Undrafted free agents are signing all over the NFL, and some stars in the league do slip through the scouting cracks from time to time. Could Chris Polk, Chase Minnifield, Dwight Jones or William Vlachos be that next surprise? Here’s a look at some big-time players who earned it the hard way. Our list begins in 1987, so you will not see greats like Dick “Night Train” Lane, Warren Moon or Willie Wood.
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 was also 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 nine seasons in San Diego, and Gates has amassed over 7,700 receiving yards and 76 touchdowns in his career.
4. Wes Welker, WR, Texas Tech
The ultra-quick Welker was also drafted by San Diego, but then was cut and signed on with Miami. However his numbers have skyrocketed in the New England spread system, and Welker has an NFL-leading 554 catches over the last five years.
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. 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 last season.
7. Jeff Saturday, C, North Carolina
The five-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 claimed a Super Bowl XLI title.
8. 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.
9. Tony Romo, QB, Eastern Illinois
The popular Cowboys signal caller is still building his legacy, but he has already made three Pro Bowls and tossed 149 touchdowns in 77 starts. Romo’s career passer rating is a very impressive 96.9.
10. James Harrison, LB, Kent State
The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year bounced around for a couple of years before landing back with the Steelers in 2004. Harrison has become a playmaking force in Pittsburgh, including winning two Super Bowls.
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 part of two Super Bowl winners with the Broncos and went over 1,000 yards receiving eight times.
12. Jesse Tuggle, LB, Valdosta
The Georgia native played for the Falcons from 1987-2000, making over 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.
13. Pat Williams, DT, Texas A&M
The massive run stuffer took a while to make a mark in the NFL, but he became a defensive force for the decade of the 2000s. Williams made three straight Pro Bowls from 2006-08 while playing for the Vikings.
14. 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.
15. 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 14 NFL seasons and has started every game over the last 11 years.
16. 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 two seasons. Foster led the NFL in rushing in 2010 with 1,616 yards and followed that with 1,224 yards in 13 games a year ago.
17. David Akers, K, Louisville
The reliable kicker has led the NFL in scoring over the last two seasons. Akers has made 338 career field goals with a better than 82% accuracy rate. After making five Pro Bowls with the Eagles, he made his sixth last season in San Francisco.
18. 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.
19. 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 the last six seasons, Scott has only missed one start.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. Barry Sims, T, Utah
The starting left tackle for two league 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. 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.
24. Josh Cribbs, KR/PR, Kent State
The college quarterback has been mainly known as a returner for the Browns, but he did have 445 receiving yards and 614 rush yards from 2008-10. Cribbs has averaged 25.7 yards on 344 career kick returns, while scoring eight times.
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 had a career-high in tackles last year with Philadelphia.
--Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)