The NFL's Top 10 Undrafted Players of the 2000s
Earlier in the week, I gave you the "Top 10 NFL Draft Steals of the 2000s."
In doing so, I realized that a lot of guys also went undrafted but are now perennial All-Pros and some of the biggest names in the game.
The rules are a bit different for this list.
A guy doesn't have to be successful for the team that signed him in order to make it here. Undrafted players don't always get a fair shot, which results in them being picked up elsewhere and becoming stars down the road.
Also, no kickers or punters. Rob Bironas and Mat McBriar are both great at what they do, but there are undrafted kickers and punters who become full-time starters and have successful careers nearly every draft.
So when your team is signing undrafted free agents the week after the draft, and you glance at the names and assume they will all be serving you coffee by the time training camps begin, remember that names like Kurt Warner, Jeff Saturday, Tony Richardson, and Rod Smith once appeared on those lists.
All those guys went undrafted, but eventually signed, in the 1990s and are now some of the best to ever play their positions.
So as we enter the 2010s, let's take a look back at the 2000s and see what names weren't announced in New York on draft day but have potential to be announced in Canton someday in a place that most football players only dream of.
Because as everyone knows, it's not where you start, but where you finish.
10. Miles Austin (Monmouth), 2006
Austin may be 10th on the list now, but within a couple years he could certainly be a lot higher.
He had his breakout game in Kansas City this past season after starter Roy Williams had to sit due to injury and Austin got the start.
The wideout had 10 catches for 250 yards (a Cowboys franchise record that had stood since 1966) and two touchdowns.
Despite not starting until the fifth week of the season, Austin led the NFC in yardage and made his first Pro Bowl in 2009.
9. Leigh Bodden (Duquesne), 2003
It's tough for me to put a guy who started for the 0-16 Lions on this list.
But Bodden has been amongst the most consistent and underrated defensive backs in the league since becoming a full-time starter with Cleveland.
Meanwhile, first round picks from 2003 like Andre Woolfolk and Sammy Davis are no longer in the league.
If Bill Belichick signs you to a four-year contract and Chad Ochocinco not only admits that you covered him, but also says you're one of the best corners in the league, I'd say you're doing all right.
Especially for a guy who nobody wanted on draft day.
8. Bart Scott (Southern Illinois), 2002
It's hard for a linebacker to make a name for himself in Baltimore, where defensive players are always in the shadow of future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.
But Bart Scott was able to do so, earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections in 2006.
When Baltimore defensive coordinator Rex Ryan left to take the Jets' head coaching position in 2009, Scott followed him.
In his first season, he was second on the team in tackles and led the team by a long shot in tackles for loss with 11.
7. Jason Peters (Arkansas), 2004
Peters has become one of the better left tackles in the league since being picked up by Buffalo as an undrafted free agent in 2005.
He's so good, in fact, that Philadelphia gave up its first round pick in 2009 to acquire him and then signed him to a six-year, $60 million deal.
At the time, head coach Andy Reid said Peters was "the best left tackle in football."
In four years as a starter, Peters has been named an All-Pro twice and gone to three Pro Bowls.
6. Joshua Cribbs (Kent State), 2005
If there is a guy in this league more fun to watch than Cribbs, please, let me know.
Cribbs holds the all-time NFL record for most kickoff returns for touchdowns with eight. It's hard to argue that there has ever been a better return man than Cribbs.
Despite all his great special teams play, Cribbs had his biggest game as a Brown doing more than just kick returns.
This past December, after 13 consecutive losses to division rival Pittsburgh, Cribbs had 200 all-purpose yards against the Steelers and led the Browns to one of the best feel-good wins in recent NFL memory.
Cribbs is truly one of the good guys and great players in the NFL—and Cleveland fans will get to enjoy him for a few more years, as he signed a contract extension with the club earlier this month.
5. James Harrison (Kent State), 2002
After spending two seasons as a practice squad guy, Harrison was cut, signed by Baltimore, and then played in NFL Europe before becoming a free agent again. Pittsburgh then re-signed the linebacker.
It turned out to be a pretty good pickup.
Harrison was the NFL's 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.
He was a huge factor in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XLIII victory over Arizona. He intercepted Arizona's Kurt Warner as time expired in the first half, returning it 100 yards for a 14-point swing and resulting in the longest play in Super Bowl history.
The Rooney family rewarded the two-time All-Pro with a contract north of $50 million last offseason.
4. Tony Romo (Eastern Illinois), 2003
In Romo's three full seasons as a starter, Dallas has won two division titles.
That's two more division titles than they had won since Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman retired.
He also owns Cowboy records for most touchdowns, yards, and completions in a season.
Romo has made three Pro Bowls. This past season, he led the Cowboys to their first playoff win in 13 seasons.
3. Brian Waters (North Texas), 2000
Brian Waters isn't exactly a household name.
He plays for a Kansas City team that hasn't had much to smile about since going 13-3 in 2003.
And he's a guard.
But he's one of the best. Waters is a four-time Pro Bowl player and a two-time first team All-Pro.
That's four more Pro Bowls and two more first team All-Pro selections than any of the 16 guards who were drafted that year have combined.
He holds the distinction of being the only offensive lineman to ever be named Offensive Player of the Week.
In 2009, he was the recipient of the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
2. Wes Welker (Texas Tech), 2004
Welker began his career with Miami before being traded to division rival New England for second and seventh round draft picks.
Since becoming a Patriot, Welker has established himself as the best slot receiver in the league, leading the league in receptions twice and being named All-Pro in all three of his seasons with New England.
He is the only player in NFL history to record at least 110 receptions in three consecutive seasons.
In 2009, Welker had 123 receptions, which is second in NFL history only to Marvin Harrison's 143 in 2002.
Welker suffered a nasty knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs this season. Hopefully it's just another bump in the road for Tom Brady's favorite target.
1. Antonio Gates (Kent State), 2003
Unlike the other nine players on the list, Gates never played college football.
Then-Michigan State head coach Nick Saban wanted Gates to come play linebacker, but Gates chose basketball instead and led Kent State to an Elite Eight appearance in 2002.
Gates shares the record with San Francisco's Vernon Davis for most receiving touchdowns in a season by a tight end with 13.
He's a three-time first team All-Pro, which is remarkable considering that Gates played in the same division and era as Tony Gonzalez, who is widely regarded as the greatest tight end to ever play the game.
Gates is a six-time Pro Bowl selection and is on the NFL's 2000s All-Decade Team, where he was placed on the second team behind Gonzalez.
If Gates never made the 40-minute drive south to Canton while attending Kent State, no big deal. He'll get to spend some time there when he's inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.