Top 10 NFL Undrafted Free Agents of the Past 25 Years
When we think about prospects making the jump from college to the NFL, the first images that jump into our heads are those of players making the stroll from the green room to the podium on the first night of the NFL Draft. However, the fact is that the vast majority of players don't experience their dream playing out so publicly.
Hundreds of players sit at home waiting for a phone call to be drafted in the middle and late rounds, and for several hundred more players, a phone call during the draft never comes. Instead, they're forced to wait, hope a team is still interested, and sign for peanuts as undrafted free agents. While it's not the ideal route to the league, it's not impossible to make it in the NFL going the undrafted route, and on occasion, the lotto ticket hits and an undrafted player becomes an all-time great.
Texans fans know all about this, having watched Arian Foster — undrafted in 2009 — rack up more than 6,000 yards rushing in seven seasons. On Wednesday, Foster's career with the Texans ended with his release, but that does not diminish his greatness. Where does Foster stack up in the list of recent undrafted free agents? Let's take a look!
Without further ado, here are the ten best undrafted free agents in the past 25 years:
10. JEFF SATURDAY, C, North Carolina (1998, Baltimore Ravens)
Best known for being Peyton Manning's caddy on the Indianapolis Colts' offensive line for the better part of a decade, Saturday first broke into the league in 1998 as a Baltimore Raven. He was cut before the 1998 season started, signed with the Colts before the 1999 season, and made the team as a left guard before his move to center in 2000. He wound up his career with 202 starts, six Pro Bowl berths and a Super Bowl ring. Now 50 pounds lighter, he's part of ESPN's NFL studio coverage.
9. PRIEST HOLMES, RB, Texas (1997, Baltimore Ravens)
Undrafted out of Texas in 1997, Holmes signed with the Baltimore Ravens, and few remember that he actually rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 1998. However, the Ravens chose to build their running game around rookie Jamal Lewis the following season, and eventually rode Lewis to a Super Bowl win in 2000. Holmes left in free agency and signed with Kansas City, where all he did was average 1,500 yards rushing over a three-year period, and led the league twice in total yards from scrimmage and in touchdowns. His 27 touchdowns in 2003 set a record at that time. A spinal injury in 2005 ended Holmes's career prematurely.
8. WES WELKER, WR, Texas Tech (2004, San Diego Chargers)
Welker was let go after the first game of the 2004 season by the Chargers, then latched on with the Dolphins for three seasons in which he was primarily a kick return specialist. His 67 catches in 2006, though, was enough of a tease for the New England Patriots to trade for him, and it was there that he would cement his spot on this list, catching 112 passes in 2007 and putting together a six-year run in which he would catch at least 100 passes five times. Welker was a five-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All Pro, but unfortunately may be most remembered in New England for a crucial drop late in the 2012 Super Bowl that helped the Giants to a victory.
7. ARIAN FOSTER, RB, Tennessee (2009, Houston Texans)
Foster was a workhorse in his four years at Tennessee, but an oft-injured workhorse, and as a result, he fell out of the 2009 draft altogether. He signed on with the Texans, made the practice squad and was the starting running back by the end of his rookie season. In 2010, he exploded onto the scene for good, opening the year with a 231-yard effort against the Colts, and finishing the season with a league-leading 1,616 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Foster finishes his Texans career with 6,472 yards rushing and 54 rushing touchdowns, third best since 2010.
6. ROD SMITH, WR, Missouri Southern (1994, New England Patriots)
After making a cameo in Patriots camp in 1994, Smith signed on with the Denver Broncos, where he would go from unknown small school guy to Broncos Ring of Honor over the next decade and change. Smith, along with Eddie McCaffrey and Shannon Sharpe, made up John Elway's receiving corps in the two Super Bowl wins that punctuated the Hall of Famer's career. Specifically, Smith would average 1,200 yards over those two seasons and go on to 11,839 career receiving yards, all with the Broncos.
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