A total of 256 players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t mean they will be the only ones joining the professional ranks. Every team signs a number of undrafted free agents after Mr. Irrelevant is announced at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
For example, the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks had 21 players on their 53-man roster last season who started their NFL careers as undrafted free agents. There also are several members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who went undrafted, a number that’s sure to grow in the years to come.
So before you discount the chances of an undrafted free agent (UDFA) from not only making your favorite team’s roster, but having an impact this season, remember that Hall of Famers like Dick “Night Train” Lane and Warren Moon didn’t hear their named called on draft day either. Here is our list of the 25 top UDFAs over the last 25 years (since the 1989 NFL Draft):
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 11 seasons in San Diego, and currently sits 50th all-time in receiving yards (9,193) and is tied for 12th with 87 career touchdown catches. The only tight end with more TD grabs is the recently retired Tony Gonzalez.
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 before last season and proceeded to post a career-high 10 touchdown receptions. Welker is already among the top 25 players all-time in receptions (841, 24th) and top 50 in receiving yards (9,358, 47th).
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. He’s one of just seven players in NFL history with 2,000 points in their career and currently sits in fifth place with 2,006.
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 has 208 touchdown passes in 108 career starts. He has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes and his career passer rating is 95.8, which ranks him fifth all-time.
7. London Fletcher, LB, John Carroll
After 16 highly productive NFL seasons, Fletcher the undersized tackling machine who consistently made plays retired after the 2013 campaign. Whether it was playing for the Rams, Bills or the Redskins, Fletcher exhibited a nose for the football (2,046 career tackles, 23 INTs, 23 forced fumbles) and was a constant in the lineup. He never missed a game in 16 NFL seasons and started every game from the beginning of the 2001 season until his final game this past December.
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. After one season in Green Bay, Saturday re-signed with Indianapolis last March so he could 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. After sitting out a season, Waters returned to the field in 2013, playing five games for Dallas, seemingly bringing his career full circle.
10. 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.
11. James Harrison, LB, Kent State
Harrison played 10 seasons (2002, '04-10) in Pittsburgh before switching to AFC North rival Cincinnati last season. 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.
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
Injuries limited the Texans’ star to just eight games last season, but prior to that Foster averaged 1,421 yards rushing from 2010-12. He led the NFL with 1,616 yards in 2010 and also has exhibited a nose for the end zone with 52 total touchdowns in 59 career games.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. Jason Peters, T, Arkansas
Initially a tight end in college, Peters went from undrafted rookie to special teams contributor to All-Pro offensive tackle in a relatively short period of time. After signing with Buffalo following the 2004 draft, Peters claimed the starting right tackle job in ’06 and proceeded to reel off five straight Pro Bowl invites (2007-11). Traded to Philadelphia in 2009, Peters has established himself as one of the NFL’s top tackles, as evidenced by his two All-Pro seasons (2011, ’13) and the five-year, $51.3 million extension he signed with the Eagles in February.
18. Bart Scott, LB, Southern Illinois
The entertaining linebacker played on some quality defenses with both the Ravens and Jets, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2006. From 2006-12 with the Ravens, Scott missed just one game and made 108 starts.
19. David Akers, K, Louisville
The reliable kicker led the NFL in scoring in both 2010 and '11. Akers has made 386 career field goals, good for ninth all-time, while connecting on 81 percent of his attempts. He has earned six Pro Bowl invites in his career kicking for the Eagles, 49ers and Lions.
20. 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.
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. Cullen Jenkins, DL, Central Michigan
The younger brother of Kris Jenkins started his professional career in NFL Europe before joining the league in 2004. A solid interior defender with the Packers, Eagles and Giants, Cullen has 43.5 career sacks in 141 games (113 starts).
25. Cameron Wake, LB/DE, Penn State
After going undrafted in 2005, Wake turned to the CFL to continue his playing career. Little did he know the league up north would do much more than that. The CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie of the Year in 2008 and a two-time (2008, ’09) Most Outstanding Defensive Player honoree; Wake parlayed his strong play in Canada into a four-year contract with Miami. After collecting 5.5 sacks in 2009, Wake broke out the following year with 14 sacks. A three-time Pro Bowler (2010, ’12-13), Wake also earned All-Pro honors following his 15-sack 2012 campaign. In 77 career games (62 starts), Wake has recorded 51.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles.