NFL Draft: Best Players That Went Undrafted

John LewisSenior Writer IApril 19, 2008

The NFL draft is always full of surprises and none are more shocking then future Pro-Bowlers that go undrafted. While scouts are better at evaluating talent, there's always the one player that slips through the cracks.

The criteria for this list was easy...impact players that didn't get drafted.

Kurt Warner, 1994: Northern Iowa 

After graduation, Warner attended the preseason camp for the Green Bay Packers in 1994 and was released before the season started, so he signed with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League. 

After being named to the first team all-AFL twice he was offered a tryout with the Chicago Bears but an infection in his throwing arm kept him from trying out. The next season he was signed by the St. Louis Rams and designated to NFL Europe for a season.

But in 1999, Warner finally got his chance to shine when starting QB Trent Green went down with an injury before the start of the season. Warner would throw three or more touchdowns in his first four games and led the Rams all the way to the Super Bowl.

Warner was named the NFL's MVP as well as Super Bowl MVP in the Rams’ 16-13 defeat of the Tennessee Titans. He would win a second league MVP award in 2001.

Adam Vinatieri, 1995: South Dakota State

SD State’s all-time leading scorer landed a job with the Amsterdam Admirals of the World League as a kicker and punter. The following year, he signed with the New England Patriots and appeared in the first of five Super Bowls that year. 

The Pats lost the game to the Green Bay Packers, his only Super Bowl loss, but Vinatieri would gain attention for his unbelievable accuracy in big moments. 

On his foot, New England would go back would go back to the Super Bowl in 2001 and "automatic Adam" would get the game-winning kick against the Rams.

Two years later, Vinatieri would again hit the game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl, this time against the Carolina Panthers. Two years later, Vinatieri landed in the Super Bowl, his fifth, with the Indianapolis Colts and made three of four field goals as the Colts beat the Chicago Bears. 

Rod Smith, 1994: Missouri Southern State University

Smith ended his college career as the MIAA Conference’s all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, but went undrafted. 

He would end up being signed as a free agent by the Denver Broncos and would go on to play 12 seasons, eight of those with at least 1,000 yards and two of those with over 100 receptions. 

He would help lead the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl wins however a hip injury in 2006 will probably force him into retirement. He finished his career with team-highs in total receiving yards, total touchdowns and total receptions. 

Wayne Chrebet, 1995: Hofstra

Chrebet went undrafted, but eventually earned a tryout with the New York Jets and made the team. He started out as the 11th wide receiver out of 11 on the depth chart and worked his way into the starting roster. 

His size held him back in the beginning, but his heart won over his teammates and in a December game against the St. Louis Rams, he had eight catches. The next year against Jacksonville, he enjoyed his best game with 12 catches for 162 yards and five third-down conversions. 

Chrebet was named "Mr. Third Down" because 379 of his 580 catches went for first-down conversions. Chrebet's career was ended by multiple concussions.

Jake Delhomme, 1997: Louisiana-Lafayette

Delhomme was signed by the New Orleans Saints and placed on the practice squad. He was then assigned to the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe and was the backup QB to future St. Louis Ram, Kurt Warner. 

He came back to play on the practice squad for the Saints and, like the year before, was sent back over to play in NFL Europe. Delhomme learned the skills that would eventually make him a starter in the league and when he came back to the NFL, he was there for good.

In 2003, he signed as a free agent for the struggling Carolina Panthers and took over the reins in the third quarter of the first game of the season and proceeded to start every game that year. 

That season, he would throw for 3,219 yards and lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl.  They were beaten on a last-second field goal by Adam Vinatieri. Delhomme would throw for more than 3,400 yards the next two seasons and he continues to be the starting QB in Carolina.

Priest Holmes, 1997: Texas

Holmes was signed by the Baltimore Ravens and in 1998, he rushed for over 1,000 yards. He would win a Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2001 as a backup to Jamal Lewis and then quickly sign a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. 

That year, he led the league in rushing with 1,555 yards and the following year, he ran for 1,615 yards and 21 touchdowns. 

In 2003, he would set the record (at the time) for most touchdowns in a season when scored 27 times. An injury would cut his 2004 season short, but he still scored 14 touchdowns, but what happened the next season would end his career for good. 

On a tackle by Shawne Merriman, he would injure his spinal cord and never recover. He attempted a comeback last year, but Holmes wasn't able to regain the strength he once possessed.

Antonio Gates, 2003: Kent State

Gates’ career doesn't resemble he other undrafted players as he played college basketball, helping Kent St. make the elite eight in 2002. NBA scouts weren't high on Gates, so he arranged a tryout for many NFL teams. 

In 2003, the San Diego Chargers jumped all over him and signed him to a contract. He finished his rookie year with solid numbers but had a breakout season in his second year with 81 receptions, 964 yards, and 13 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl that year and promptly received a pay raise following season. 

With a fresh six-year, $24 million contract Gates would set career highs again with 89 catches, 1,101 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gates is still leading the Chargers in every receiving category and one day will be among the best tight ends to ever play the game.

Willie Parker 2004 North Carolina                

"Fast" Willie Parker was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 and was the backup to Jerome Bettis. Parker was used sparingly his rookie year, but got his chance to start in his second season when Bettis went down with a hamstring injury. 

Parker made the most of it with 1,202 yards scoring on a 75-yard touchdown run in the Super Bowl that helped the Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks. 

The next season would be no different for Parker as he established career highs with 1,494 yards and 13 touchdowns and again last season, produced 1,316 yards on the ground. 

As long as Parker remains healthy, he will be one of the best runners in the league.

Tony Romo, 2003: Eastern Illinois

Romo, as everyone knows, was signed by the Dallas Cowboys in 2003, but didn't see any game time action in his first three seasons. And once Drew Bledsoe was benched for poor play in the middle of in 2006, Romo was given the ball. 

What he did was amaze everyone in the NFL as Dallas made the playoffs for the second time under Bill Parcells. After a botched extra point, the Cowboys were beaten in the first round of the playoffs. But the 2007 season, would prove to be the breakout year everyone had hoped for. 

Romo passed for 4,211, 36 touchdowns, and had a passer rating of 97.4. While Romo has only been the starter for one full season in Dallas, he's made two Pro Bowls and has the Cowboys primed to get back to the Super Bowl.

There are others that deserve a mention: Brian Waters 2000 Kansas City Chiefs, Joshua Cribbs 2005 Cleveland Browns, Jason Peters 2004 Buffalo Bills and Ben Utecht 2004 Indianapolis Colts.  


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