Best Undrafted Players In NFL History

When we look at the NFL betting odds around this time of year, we think about the NFL Draft.  Now that the 2022 NFL Draft is completed, we can review the players who got drafted, their college career, and their potential success in the NFL. 

However, some may place too much emphasis on the NFL Draft, leading other players to be overlooked.  Like coffee, the cream always rises to the top, and the league weeds out those who are not talented enough or unwilling to put in the effort it takes to make it in the pros. 

First round picks can turn out to be complete busts, and there are many examples of players that came into the NFL with a lot of hype and never came close to their potential.  Meanwhile, some late round picks have become superstars, with the most notable example being Tom Brady. 

There are other players who don’t even get drafted, but they end up making a team and having very solid pro careers. Some undrafted players have even gone on to the Hall of Fame. These are the legends - the diamonds in the rough - who had the potential but weren't selected in the draft.

The NFL Draft is just a starting point in a player's career.  After that, career paths are different for everyone. Since the draft is only seven rounds, there are a lot of talented players that will not get drafted. However, with injuries, retirements, and underachieving players, a free agent player who is on the right team at the right time could get the opportunity of a lifetime if things play out just right.

Here are some of our favorite all-time undrafted NFL players. 

Jake Delhomme

Jake Delhomme was undrafted in 1997 after a decent career for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He was signed as a free agent by the New Orleans Saints and played a season on their practice squad before being sent to play for the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe in 1998 as a backup to Kurt Warner. He spent another season in Europe in '99 with the Frankfurt Galaxy where he split time with Pat Barnes at QB as they led the Galaxy to the league championship. When he returned to the Saints, he was stuck on the bench for four seasons, only seeing action in a handful of games.

Delhomme finally got his breakthrough opportunity with the Carolina Panthers in 2003. He signed as a free agent and came off the bench to take over for Rodney Peete at halftime of the opening game, leading them to a comeback victory. Delhomme went on to lead the NFL with five fourth-quarter comeback victories that season and took the Panthers all the way to Super Bowl XXXVIII. This was probably one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time, as the Panthers lost to the New England Patriots on a last-minute field goal.

Delhomme would remain with the Panthers until 2009, reaching the playoffs two more times but never making it back to the Super Bowl, with a few seasons cut short by injuries. 

Drew Pearson

Drew Pearson was an All-Pro wide receiver three times in his career. He was signed by the Dallas Cowboys in 1973 after not getting drafted, making the team as a special teams player.  Through injuries, trades and a bit of luck, Pearson was added to the starting lineup and became a top receiver on the Cowboys. In 1979, he teamed with Tony Hill and Tony Dorsett as the Cowboys become the first team ever with two 1000-yard receivers and a 1000-yard running back. 

Unfortunately, his career was cut short due to a car crash in 1984.  However, in his tenure, the Cowboys appeared in three Super Bowls and won one. In 2021 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Sam Mills

Sam Mills was quite short for a linebacker. At 5' 9", he was considered to be too small to play in the NFL and thus went undrafted in 1981. He was signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns, but released after the preseason. In 1982, he was signed by the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL, but was once again released before the season started.

Mills finally got a chance to play in 1983 with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL. Although the league only lasted three years, Mills made the All-USFL team each season and led the Stars to two league championships in 1984 and 1985.

Stars head coach Jim Mora took over as coach of the NFL's New Orleans Saints in 1986 and gave Mills the opportunity to come with him. Mills earned four Pro Bowl appearances in nine seasons with the Saints.  Mora called him "the best player I coached".  

Mills finished his career playing three seasons as the veteran leader of the Carolina Panthers defense, making the Pro Bowl once more in 1996. 

Sadly, Mills passed away in 2005, but this year will deservedly be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Wes Welker

Welker had a solid college career as a wide receiver at Texas Tech, finishing with an NCAA record for punt return yards and tied for second in punts returned for touchdowns.  However, Welker was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine and went 2004. The San Diego Chargers signed him as a free agent, but let him go after the first game of the season. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer would later view this as one of the biggest mistakes of his career. 

After being released, Welker was signed by the Miami Dolphins, where he had three solid seasons at wide receiver and kick returner. In those 3 seasons, Welker managed to set Dolphins records for career kick return yards and single-season records for punt return yards and all-purpose yards.

Welker's career reached the next level after being traded to the New England Patriots in 2007.  In six seasons with the Pats, Welker set team records in receiving yardage, receptions per game, yardage per game, tied the league record for longest touchdown reception and overall career receptions.  He went to 5 straight Pro Bowls and led the NFL in receptions 3 times. It certainly didn't hurt to have Tom Brady throwing him the ball. 

Welker finished his career playing with the Denver Broncos for two seasons and the St. Louis Rams for one season. 

Joe Perry

Joe Perry came out of the military and was signed with the San Francisco 49ers, then of the AAFC, for $4,500 back in 1948. He was nicknamed "The Jet" due to his uncommon speed as a fullback. 

After the AAFC folded, the 49ers joined the NFL in 1950, and Perry continued to excel. He became the first player to rush for 1000 yards in two consecutive seasons, and in 1954 was named the NFL MVP. 

Perry was the NFL's all-time leading rusher from 1958 until 1963, when he retired and Jim Brown caught up with him to break his record.  In 1969 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and had his number 34 jersey retired by the Niners in 1971. 

(All photos via Wikipedia).

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