25 College Unknowns Who Thrived In The NFL

25. WR Victor Cruz

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Although relatively small in stature, Victor Cruz was humongous as a New York Giant. The Giants signed the 6-foot, 205-pound Cruz out of UMass as an undrafted free agent on April 25, 2010. Cruz and quarterback Eli Manning quickly developed chemistry in the swamps of Jersey and became a lethal tandem. The 2012 Second Team All-Pro caught 303 passes for 4,549 yards and 25 scores over 70 contests. The 32-year-old Cruz, who suffered a torn patellar tendon on October 12, 2014, formally retired as a Giant this past summer.

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24. RB Arian Foster

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Arian Foster launched in Houston as a Texan. The Texans signed the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Foster as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee on May 1, 2009. Despite initially struggling to secure playing time, Foster emerged as the Texans’ starter in 2010 and proceeded to outrun the competition. The four-time Pro Bowler averaged 4.4 yards per carry for 6.527 yards and 54 touchdowns. Moreover, Foster recorded 255 receptions for 2,346 yards and 14 scores. The 32-year-old Foster, a 2010 First Team All-Pro, retired on October 24, 2016.

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23. S Andre Waters

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Eagles safety Andre Waters brutalized opponents for 10 seasons in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles obtained the 5-foot-11, 200-pound Waters out of Cheyney University of Pennsylvania as an undrafted free agent in May 1984. “Dirty Waters,” a fearsome hitter who made the Eagles’ 75th Anniversary Team, compiled 931 tackles and 15 interceptions over 156 games in the NFL. Tragically, a 44-year-old Waters died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on November 20, 2006.

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22. QB Dave Krieg

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Dave Krieg flew as a Seahawk in Seattle. The Seahawks signed the 6-foot-1, 193-pound Krieg out of Milton College as an undrafted free agent in 1980. “Mudbone” more than exceeded expectations and he procured a place on three Pro Bowl teams. Krieg, who completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 38,147 yards and 261 touchdowns, made the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor in 2004.

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21. CB Malcolm Butler

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Malcolm Butler is often lauded as the New England Patriots’ best cornerback since Ty Law. The Patriots signed the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Butler out of West Alabama as an undrafted free agent on May 19, 2014. Butler, a 2015 Pro Bowler and 2016 Second Team All-Pro, tallied 173 tackles and eight picks over 59 games as a Patriot. Most importantly, the unheralded ballplayer excels in critical moments and made the game-winning interception against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. Butler, who was benched during New England’s 41-33 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII, signed a five-year deal valued at $61 million with the Tennessee Titans on March 15.

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20. WR Julian Edelman

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New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman is a legitimate threat on the gridiron. The Patriots acquired the 5-foot-10, 198-pound Edelman out of Kent State with the 232nd pick in 2009. Since then, the diminutive Californian has tallied 450 receptions for 4,791 yards and 26 touchdowns over 107 games. Edelman was also a pivotal member of two of New England’s Super Bowl-winning squads.

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19. WR Wayne Chrebet

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Wayne Chrebet soared on Long Island as a Hofstra Flying Dutchman. Accordingly, the New York Jets acquired the 5-foot-10, 188-pound Chrebet as an undrafted free agent in 1995. Chrebet proceeded to record 580 catches for 7,365 yards and 41 scores over 11 seasons as a Jet. Alas, a 31-year-old Chrebet permanently shelved his cleats after sustaining a serious concussion versus the San Diego Chargers on November 6, 2005. Chrebet, who was born and raised in Garfield, New Jersey, became a member of the New York Jets’ Ring of Honor in December 2014.

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18. RB Priest Holmes

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This Priest was electric on the gridiron. The Baltimore Ravens obtained running back Priest Holmes out of Texas as an undrafted free agent in 1997. The 5-foot-9, 213-pound Holmes soared as a Raven and carried the ball 459 times for 2,102 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, once Jamal Lewis emerged as a budding star, the Ravens’ hierarchy allowed Holmes to ink a free agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001. Holmes proved himself in the Show-Me State and became an elite back. In fact, as a Chief, the three-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro topped the league in rushing yards in 2001 and earned NFL Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2002. Holmes, who retired at the age of 33 due to neck problems, was named to the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame in November 2014.

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17. WR Marques Colston

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Like Wayne Chrebet nearly a decade before him, Marques Colston soared on Long Island as a Hofstra Flying Dutchman. The New Orleans Saints drafted the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Colston with the 252nd selection in 2006. Colston impressively marched with Saints signal-caller Drew Brees and procured a place on the 2006 All-Rookie Team. Colston, who helped New Orleans win Super Bowl XLIV in February 2010, caught 711 passes for 9,759 yards and 72 touchdowns over 10 years as a Saint. New Orleans waived a 31-year-old Colston following the 2015 campaign and he announced his retirement shortly thereafter.

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16. WR Wes Welker

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Wes Welker is frequently hailed as the preeminent slot receiver in the annals of football. The San Diego Chargers offered the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Welker, a two-time All-Big 12 first teamer at Texas Tech University, a contract as an undrafted free agent in 2004. Days after the decorated Red Raider was waived by San Diego, Welker gained employment as a Miami Dolphin. Although effective in the Sunshine State, Welker became a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro after the Dolphins sent him to the New England Patriots on March 6, 2007. Overall, as a Dolphin, Patriot, Denver Bronco and St. Louis Ram, Welker snagged 903 pigskins for 9,924 yards and 50 scores.

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15. OT Joe Jacoby

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Joe Jacoby was a beautiful Hog for the Washington Redskins. The Redskins signed the 6-foot-7, 295-pound Jacoby out of Louisville as a free agent in 1981. The mammoth tackle, a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro, was voted to the league’s 2000s All-Decade squad. Many fans and analysts alike contend that the 59-year-old Jacoby deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

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14. QB Tony Romo

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is criminally unappreciated. The Cowboys landed the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Romo in 2003 as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Illinois University. Following approximately three seasons as a benchwarmer, the four-time Pro Bowler supplanted Drew Bledsoe under center in October 2006. Romo, who had the league’s top passer rating in 2014, remained the Cowboys’ starter until he sustained a broken bone in his back during a preseason game on August 29, 2016. Romo never managed to guide Dallas to its first Lombardi Trophy since 1995. Nonetheless, Romo was a statistical machine who demands respect for his prowess on the gridiron. Romo, who completed 65.3 percent of his 4,335 attempts for 34,183 yards and 248 touchdowns, is a borderline Hall of Famer.

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13. LB Greg Lloyd

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Linebacker Greg Lloyd was a menacing presence both on and off the field. The Pittsburgh Steelers acquired the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Lloyd out of Fort Valley State with the 150th choice in 1987. After an uninspiring rookie season, Lloyd worked to become a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time First Team All-Pro. The 1994 AFC Defensive Player of the Year retired with 397 tackles, 54.5 sacks, 24 forced fumbles and 11 interceptions. Lloyd was voted to the Steelers’ All-Time squad in 2007.

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12. LB James Harrison

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James Harrison was a frightening individual on the field. The Pittsburgh Steelers signed the 6-foot, 255-pound Harrison in 2002 as an undrafted linebacker out of Kent State. As an employee in the Steel City, Harrison became a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro. More importantly, “Deebo” was a critical piece of two of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl-winning squads. Harrison, who retired on April 16 with 793 tackles, 84.5 sacks and 34 forced fumbles, has an outside chance to gain residency in Canton, Ohio.

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11. S Cliff Harris

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Cliff Harris shined in the Lone Star State as a Cowboy throughout the 1970s. The Cowboys gained the 6-foot-1, 188-pound Harris out of Ouachita Baptist as an undrafted free agent in 1970. Harris, who recorded 29 interceptions over 141 games, was a lockdown defender in the secondary and an instrumental figure in Dallas’ Super Bowl triumphs in 1971 and 1977. Furthermore, Harris, a six-time Pro Bowler and four-time First Team All-Pro, made the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor on October 10, 2004.

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10. WR Antonio Brown

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Antonio Brown may eventually retire as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most accomplished wide receiver. The Steelers selected the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Brown out of Central Michigan with the 195th choice in 2010. The six-time Pro Bowler has flourished in the Steel City and matured into Ben Roethlisberger’s primary target. The 30-year-old Brown, a four-time First Team All-Pro, has caught 779 passes for 10,462 yards and 67 touchdowns over 122 games.

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9. S Donnie Shell

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Safety Donnie Shell and the Steel Curtain are essentially interchangeable. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Shell, an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina State, was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time First Team All-Pro in 14 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The tenacious South Carolinian also shined on four of the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning squads in the 1970s. Shell, a member of the Steelers’ All-Time Team, permanently shelved his cleats in 1987 after compiling 51 interceptions in 201 games.

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8. LB Kevin Greene

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Linebacker Kevin Greene was an intense monster on the gridiron. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Greene was badly undervalued coming out of Auburn. Consequently, he lasted until the Los Angeles Rams drafted him with the 113th selection in 1985. The 1996 Defensive Player of the Year proved naysayers wrong and was a force for all four organizations that employed him. Greene, who notched 773 tackles and 160.0 sacks and was named to the league’s 1990s All-Decade squad, became a Hall of Famer on August 6, 2016.

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7. DT John Randle

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John Randle was a supposedly undersized defensive tackle who manhandled the competition. The Minnesota Vikings grabbed the 6-foot-1, 287-pound Randle out of Texas A&M–Kingsville as an undrafted free agent in 1990. Randle grew into a seven-time Pro Bowler and six-time All-Pro who topped the league in sacks with 15.5 in 1997. Randle was elected to the Hall of Fame on February 6, 2010.

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6. RB Terrell Davis


Granted, Terrell Davis benefited from running behind an overpowering offensive line. Such criticisms notwithstanding, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Davis was a skilled workhorse who galloped as a Denver Bronco. Davis, a member of the 1990s NFL All-Decade Team, averaged 4.6 yards per carry for 7,607 yards and 60 scores. Most significantly, T.D. seized the Super Bowl MVP award after he ran the Broncos to a 31-24 victory over the Green Bay Packers on January 25, 1998. Davis was inducted into the Hall of Fame in August 2017.

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5. CB Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane

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Dick Lane was an absolutely savage tackler and fearsome enforcer in the secondary. The Los Angeles Rams inked the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Lane to a free agent deal after he went undrafted in 1952. The “Night Train”, a seven-time Pro Bowler and seven-time First Team All-Pro, earned a spot on the league’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. However, Lane reached the peak of his career when he became a Hall of Famer in July 1974. Lane suffered a fatal heart attack at age 73 on January 29, 2002.

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4. TE Antonio Gates

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Tight end Antonio Gates is far more productive on the gridiron than he was on the hardwood. The San Diego Chargers acquired the 6-foot-4, 255-pound former basketball player out of Kent State University as an undrafted free agent in 2003. Gates and Drew Brees gelled and developed into a formidable tandem in America’s Finest City. Gates, an eight-time Pro Bowler and member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, has compiled 939 catches for 11,631 yards and 115 scores over 227 contests working alongside Brees and Philip Rivers as a Charger. The 38-year-old Gates is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer.

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3. S Willie Wood

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Willie Wood was a standout safety who played a vital role in the Green Bay Packers’ dynasty in the 1960s. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Wood, an undrafted free agent out of USC, was a five-time First Team All-Pro selection who led the NFL with nine picks in 1962. Wood, who notched 48 interceptions over 166 contests, is a member of the Packers’ Hall of Fame and the league’s 1960s All-Decade squad. Wood became a Hall of Famer in 1989.

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2. QB Warren Moon

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Warren Moon had an otherworldly ability to throw a pigskin. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Moon went undrafted out of Washington in 1978. Thus, Moon traveled north of the border and became a CFL legend. Following six brilliant seasons as an Edmonton Eskimo, Moon joined the Houston Oilers in 1984. Moon, a nine-time Pro Bowler who was named the league’s MVP in 1990, completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 49,325 yards and 291 touchdowns. Moon is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Canadian Hall of Fame.

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1. QB Kurt Warner

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It is utterly mind-boggling that Kurt Warner didn’t become a starting signal-caller in the NFL until he was 28 years old. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Warner went undrafted in 1994 out of the University of Northern Iowa. Consequently, the two-time First Team All-Pro began stocking shelves at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Falls while competing as an Iowa Barnstormer from 1995 to 1997. In 1998, the Arena Football Hall of Famer moved overseas to Amsterdam where he played for the Admirals and topped NFL Europe in touchdowns and passing yards.

Warner was finally granted an opportunity in 1999 with the St. Louis Rams. Warner prospered from the outset, earned that season’s MVP trophy, and led the infamously-futile Rams to a 23-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. Equally astoundingly, Warner’s arm allowed the inept Arizona Cardinals to fly to Super Bowl XLIII. Warner, a two-time MVP who established 14 passing records, became a Hall of Famer on August 5, 2017.

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