The Best Undrafted NFL Free Agents of All Time (Updated 2023)

Looking back at the top undrafted NFL free agents who defied the odds and made an impact on the game, who are the best UDFAs of all time?

Every year during the NFL Draft, hundreds of NFL hopefuls dream of hearing their names getting called. Unfortunately, many will not. Not every player gets to join the illustrious history of first-overall picks or even get their names called at all. Those players will become undrafted free agents to begin their NFL careers when their name is not called by the end of the NFL Draft order.

Every year dozens of players who take this route make an NFL roster, and some even become meaningful contributors each and every Sunday. Here is a list of the 10 best undrafted NFL free agents of all time.

Top 10 NFL Undrafted Free Agents of All Time

Here are my top 10 undrafted NFL free agents of all time in the modern era. I’ve chosen this time frame because going undrafted in the modern era is much different than doing so in the ’40s, 50s, and ’60s. Back then, even players who got drafted didn’t play because they were too busy pursuing other careers. More importantly, NFL teams didn’t have formal scouting departments the way we know them now.

To make this list from the modern era, I looked at team contributions and career achievements. This list is not exhaustive and is subjective. Some players not on this list could easily have made it. After splitting hairs, this is what I came up with.

10) OT Jason Peters

Jason Peters played his college football at Arkansas and was originally a defensive end. His position versatility did not stop there. He then moved to tight end to finish his college career. After becoming an undrafted NFL free agent in 2004, Peters signed with the Buffalo Bills, where he switched to the position that makes him, in my opinion, Hall of Fame worthy.

The big fella is entering his 19th NFL season. After five seasons with Buffalo, Peters would continue to make his mark on the league over the next 11 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He would spend the last two with the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys, respectively.

Peters made nine consecutive Pro Bowls from 2007 to 2016, with two first-team All-Pro selections in 2011 and 2013. He would be named to six All-Pro teams in total, and in 2018, was a Super Bowl champion.

9) K Adam Vinatieri

Kickers are people too. And there may not have ever been a more consequential one in the history of the sport than Adam Vinatieri. It’s not uncommon for kickers to be undrafted NFL free agents. Yet, Vinatieri took it to another level.

Playing his college ball at South Dakota State, Vinatieri spent the first 10 years of his career with the New England Patriots and then the next 13 with the Indianapolis Colts.

MORE: FREE NFL Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

You could argue no one is more responsible for the first two Super Bowl wins of the Belichick/Brady era of Patriots football than Vinatieri, cementing his legacy as one of the most clutch kickers in history. In all, he played 23 seasons, won four Super Bowls, went to three Pro Bowls, and was a three-time first-team All-Pro selection.

Against the Rams in Super Bowl 36, Vinatieri kicked the game-winning 48-yard field goal as time expired, which marked the first time that had ever happened in Super Bowl history. Two years later, in Super Bowl 38, Vinatieri would be presented with virtually the same opportunity. Again, he nailed the game-winning field goal with only four seconds left on the clock. Vinatieri should be a lock for the Hall of Fame.

8) RB Priest Holmes

Priest Holmes played his college football at Texas. After becoming an undrafted NFL free agent, he signed with the Baltimore Ravens beginning his career at age 24. While having talent, he couldn’t escape the injury bug before moving on to Kansas City, where he would make a name for himself. He had a three-year stretch where we would rush for nearly 4,600 yards and score 66 touchdowns.

In all, Holmes would win the 2002 Offensive Player of the Year award, receive votes for MVP in 2002 and 2003, be a three-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro, rushing-yard champion, a two-time league touchdown leader, the rushing-yards-per-game leader, the point-scoring leader, and twice the leader in yards from scrimmage.

7) EDGE James Harrison

Long before James Harrison was hip-thrusting hundreds of pounds into the air, he played his college ball at Kent State. After becoming an undrafted NFL free agent, he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers at age 24 and went on to a 16-season career.

All but two of those seasons would be spent as a Steeler. Known as a ferocious pass rusher and competitor, Harrison was knocked for being undersized coming out of college, measuring at just six feet tall.

Yet, Harrison played much bigger than that. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, was a four-time Pro Bowler, and a two-time first-team All-Pro. He’s also a two-time Super Bowl champion.

Harrison is perhaps best remembered not for being a pass rusher but for his infamous pick-six off of Kurt Warner in the Super Bowl. Harrison faked a blitz and then dropped into coverage, picking off the pass and taking it back 100 yards for a touchdown, which at the time was the longest play in Super Bowl history.

6) WR Rod Smith

Rod Smith played college football at Missouri Southern before becoming an undrafted NFL free agent. He signed with the Denver Broncos at the age of 25 and was the weapon of choice for Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway. Smith spent his entire 12-year career in the orange and blue.

Smith didn’t make a name for himself in Denver until his third season, which was the first of eight over the next nine years with over 1,000 receiving yards. He was a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion, which is where Smith really elevated his game.

In both of Denver’s back-to-back Super Bowl wins, Smith had over 200 receiving yards and three combined touchdowns. In the second Super Bowl, he topped 250 yards with two touchdowns.

5) TE Antonio Gates

Another player on this list who played at Kent State, Antonio Gates was famously a converted basketball player turned pass-catching phenom at the tight end position. Gates would sign as an undrafted NFL free agent with the then-San Diego Chargers at age 23 and play for a total of 16 years.

MORE: How Many Rounds Are There in the NFL Draft?

Gates helped revolutionize the TE position forever as one of the premiere athletes to ever play it. This helped change how scouts viewed the position moving forward, as they looked for athletes who could cause matchup problems on linebackers and safeties. Gates was a three-time first-team All-Pro selection and was named to eight consecutive Pro Bowls.

4) QB Tony Romo

Before he was the belle of the ball as an NFL broadcaster, Tony Romo was an East Illinois CFB player with an NFL dream. As an undrafted NFL free agent, Romo signed with the Cowboys at age 24. He served his first two seasons as the backup quarterback before taking over as the starter for Drew Bledsoe in Year 3 — something Bledsoe was not unfamiliar with.

Romo burst onto the scene with his exciting style of play and risk-taking. He was named to four Pro Bowls and was routinely listed among the top-tier QBs during his tenure. That tenure as the Cowboys’ QB was the best since the Super Bowl years of the 1990s. Romo led Dallas to four playoff appearances and a conference championship game.

3) DT John Randle

John Randle played in college at Texas A&M-Kingsville. After going undrafted, Randle signed with the Minnesota Vikings in 1990. He played for 14 seasons and finished his career with the Seattle Seahawks in 2003.

Randle burst onto the scene in his second season, which was the first of 10 out of 11 with over nine sacks.

Randle was a dominant force. He was named to seven Pro Bowls and was consecutively a first-team All-Pro selection six times between the years of 1993 and 1998. In 1997, he led the NFL in sacks with 15.5. In addition to being elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010, Randle was also named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-Decade team for the 1990s and named to NFL 100 All-Time Team.

2) QB Warren Moon

Warren Moon had maybe the most underrated career in the history of the sport. He played college at Washington and went undrafted after winning MVP of the Rose Bowl.

Moon’s NFL career didn’t begin until the ripe old age of 28. Due to being an undrafted NFL free agent and no NFL club willing to sign him, Moon began his career in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos. He became Edmonton’s full-time starter in 1980 and led them to three consecutive Grey Cup championships.

MORE: 2023 NFL Draft Team Needs

In 1984, Moon signed with the NFL’s Houston Oilers and went on to have a second Hall of Fame pro career. He was named to nine Pro Bowls in 10 years and was the Offensive Player of the Year in 1990.

Moon led the league in passing yards twice and completions three times. If not for a lack of postseason success, you could argue that Moon had one of the most improbable and impressive careers in professional football history.

Who Is the Best Undrafted Free Agent of All Time?

1) QB Kurt Warner

However, that title belongs to Kurt Warner. Warner went undrafted after playing college at Northern Iowa. He signed early with the Packers’ practice squad but was cut before training camp. Warner then spent the next few years in the Arena Football League for the Iowa Barnstormers before finally getting a shot in 1998 with the then-St. Louis Rams.

In 1999, Warner took over for Trent Green and had the most Cinderella season in NFL history. That year, he was the league’s MVP, first-team All-Pro, Super Bowl champion, and Super Bowl MVP. Warner led what would be known as the “Greatest Show on Turf” for six seasons.

He would go on to win the league’s MVP award again in 2001 and make his second Super Bowl appearance, ultimately losing on a last-second Vinatieri field goal. Warner eventually made a third Super Bowl appearance with the Arizona Cardinals. He played in two Super Bowls against two other members of this list, who each had game-defining plays in those games.

Warner’s career is storybook and as improbable as it gets. Off the field, he’s equally as accomplished. His wife’s son, whom he adopted, suffered a traumatic brain injury, which led to Warner creating Treasure House, which serves as a community and learning environment for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Honorable Mentions

These players could certainly have been argued for to have been on this list. All three of these players are among the greatest undrafted NFL free agents in history.

  • OT Larry Little
    Five-time Pro Bowler, five-time first-team All-Pro
  • G Brian Waters
    Six-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro
  • WR Wes Welker
    Five-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro, three-time NFL receptions leader

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Stories

Related Articles