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5 Best Undrafted Free Agents in NFL History

Kurt Warner with the St Louis Rams
Kurt Warner with the St Louis Rams
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Matthew Wear

With the 2022 NFL Draft fast approaching, there is plenty of talk about who is going to go first-overall and which players will be selected by which team in the first-round of the draft.

Despite all this talk about the top prospects, there are more players who went undrafted than those who went first-overall in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Some of the best players to ever grace the football field weren't deemed good enough to be selected in the draft by any team, but they did go on to find huge success in the league thereafter.

Perhaps, they played with extra large chips on their shoulders, as a way to prove to the GMs who didn't pick them that they were, in fact, good enough, and they would regret not drafting them.

Here are five of the best undrafted players to ever play in the NFL.

5 Best NFL Undrafted Free Agents Ever

#5 - Antonio Gates, Tight End

Antonio Gates of the Los Angeles Chargers
Antonio Gates of the Los Angeles Chargers

Antonio Gates will go down as one of the best tight ends to ever play in the NFL, as the veteran spent his entire 16-year career with the Chargers, both in San Diego and L.A.

Gates never played college football during his time at Kent State; instead, he opted to play basketball, but when he was told he was too much of a "tweener" to play in the NBA, he soon arranged a workout with NFL scouts, with as many as 19 teams reportedly interested in signing him.

The Chargers snapped him up as a UDFA, and Gates would make the pickup worth their while, racking up a long list of honors, including 3x FirstTeam All-Pros and 8x Pro Bowl selections. Gates was also selected for the league's All-Decade Team for the 2000s.

He retired in 2020, ending his career with the most touchdown catches by a tight end of all-time, with 116.

BREAKING: TE Antonio Gates has announced his retirement after 16 seasons, per his Twitter...Career Stats:• 236 Games• 955 Receptions (17th all-time)• 11,841 Receiving Yards (29th all-time)• 116 TDs (7th all-time)• 8x Pro Bowler• 3x All-Pro#Chargers https://t.co/Srxu37KLyJ

#4 - Dick "Night Train" Lane, Cornerback

Dick 'Night Train' Lanr
Dick 'Night Train' Lanr

Following a tough upbringing in which he was abandoned by his mother and father when he was three months old, Lane enlisted in the Army in 1948, and would serve for four years. During that time, he served in Monterey Bay, California, and after his service, as he passed the L.A. Rams' facility on the bus, Lane asked for a tryout.

The Rams converted him from his original position as a receiver into a cornerback, and Night Train excelled. He set a league record that still stands today during his rookie season in 1952, intercepting 14 passes in just 12 games.

Lane played for the Rams, Cardinals and Lions during his 14-year career, ending his time in the league with 7x First-Team All Pro selections and 7x Pro Bowl nods too. He would go on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as being selected for the NFL's 100th Anniversary All-Time Team.

5 Best NFL Undrafted Free Agents Ever

#3 - Warren Moon, Quarterback

Warren Moon with the Houston Oilers
Warren Moon with the Houston Oilers

In the NFL, you often find undrafted skill players making teams' rosters, such as receivers or running backs, but rarely do you see a quarterback go undrafted and make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That's exactly what Warren Moon did.

Moon went undrafted during the 1978 draft; instead, he opted to join the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League. After much success in the CFL, he joined the NFL and the Houston Oilers in 1984.

During his legendary career, which spanned from 1984 to 2000, Moon would play for the Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs. He would make nine Pro Bowls, was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1990, and was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

#2 - James Harrison, Linebacker

James Harrison with the Pittsburgh Steelers
James Harrison with the Pittsburgh Steelers

James Harrison went undrafted in the 2002 draft, and after signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an UDFA, he found himself cut three separate times in the space of a year. Harrison signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2003, where he would spend time with Rhein Fire in NFL Europe. But he was cut once again, and after debating walking away from football altogether, Harrison re-signed with the Steelers in 2004.

Harrison's career would take off from there, as he would establish himself as a starter in Pittsburgh, and would go on to make one of the most clutch plays in NFL history, when he intercepted Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII and took it back for a 100 yard pick-six, as the Steelers went on to win the game.

Harrison would end his career with two Super Bowl rings, 2x First-Team All-Pro selections, 5x Pro Bowls, and he was named the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

#1 - Kurt Warner, Quarterback

Kurt Warner with the Arizona Cardinals
Kurt Warner with the Arizona Cardinals

Kurt Warner's rise to the NFL summit is something all players coming into the league dream about. Warner went undrafted in the 1994 NFL draft, and after being turned away following a tryout with the Green Bay Packers, he stocked shelves in a grocery store in his home state of Iowa for $5.50 an hour.

After three years playing for the Iowa Barnstormers in the Arena Football League (AFL), Warner got his chance, signing a futures contract with the St. Louis Rams. Warner was then allocated to play in NFL Europe with the Amsterdam Admirals, where he would lead the league in passing yards and touchdowns.

Then in 1999, following an injury to starting quarterback Trent Green in the preseason, Warner was installed as the Rams' starter for the '99 season. Warner's fairytale would continue as he threw three touchdowns in his first three starts, and would go on to win the 1999 NFL MVP award, as well as passing for two touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXIV as the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans.

Warner's illustrious career would only improve from this moment, as he would win another MVP award in 2001, as well as 2x First Team All-Pro selections and 4x Pro Bowls during his career. He would also lead the league in passing yards twice and make two more Super Bowl appearances, one with the Rams in 2001, and one with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009, unfortunately losing both.

Kurt Warner career stats:65.5 comp %32,344 passing yards208 TDs/128 INTs3 Super Bowl's2 MVPsHall of Famer. https://t.co/dDrXbm3kTO

Warner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017 after becoming the only undrafted player to win the league MVP and Super Bowl MVP awards, and his story was recently depicted in the movie American Underdog.

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Edited by Windy Goodloe
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