With the 2022 NFL draft due to take place next month, hundreds of young talented footballers will be eagerly anticipating hearing their names being announced by Commissioner Roger Goodell and taking the next step in their journey to stardom.
However, there are just as many players who get drafted, as those who go undrafted. When a player goes undrafted, it could be due to several reasons, such as injury, previous personal issues, or even because they didn't go to a top college football program.
These players are often diamonds in the rough, just waiting to be given an opportunity to play with an NFL franchise, and play with a chip on their shoulder as they want to prove to the world that they are more than worthy of a draft selection.
Here are five active NFL superstars who went undrafted.
Five active NFL stars who were not drafted
#5 - RB James Robinson
James Robinson of the Jacksonville Jaguars
During the 2020 NFL draft process, James Robinson went undrafted despite finishing his collegiate career with Illinois State with the second-most rushing yards in school history with 4,444 yards.
Robinson was soon picked up as a UDFA by the Jacksonville Jaguars and quickly made it to the 53 man roster. Robinson was even named the starter in the Jags' Week One game against the Indianapolis Colts, becoming just the fourth undrafted rookie running back to start their team's first game of the season since 1970.
Robinson would go on to have an excellent rookie season, rushing for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns, as well as catching three touchdowns on top of that. Robinson became just the fourth undrafted player in NFL history to rush for 1,000+ yards in their rookie season and set the record for rookie free agent scrimmage yards. He was on course to go over 1,000 yards again in 2021, but an unfortunate ACL injury ended his season prematurely.
#4 - LB Shaq Barrett
Shaq Barrett came out of Colorado State and declared for the 2014 NFL draft, only to go undrafted. He was picked up by the Denver Broncos, signing a three-year $1.35 million contract but didn't play his rookie year. In 2015 however, Barrett managed to feature in all 16 regular-season games and recorded 5.5 sacks as the Broncos won Super Bowl 50.
However, it wasn't until he moved to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019 that Barrett showed his true worth. In his first campaign in Tampa, Barrett recorded a monster 19.5 sacks, leading the league and breaking Warren Sapp's franchise sack record in the process. He would sign the franchise tag in the 2020 off-season and remained a vital piece of the Bucs defense that shut down Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs to win Super Bowl LV, and Barrett himself recorded a sack to claim his second ring.
Five active NFL stars who were not drafted
#3 - K Justin Tucker
Now it's true that many NFL kickers aren't drafted, but there aren't many kickers like Justin Tucker. Tucker was undrafted coming out of the University of Texas in 2012 and was picked up by the Baltimore Ravens to compete for a starting role, which he achieved before the season had begun.
Tucker has consistently been one of the top kickers in the NFL ever since, making 326 of the 358 field goals in his career, making him the most accurate kicker in NFL history with 91.1% accuracy.
He will go down as one of the greats, and his crowning moment thus far came in 2021, when he kicked a 66-yard game-winning field goal for the Ravens against the Detroit Lions, leaving the entire footballing world stunned by the achievement.
#2 - WR Adam Thielen
Adam Thielen came out of Minnesota State in 2013 but didn't even receive an invite to the NFL Combine and then went undrafted. The Minnesota Vikings picked him up, and as a Vikings fan, he didn't let this opportunity pass him by.
Thielen mainly saw action as a special-teamer during his early years with the Vikings but fulfilled his potential as a top receiver in 2016, where he ended the year with 967 yards and five touchdowns. He would top this number for the next two seasons, finishing the 2017 season with 1,276 yards and 2018 with 1,373 yards.
Thielen would tie an NFL record during that 2018 season, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson's record of eight consecutive 100+ yard receiving games.
So far in his career, Thielen has made it to two Pro Bowls and has caught 49 touchdowns for 5,966 yards - not bad for someone who wasn't drafted!
#1 - RB Austin Ekeler
Austin Ekeler went undrafted out of Western Colorado in 2017 and was picked up by the Los Angeles Chargers on a three-year $1.66 million contract. Ekeler would be behind starter Melvin Gordon in the depth chart, but that didn't stop him from scoring a 35-yard touchdown on his first-ever carry in the NFL in a Week 4 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ekeler's big break came in 2019 when Gordon held out to start the season due to contract disputes, and even when he returned, Ekeler's presence on the Chargers' offense was felt. He might have only rushed for 557 yards, but his 993 receiving yards made people sit up and notice.
Since then, Gordon has been moved on, and the Chargers backfield now goes through Ekeler, who had career highs in rushing yards (911) and rushing touchdowns (12) in 2021. He continues to be a dual-threat in the passing game, too, with 647 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns last year.
Q. Will Austin Ekeler go down as an all-time great undrafted player?