adversity, Emlen Tunnell is certainly one of the best undrafted NFL players of all time.
2. Marion Motley - Fullback/Linebacker
Key Stats: 4,720 rushing yards, 5.7 yards per carry, 31 rushing touchdowns
Alongside Bill Willis, Marion Motley became one of the first two African Americans to play pro football. He played his first game for the Cleveland Browns in September 1946, kicking off a career that would see him become one of the best undrafted NFL players to ever compete in the sport.
After the AAFC merged with the NFL in 1950, Motley was one of the players that helped the Browns win the 1950 NFL championship. That year, he also became NFL rushing yards leader and competed in the Pro Bowl.
Unfortunately, knee injuries forced Motley to leave the Browns in 1953. He then signed for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955 but was released from his contract before the end of the season.
1. Kurt Warner - Quarterback
Key Stats: 65.6% completion percentage, 32,344 passing yards, 208-128 TD-INT
Kurt Warner went undrafted in 1994. He signed for the Green Bay Packers but was released before the season started, so signed for the Iowa Barnstormers in the indoor Arena Football League.
In 1998, Warner got signed for the Amsterdam Admirals in the NFL Europe league before moving to the St. Louis Rams in the same year. The following season, Warner led the team to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV and was awarded Super Bowl MVP.
He is the only undrafted player to be awarded NFL MVP and the only undrafted quarterback to win at the Super Bowl. Without a doubt, this makes him one of the best undrafted NFL players of all time.