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Some NFL stars were not drafted highly, or even at all.
Even though 254 players were taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, they aren't the only ones who will get a chance to make an NFL roster this fall. Every team signs numerous undrafted free agents following the festivities in New York. As history has shown, more than a fair share of these UDFAs not only play in the NFL, but enjoy long and productive careers. In fact, a select few have already been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the possibility of more to come.
Could Tyler Bray, Da'Rick Rogers, Kevin Reddick, Matt Scott or Chase Thomas be that next UDFA who makes the Pro Bowl or becomes an All-Pro? Here’s a look at those NFL stars who earned it the hard way. Our list of the top 25 undrafted free agents begins with the 1988 draft, so you will not see Hall of Famers like Dick “Night Train” Lane, Warren Moon or Willie Wood below.
1. Kurt Warner, QB, Northern Iowa
He played in three Super Bowls with the Rams and Cardinals and won the league’s MVP twice. He also was MVP of Super Bowl XXXIV when St. Louis defeated the Titans 23-16. Warner holds many postseason records and should make the Hall of Fame.
2. John Randle, DT, Texas A&I
The ferocious Vikings pass-rusher was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010. Randle totaled 137.5 sacks in his 14 seasons with the Vikings and Seahawks. He made seven Pro Bowls and was elected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s.
3. Antonio Gates, TE, Kent State
The Chargers turned to the basketball court to find Gates, who did not play college football. He’s made eight Pro Bowls in 10 seasons in San Diego, and Gates has amassed over 8,300 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns in his career.
4. Wes Welker, WR, Texas Tech
The ultra-quick Welker was initially signed by San Diego following the 2004 draft, but then was cut and landed in Miami. He joined New England in 2007 and proceeded to put up an NFL-leading 672 receptions, along with 7,459 yards and 37 touchdowns, in his six seasons with the Patriots. Welker signed with Denver as a free agent in March, meaning he will go from one future Hall of Fame quarterback (Tom Brady) to another (Peyton Manning).
5. Adam Vinatieri, K, South Dakota State
Some may disagree with having a kicker this high, but Vinatieri’s contributions to elite teams should not be undervalued. He has been a part of four championships with the Patriots and Colts and made a last-second, game-winner in two of those Super Bowls.
6. Tony Romo, QB, Eastern Illinois
The popular, yet polarizing, Cowboys signal caller is still building his legacy, but he has already made three Pro Bowls and tossed 177 touchdowns in 93 starts. Romo’s career passer rating is a very impressive 95.6.
7. London Fletcher, LB, John Carroll
The undersized tackling machine has been a playmaker with the Rams, Bills and Redskins for over a decade now. He has never missed a game in 15 NFL seasons and has started every game over the last 12 years.
8. Jeff Saturday, C, North Carolina
The six-time Pro Bowler anchored the Colts' offensive line from 2000-11. During his time snapping to Peyton Manning, Indy won double-digit games nine times and won Super Bowl XLI. Saturday played last season in Green Bay and then re-signed with Indianapolis in early March. The one-day contract allowed the long-time Colt the opportunity to officially retire as a member of the team that brought him into the league.
9. Brian Waters, G, North Texas
Waters failed to latch on with the Cowboys during his first year out of college in 1999, but he found a home in Kansas City the next season. The elite blocker made five Pro Bowls with the Chiefs and then a sixth with the Patriots in 2011.
10. James Harrison, LB, Kent State
Harrison played 10 seasons (2002, '04-10) in Pittsburgh prior to signing with Cincinnati as a free agent this offseason. The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Harrison went from undrafted rookie to a playmaking force for the Steelers and helped the franchise win two more Super Bowl titles.
11. Rod Smith, WR, Missouri Southern
He played his entire 12-year career in Denver, and Smith’s 849 receptions put him in the top 20 in NFL history. He was a part of two Super Bowl winners with the Broncos and went over 1,000 yards receiving eight times.
12. Priest Holmes, RB, Texas
The former Ravens and Chiefs runner had a solid career with over 8,000 rushing yards and 94 total touchdowns. Holmes had an amazing three-year run in Kansas City from 2001-03, amassing 4,590 rush yards and 56 TDs on the ground.
13. Arian Foster, RB, Tennessee
The Texans star runner is the youngest member on this list, but he has put up some staggering numbers over the last three seasons. Foster led the NFL in rushing in 2010 with 1,616 yards and has followed that up with two more 1,200-yard campaigns. He also has scored a total of 29 touchdowns in the past two seasons combined.
14. Jesse Tuggle, LB, Valdosta
The Georgia native played for the Falcons from 1987-2000, amassing more than 1,800 tackles in 209 games. “The Hammer” was a five-time Pro Bowler, and Tuggle’s No. 58 was retired by Atlanta in 2002.
15. Pat Williams, DT, Texas A&M
The massive run stuffer took a while to make a mark in the NFL, but he developed into a defensive stalwart for Minnesota. Williams made three straight Pro Bowls from 2006-08 while playing for the Vikings.
16. Jeff Garcia, QB, San Jose State
The four-time Pro Bowler starred in Canada to begin his professional career, and did not play in the NFL until age 29. However, Garcia made his mark by throwing for over 25,000 yards with the 49ers, Browns, Lions, Eagles and Buccaneers.
17. Bart Scott, LB, Southern Illinois
The entertaining linebacker has played on some quality defenses with both the Ravens and Jets, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2006. Over his last seven seasons, Scott has missed just one game and made 108 starts.
18. David Akers, K, Louisville
The reliable kicker led the NFL in scoring in both 2010 and '11. Akers has made 367 career field goals and has posted an 81 percent career accuracy rate. He has earned six Pro Bowl invites in his career kicking for both the Eagles and 49ers.
19. Shaun O'Hara, C, Rutgers
The tough interior blocker started his career playing guard for the Browns, but he flourished with the Giants from 2004-10. During that span, O’Hara made three Pro Bowls and was a leader on the Giants' Super Bowl winner in 2008.
20. Jake Delhomme, QB, Louisiana-Lafayette
The Bayou native started slow with the Saints, but he found a nice niche with the Panthers from 2003-09. Delhomme passed for over 19,000 yards and 120 TDs during those seven seasons and led Carolina to a Super Bowl appearance in 2003.
21. Wayne Chrebet, WR, Hofstra
The New York fan favorite was a classic underdog story, and he played his entire career with the Jets. Chrebet was especially effective from 1995-2002, when he caught 507 passes and 39 TDs during that eight-year span.
22. Barry Sims, T, Utah
The starting left tackle for two conference championship games and a Super Bowl in 2002, Sims played 12 NFL seasons in the Bay Area. He was a solid blocker in Oakland for nine years before finishing his career in San Francisco.
23. Antonio Pierce, LB, Arizona
He had a fairly short NFL career but was a tackling machine from 2004-08 with the Redskins and Giants. Much like O’Hara, Pierce was an underrated leader for the Super Bowl XLII champions.
24. Josh Cribbs, WR/KR/PR, Kent State
The college quarterback has been mainly known as a return specialist for the Browns, but he did have 445 yards receiving and 614 yards rushing from 2008-10. Cribbs has averaged 25.9 yards on 387 career kickoff returns, with eight of those resulting in touchdowns.
25. Cullen Jenkins, DL, Central Michigan
The younger brother of Kris Jenkins turned himself into a solid interior defender with the Packers and Eagles after some time in NFL Europe. He posted a career high in tackles last season with Philadelphia. He signed with the New York Giants this offseason.