Ranking the Best Undrafted NFL Players Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 2, 2021

Ranking the Best Undrafted NFL Players Since 2000

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    When the NFL draft ends, an absolute frenzy begins for undrafted players. While most signings bring little to no value, teams occasionally find an absolute gem.

    The most notable undrafted stars in NFL history include Hall of Fame inductees Dick "Night Train" Lane and Warren Moon, along with Super Bowl-winning quarterback Kurt Warner. Our focus, however, is on undrafted players since 2000.

    In the last 20 years, a handful of undrafted talents have become All-Pro players and some of the NFL's most recognizable names.

    Each player highlighted entered the league in 2000 or later. The ranking is subjective but considers career performance, individual accolades, longevity and positional value.

More UDFAs to Know

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    David Berding/Associated Press

    Shaun O'Hara, OG/C (2000)

    Bart Scott, LB (2002)

    Cameron Wake, DE (2005)

    Miles Austin, WR (2006)

    Michael Bennett, DE (2009)

    Arian Foster, RB (2009)

    Victor Cruz, WR (2010)

    Doug Baldwin, WR (2011)

    Cole Beasley, WR (2012)

    Adam Thielen, WR (2013)

    Shaquil Barrett, Edge (2014)

    Malcolm Butler, CB (2014)

7. Justin Tucker, K

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Where exactly do you rank a kicker?

    If every position had similar value, Baltimore Ravens specialist Justin Tucker would be the No. 1 choice. Not selected in the 2012 draft, he's merely become the most accurate kicker in NFL history.

    Through the 2020 season, the Texas product has connected on 90.7 percent of his career field-goal attempts. Tucker, who buried an important 38-yarder in the Super Bowl XLVII win, has only missed three of his 165 attempts inside of 40 yards.

    Tucker has landed first-team AP All-Pro honors in four seasons and second-team nods in two more years.

6. Chris Harris Jr., CB

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    After a productive career at Kansas, Chris Harris Jr. didn't hear his name called in the 2011 draft. But the Denver Broncos still came calling, and they're undoubtedly glad they did.

    Harris worked into the rotation as a rookie and notched 71 tackleswhich after a decade remains his career-high mark. During the eight-year stretch from 2012 to 2019, he made four Pro Bowls and started 117 of the 128 possible regular-season games.

    Most notably, Harris earned All-Pro recognition in 2016. And in the Broncos' triumph over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50, he notched five tackles with a sack.

5. Wes Welker, WR

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    David Duprey/Associated Press

    It's hard enough to identify a "diamond in the rough" type of talent. Releasing one, however, stings even worse.

    Wes Welker signed with the San Diego Chargers after the 2004 draft and made the roster, but they waived the Texas Tech wideout because of other injuries. Though the Chargers wanted him on the practice squad, the Miami Dolphins signed Welker.

    Years later, Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer called it the biggest mistake of his career. Welker played well as a rotational piece in 2005 and 2006 before the Dolphins traded him to the New England Patriots for a second-round pick.

    And alongside Tom Brady in New England, Welker became a star.

    He tallied five 100-catch seasonsleading the NFL in catches three timeswith five Pro Bowl trips and two All-Pro honors. Welker still ranks 51st in league history with 9,924 career receiving yards.

4. Jason Peters, OT

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    While at Arkansas, Jason Peters moved from defensive tackle to tight end. Before the 2004 draft, though, he began training as an offensive lineman and found a spot with the Buffalo Bills.

    And by 2006, he cemented himself as Buffalo's left tackle.

    Peters secured his first of five straight Pro Bowl nods in 2007, earning the last three as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. Buffalo sent him to Philly for a first- and fourth-round pick in 2009, and Peters spent the next decade-plus with the Eagles.

    Along the way, Peters secured first-team AP All-Pro recognition twice and second-team honors in four seasons. Overall, he's landed on a Pro Bowl roster in nine seasons.

3. Antonio Gates, TE

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    After his freshman year at Eastern Michigan, Antonio Gates transferred to Kent State. In his last two seasons, he racked up 18.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. Gates even propelled the Golden Flashes to the Elite Eight in 2002.

    Oh, and then he started playing football.

    Gates signed with San Diego as a tight end in 2003 and quickly worked his way into the starting lineup. The next season, he caught 81 passes for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns to earn All-Pro honors. Gates landed the same recognition in 2005 and 2006.

    Sixteen years later, Gates had amassed 955 catches for 11,841 yards and 116 scores. Those totals rank third, third and first for his position in NFL history.

2. James Harrison, LB

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    During the 2002 season, Antonio Gates thrived on the Kent State basketball team, which made an improbable Elite Eight run. The football team, meanwhile, had a standout linebacker named James Harrison.

    Pretty good times in Northeast Ohio, huh?

    Harrison didn't enjoy the immediate success Gates did, however. Although he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 2002 draft, he made a single appearance while otherwise lingering on the practice squad. Harrison signed with Baltimore in 2003, also briefly playing for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe.

    Finally, in 2004, he broke through. Sort of. Harrison held a rotational role through 2006 and collected 127 tackles. Then in 2007, he became a cornerstone of Pittsburgh's defense.

    Harrison posted 16 sacks and won AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2008the same season as his memorable 100-yard pick-six in Super Bowl XLIII. He added another All-Pro honor in 2010 and made the Pro Bowl in five consecutive years.

    Upon retiring after the 2017 season, Harrison had amassed 811 tackles, 84.5 sacks and 34 forced fumbles.

1. Tony Romo, QB

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    If he'd managed to win a Super Bowl, Tony Romo would have few critics. Instead, he's a source of controversy whose NFL performance is not respected as much as it should be.

    Not selected in the 2003 draft, the Eastern Illinois quarterback headed to the Dallas Cowboys. Romo served as a backup for Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe from 2003 to 2005 until he replaced Bledsoe midway through the 2006 season.

    During his 127 games as a starter, Romo guided the Cowboys to three NFC East titles. He secured second-team AP All-Pro recognition in 2014 and made four Pro Bowls.

    Romo is 24th in NFL history with 248 career touchdown passes. Additionally, he ranks seventh in career yards per attempt (7.9), ninth in passer rating (97.1) and 34th in yards (34,183).

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