With 2016 NFL training camps opening around the league this week, the best NFL players are gathering for practices in the summer heat. All 32 teams hope this will be the beginning of a journey that will lead them to Super Bowl LI next February in Houston, Texas.
Interestingly, some of these teams’ hopes will ride on players who were not even drafted, but through perseverance, they found their way into the NFL as undrafted free agents and eventually became stars. Let’s take a look at the best NFL players who are currently active, but were not even considered among the top 250 available players coming out of college (presented in reverse ranking order).
Jason Peters, Offensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
Peters started out as a defensive lineman in college, then was moved to tight end. He didn’t receive much notice coming out of the University of Arkansas, but according to NFL.com, his talent as a blocker was recognized early in his NFL career. As a result, he was moved to the offensive line. That turned out to be a life-changing moment for Peters, who more than a decade later is still starring in the NFL.
Adam Vinatieri, Placekicker, Indianapolis Colts
Vinatieri may have come the farthest of any player on this list. He was not a particularly accurate kicker at South Dakota State University, and was nowhere close to being on any NFL team’s radar coming into the 1996 NFL Draft. The New England Patriots invited him to training camp as a long-shot, and he shockingly won the placekicking job. Vinatieri has since gone on to become one of the most decorated kickers in NFL history.
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James Harrison, Outside Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Harrison was thought to be too short to play linebacker in the NFL after his outstanding college career at Kent State University, as detailed by the Los Angeles Times. It took him a couple years to really catch on in the league, but once he did, he was an electric performer. James Harrison found his niche as an outside pass rusher, and he has accumulated 732 tackles and 76.5 quarterback sacks during his illustrious NFL career.
Antonio Gates, Tight End, San Diego Chargers
Resume: 13 NFL seasons for the Chargers, eight Pro Bowls.
The second-consecutive player from Kent State on our list, Gates was actually a standout basketball player for the Golden Flashes. He was an undersized power forward who had no shot at an NBA career, so Gates decided to take his athletic gifts and give the NFL a try. The San Diego Chargers gambled on the 6-foot-4, 255-pound basketball player, and he is now considered one of the best receiving tight ends in the history of the league.
Tony Romo, Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys
Resume: 13 NFL seasons for the Cowboys, four Pro Bowls.
Romo was spectacular as a college quarterback at Eastern Illinois University, but NFL teams overlooked him since he played at such a small school against inferior competition. Romo made the Cowboys roster as an undrafted free agent, and did little more than hold for field goals and extra points early in his career. Tony Romo finally got an opportunity to play quarterback for Dallas during his fourth season, and he’s been one of the NFL’s best ever since.
What do you think of our active list of best NFL players who were undrafted free agents?
[Photo by Rick Osentoski/AP Images]