Football is one of the most physically-demanding sports in the world, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the players that have enjoyed the longest NFL careers of all-time. They defied father time and overcame the physical demands year after year, all while performing at a high level.
Most players would sacrifice anything to have a good game, let alone a good season. Those with the longest NFL careers didn’t just have a good year, they had a good two decades and likely could’ve kept playing if they didn’t have other goals and responsibilities outside of football.
Let’s be honest, staying dedicated to any one thing for 20 years is easier said than done. And the fact that some NFL players do it during their prime years – when they can literally be doing whatever they want – is even more incredible. It’s worth celebrating and that’s what we’ll do.
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Which Players Have the Longest NFL Careers?
Many football fans might be wondering which players have the longest NFL careers of all-time. It’s not something that gets discussed often, but games played is a valuable statistic that shows how dependable a player is – after all, you wouldn’t last long in the NFL if you weren’t good.
With that said, we’re going to take a look at the top-20 longest NFL careers in terms of regular season games played. Some of the names might surprise you, but others probably won’t. In fact, one is currently active and six others are inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
What’s even more interesting is that only three of the players among the top-20 longest NFL careers spent their entire career with one team and six others spent their careers with two teams. Continuity is rare in the NFL – not just among players, but coaches and front office.
20. Jim Marshall – 282 games
Jim Marshall is a retired defensive end that spent 19 years in the league – 18 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and one with the Cleveland Browns, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 1960 NFL Draft. He played in 282 career regular season games and 19 playoff games.
Marshall finished his career with 130.5 sacks, 30 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 1 defensive touchdown, and 1 safety. He made two Pro Bowl appearances and won the NFL Championship with the Vikings in 1969. He had four seasons of more than 10 sacks, including 14.0 in 1969.
19. Sean Landeta – 284 games
Sean Landeta is a retired punter that spent 21 years in the NFL – nine with the Giants, six with the Rams, five with the Eagles, one with the Packers, and one with the Buccaneers. He played in 284 career regular season games and 18 playoff games. He’s one of the best of the best.
Landeta finished his career with 1,401 punts for 60,707 yards. His longest punt was 74 yards and he averaged 43.3 yards per punt in his career. He was a two-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, two-time Super Bowl champion, and a member of the HOF All-1980s and 1990s teams.
18. Sebastian Janikowski – 284 games
Sebastian Janikowski is a retired kicker that spent 18 years in the league – 17 seasons with the Oakland Raiders and one with the Seattle Seahawks. The Raiders drafted him 17th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft. He played in 284 career regular season games and nine playoff games.
During his career, Janikowski made 436/542 field goals (80.4%) and 605/614 extra points (98.5%). His longest field goal was 63 yards, which was a record at one point. He made 58 career field goals over 50 yards and even hit a 61-yard field goal two years before hitting 63.
17. Shane Lechler – 286 games
Shane Lechler is a retired punter that spent 18 years in the league – 13 with the Raiders and five with the Houston Texans. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Raiders in the same draft as Janikowski (2000). He would go on to play 286 regular season games and 10 playoff games.
Lechler finished his career with 1,444 punts for 68,676 yards and was only blocked five times. His longest punt was 80 yards and he averaged 47.6 yards per punt. He was a seven-time Pro Bowl honoree, six-time All-Pro, and is a member of both the HOF 2000s and 2010s teams.
16. Drew Brees – 287 games
Drew Brees is a retired quarterback that spent 20 years in the league – five with the San Diego Chargers and 15 more with the New Orleans Saints. He was drafted by the Chargers in the second round of the 2001 draft. He played 287 regular season games and 18 playoff games.
Brees is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play. He finished his career with a 172-114 record, 7,142 completions, 80,358 yards, 571 passing touchdowns, 25 rushing touchdowns, and 243 interceptions. He won a Super Bowl, was a 13-time Pro Bowler, and a one-time All-Pro.
15. Darrell Green – 295 games
Darrell Green is a Hall of Fame cornerback that spent 20 seasons in the league – all with the Washington Commanders (then-Redskins). They drafted him with the 28th overall pick in 1983 and never regretted it. He played in 295 career regular season games and 18 playoff games.
Green finished his career with 1,202 tackles, 1.0 sack, 5 forced fumbles, 10 fumble recoveries, 54 interceptions, and 8 defensive touchdowns. He was a 7-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion that caught six interceptions and had two defensive touchdowns in the playoffs.
14. Bruce Matthews – 296 games
Bruce Matthews is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman that spent 19 seasons in the league – all with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. They drafted him with the ninth overall pick in 1983. He played in 296 career regular season games (229 consecutive starts) and 15 playoff games.
Matthews didn’t miss a single game between 1988 and 2001, which is difficult to do as an offensive lineman. During that time, he was a Pro Bowl honoree every single year and was also named an All-Pro seven times. He’s the father of former Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews.
13. Matt Stover – 297 games
Matt Stover is a retired kicker that spent 19 years in the league – 13 seasons with the Ravens, five with the Browns, and one with the Colts. He was drafted by the Giants in the 12th round of the 1990 NFL Draft. He played in 297 career regular season games and 16 playoff games.
During his career, Stover made 471 of 563 field goals (83.7%) and 591 of 594 extra points (99.5%). His longest field goal was 55 yards and he hit 13 career field goals over 50 yards. He was a one-time Pro Bowl honoree, one-time All-Pro, and even won a Super Bowl in 2000.
12. John Kasay – 301 games
John Kasay is a retired kicker that spent 20 years in the league – 15 with the Panthers, four with the Seahawks, and one with the Saints. He was drafted by the Seahawks in the fourth round of the 1991 NFL Draft. He played 301 regular season games and 12 playoff games.
During his career, Kasay made 461 of 563 field goals (81.9%) and 587 of 598 extra points (98.2%). His longest field goal was from 56 yards out and he made 42 field goals from at least 50 yards out. He was a one-time Pro Bowl honoree that led the NFL in field goals made in 1996.
11. Brett Favre – 302 games
Brett Favre is a Hall of Fame quarterback that spent 20 years in the NFL – 16 with the Packers, two with the Vikings, one with the Falcons, and one with the Jets. He was drafted by the Falcons in the second round in 1991. He played in 302 regular season games and 24 playoff games.
Favre finished his career with a 186-112 record, 6,300 completions, 71,838 yards, 508 passing touchdowns, 14 rushing touchdowns, and 336 interceptions. He won three-straight MVP awards between 1995 and 1997. He was also MVP runner-up two other times and won a Super Bowl.
10. John Carney – 302 games
John Carney is a retired kicker that spent 23 seasons in the NFL – 11 with the Chargers, eight with the Saints, two with the Buccaneers, and one with the Jaguars, Chiefs, Giants, and Rams. He went undrafted in 1987, but played 302 regular season games and nine playoff games.
During his career, Carney made 478 of 580 field goals (82.4%) and 628 of 638 extra points (98.4%). His longest field goal was from 54 yards out and he made 21 career field goals from beyond 50 yards. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and led the league in field goals made in 1994.
9. Jerry Rice – 303 games
Jerry Rice is a Hall of Fame wide receiver that spent 20 years in the league – 16 with the 49ers, four with the Raiders, and one with the Seahawks. He was drafted by the 49ers with the 16th overall pick in 1985. He played in 303 career regular season games and 29 playoff games.
Rice finished his career with 1,549 receptions, 22,895 yards, 197 receiving touchdowns, and 10 rushing touchdowns. He was a 13-time Pro Bowl honoree, 10-time All-Pro, and three-time Super Bowl champion. He also added 151 receptions, 2,245 yards, and 22 touchdowns in the playoffs.
8. Phil Dawson – 305 games
Phil Dawson is a retired kicker that spent 20 seasons in the league – 14 with the Browns, four with the 49ers, and two with the Cardinals. He went undrafted in 1998 out of the University of Texas, but wound up playing in 305 career regular season games and just five playoff games.
During his career, Dawson made 441 of 526 field goals (83.8%) and 518 of 531 extra points (97.6%). His longest field goal was 57 yards out and he made 42 of 60 field goals from beyond 50 yards. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2012, his final season with the Cleveland Browns.
7. Tom Brady – 318 games
Tom Brady is an active quarterback that has spent the past 22 seasons in the NFL – 20 with the Patriots and the past two seasons with the Buccaneers. He was a seventh round pick by the Patriots in 2000. He has played in 318 career regular season games and 47 playoff games.
Brady enters the 2022-23 season with a 243-73 record, 7,263 completions, 84,520 yards, 624 passing touchdowns, 27 rushing touchdowns, and just 203 interceptions. He holds a majority of the all-time quarterback records and has more Super Bowl wins (7) than any other franchise.
6. Jason Hanson – 327 games
Jason Hanson is a retired kicker that spent 21 seasons in the league – all with the Detroit Lions. He was drafted by the team in the second round of the 1992 NFL Draft. He would end up playing in 327 career regular season games and just six playoff games. He last played in 2012.
During his illustrious and long career, Hanson made 495 of 601 field goals (82.4%) and 665 of 673 extra point attempts (98..8%). His longest field goal was from 56 yards out and he made 52 of 93 field goals from beyond 50 yards. He was a two-time Pro Bowl honoree in 1997 and 1999.
5. George Blanda – 340 games
George Blanda is a Hall of Fame quarterback and kicker that spent 26 seasons in the NFL – 10 with the Bears, nine with the Raiders, and seven with the Oilers. He was drafted by the Bears in the 12th round of the 1949 draft. He played 340 regular season games and 20 playoff games.
Blanda finished his career with a 53-50-1 record, 26,920 passing yards, 236 touchdowns, and 277 interceptions. He also made 335 of 639 field goals (52.4%) and 943 of 959 extra points (98.3%). His longest field goal was 55 yards and he even won three AFL Championships.
4. Jeff Feagles – 352 games
Jeff Feagles is a retired punter that spent 22 seasons in the league – seven with the Giants, five with the Seahawks, four with the Cardinals, four with the Eagles, and two with the Patriots. He went undrafted in 1988, but wound up playing 352 regular season games and 11 playoff games.
Feagles currently holds the record for most consecutive regular season games played, having never missed a game in his life. He finished his career with 1,713 punts for 71,211 yards with his longest punt going 77 yards. He was a two-time Pro Bowl honoree and Super Bowl champion.
3. Gary Anderson – 353 games
Gary Anderson is a retired kicker that spent 23 seasons in the league – 13 with the Steelers, five with the Vikings, two with the Eagles, two with the Titans, and one with the 49ers. He was a seventh round draft pick, but went on to play 353 regular season games and 22 playoff games.
During his career, Anderson made 538 of 672 field goals (80.1%) and 820 of 827 extra points (99.2%). His longest field goal was from 55 yards out and he made 12 of 40 field goals from beyond 50 yards out. In 1998, he made 35 of 35 field goals and 59 of 59 extra point attempts.
2. Adam Vinatieri – 365 games
Adam Vinatieri is a retired kicker that spent 24 seasons in the league – 14 with the Indianapolis Colts and 10 more with the New England Patriots. He went undrafted in the 1996 draft out of South Dakota State, but went on to play 365 regular season games and 32 playoff games.
During his career, Vinatieri made 599 of 715 field goals (83.8%) and 874 of 898 extra points (97.3%). His longest field goal came from 57 yards out and he made 45 of 72 field goals from beyond 50 yards out. He won four Super Bowls – one with the Colts in three with the Patriots.
1. Morten Andersen – 382 games
Morten Andersen is a Hall of Fame kicker that spent 25 seasons in the league – 13 with the Saints, eight with the Falcons, two with the Chiefs, and one with the Vikings and Giants. He was a fourth round draft pick that went on to play 382 regular season games and 11 playoff games.
During his long and illustrious career, Andersen made 565 of 709 field goals (79.7%) and 849 of 859 extra point attempts (98.8%). His longest field goal came from 60 yards out and he made 40 of 84 field goals from beyond 50 yards away. Andersen was a seven-time Pro Bowl honoree.
Which Active Players Have the Longest NFL Careers?
There was only one active player listed among the top-20 longest NFL careers and that’s Tom Brady. After what looked like the end of his career just a few months ago, Brady shocked the world by coming out of retirement to play another season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With that said, Andy Lee is just two games away from cracking the top-20 and he’ll achieve that feat in 2022 as he’s slated to be the team’s starting punter for the sixth straight year. If he plays a full season this year, he’ll have 297 games played – which would tie him for 13th all-time.
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Not only that, but Larry Fitzgerald, Sam Koch, Dustin Colquitt, L.P. Ladouceur, Robbie Gould, and Mason Crosby are all within a few seasons (under 40 games) from cracking the top-20. If they continue their careers, they’ll retire with some of the longest NFL careers ever.
20 College Walk-Ons That Earned Amazing NFL Careers
NFL players come from a lot of unique backgrounds and each had a unique journey to the NFL, but college walk-ons were asked to overcome much more than other players. They weren’t necessarily given the same opportunities early in their football careers, but that didn’t stop them.
In fact, that lack of interest from college scouts and lack of scholarship opportunities fueled them to greatness both on and off the field. College walk-ons learn early on that nothing is going to be handed to them, which is why college walk-ons often work the hardest and give the most effort.
That’s not to say players on a scholarship don’t work hard or care about the game, but walk-ons certainly have a little more juice in that tank — a chip on the shoulder, as some say. They weren’t recruited. They weren’t wanted. They weren’t going to get anywhere unless they worked for it.
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Which NFL Players Were Once College Walk-Ons?
Through the years, we’ve witnessed several college walk-ons go on to have amazing careers in the NFL. They helped pave the way for future college walk-ons and are the reason why coaches continue to give walk-ons more opportunities on the football field — when they earn it, of course.
With that said, you’d be surprised at which NFL players were once college walk-ons. It doesn’t get talked about often enough and most people eventually forget they were ever a walk-on. It’s a little disappointing, but it’s also a testament to just how incredible their NFL career is or was.
If you’re wondering which NFL players were once college walk-ons, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to highlight 20 memorable names from the past and present that had to fight their way onto a college roster before finding success in the toughest league in the world.
20. TE Dennis Pitta
NFL Career: 2010-2016 (6 seasons)
Teams: Baltimore Ravens
Career Stats: 66 games, 330 targets, 224 receptions, 2,098 receiving yards, 13 receiving touchdowns
Dennis Pitta walked on at BYU as a wide receiver, but quickly transitioned to a tight end at the direction of his head coach. He finished his college career with the most receptions in campus history, as well as the third-most receiving yards and sixth most receiving touchdowns.
He was eventually drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens in 2010. After an uneventful rookie year, he played well over the next two seasons before injuries plagued his 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons. He returned in 2016 and lit it up, but retired the following year.
19. OL Spencer Long
College: University of Nebraska
NFL Career: 2014-2019 (6 seasons)
Teams: Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
Career Stats: 67 games played, 44 games started, 1 kick return for 12 yards
Spencer Long was a walk-on at the University of Nebraska in 2009 after playing defensive end in high school. He redshirted that season and didn’t make his first appearance until 2011. He would start every game for the Cornhuskers in 2011 and 2012, but suffered an injury in 2013.
Despite the injury, Long was drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. He appeared in five games as a rookie and was a regular starter for the team over the next three years. After a short stint in the AFC East, Long announced his retirement in 2020.
18. OL Matt Paradis
College: Boise State University
NFL Career: 2015-present (7 seasons)
Teams: Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers
Career Stats: 98 games played, 98 games started, 5 fumble recoveries
Matt Paradis played eight-man football at Council High School. Although he didn’t receive any scholarship offers, he walked on at Boise State and redshirted his first year. He transitioned from defense to offense his freshman year and was starting center by his junior season.
After a successful career at Boise State, Paradis was drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. He spent that season on the practice squad, but was a full-time starter in 2015 and has been ever since. He won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2016.
17. OL Joe Berger
College: Michigan Technological University
NFL Career: 2005-2017 (12 seasons)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys
Career Stats: 145 games played, 84 games started, 3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Joe Berger played two years of varsity football in high school as a linebacker and offensive lineman. He walked on at Michigan Tech and was immediately converted into an offensive tackle. He earned 31 starts at tackle during his four-year college career at Michigan Tech.
Berger was drafted in the sixth round of the 2005 draft by the Carolina Panthers. He didn’t see consistent playing time until 2009 and became a mainstay on the Vikings’ offensive line for seven seasons, earning 64 starts over that span — 46 of which came in his final three seasons.
16. S T.J. Ward
College: University of Oregon
NFL Career: 2010-2017 (8 seasons)
Teams: Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career Stats: 107 games, 607 tackles, 8 interceptions, 44 passes defensed, 8.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, 10 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 2 defensive touchdowns
T.J. Ward played for the legendary De La Salle high school in the midst of their 151-game winning streak. Unfortunately, an injury his senior year resulted in a lack of college offers. He eventually walked on at Oregon and didn’t earn a starting spot until his senior year in 2009.
Despite only one year as a college starter, the Cleveland Browns drafted Ward in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He was the team’s starting strong safety for four years before signing with the Denver Broncos for three years. He retired after one season in Tampa Bay.
15. S Rashad Johnson
College: University of Alabama
NFL Career: 2009-2016 (8 seasons)
Teams: Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans
Career Stats: 114 games, 384 tackles, 1.0 sack, 7 tackles for loss, 15 interceptions, 31 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 3 defensive touchdowns
Rashad Johnson only received two offers out of high school and they were to small colleges, but he had bigger dreams. Instead, he decided to walk on at Alabama as a running back. By his redshirt sophomore season, he transitioned to safety and finally earned his full scholarship.
His success at safety resulted in Johnson being drafted in the third round of the 2009 draft by the Arizona Cardinals. He spent his first seven years in the league with Arizona and eventually became their full-time starter in 2014. He signed with Tennessee in 2016 and retired in 2018.
14. DE Ziggy Ansah
NFL Career: 2013-2020 (8 seasons)
Teams: Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers
Career Stats: 93 games, 236 tackles, 50.5 sacks, 63 tackles for loss, 118 quarterback hits, 12 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries 4 passes defensed
Ziggy Ansah, born Ezekiel Ansah in Ghana, moved to the US in 2008 to attend BYU on an academic scholarship. He was cut from the basketball team twice and played a year on the track team before walking on to their football squad. He recorded 4.5 sacks his senior year.
Ansah was drafted seventh overall by the Detroit Lions in 2013. He was an immediate starter and spent his first six years in the league with Detroit, recording 48.0 sacks in that span. He then had one-year stints with the 49ers (2019) and Seahawks (2020), but lacked playing time.
13. LB Joe Schobert
College: University of Wisconsin
NFL Career: 2016-present (6 seasons)
Teams: Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers
Career Stats: 87 games, 616 tackles, 11.0 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, 25 quarterback hits, 9 interceptions, 28 passes defensed, 10 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 defensive touchdown
Joe Schobert was a running back, safety, and return specialist in high school. Despite no D-I scholarship offers, Schobert eventually walked on at Wisconsin. He spent four years as a linebacker on campus, recording 79 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles his senior year.
His impressive senior year resulted in Schobert being drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He became a regular starter in 2017 and led the league in tackles. He has recorded more than 100 combined tackles in each of the past four seasons.
12. OL Jack Conklin
College: Michigan State University
NFL Career: 2016-present (6 seasons)
Teams: Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns
Career Stats: 78 games played, 78 games started, 1 fumble recovery, 1 tackle
Jack Conklin played football and basketball in high school before joining the Michigan State football team as a walk-on. As a redshirt freshman, he was a regular starter at offensive tackle and was a First-Team All-American by his junior year. He decided to skip his senior season.
It was a good decision for Conklin and one that resulted in him being drafted eighth overall in 2016 by the Tennessee Titans. He was their starting tackle for four years before signing with the Cleveland Browns ahead of the 2020 season. Today, he’s one of the best tackles in the league.
11. S Jim Leonhard
College: University of Wisconsin
NFL Career: 2005-2014 (10 seasons)
Teams: Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos
Career Stats: 142 games, 431 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hits, 14 interceptions, 35 passes defensed, 3 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 1 defensive touchdown
Jim Leonhard played safety and quarterback at Flambeau High School, but failed to receive a D-I scholarship offer. He decided to walk-on at Wisconsin and tied the school record for most career interceptions. Despite his success, he didn’t earn a scholarship until his senior year.
Not only was Jim Leonhard a walk-on in college, but he went undrafted in 2005 and later signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent. He started to prove himself in the NFL and became a regular full-time starter with the Ravens in 2008 and eventually the Jets in 2009.
10. OL Ricky Wagner
College: University of Wisconsin
NFL Career: 2013-2020 (8 seasons)
Teams: Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers
Career Stats: 118 games played, 96 games started, 3 fumble recoveries
Ricky Wagner was a wide receiver in high school, but only so he could avoid injury and save himself for the basketball season. He eventually walked on as a tight end at Fresno State and transitioned to offensive tackle. He was a regular starter at tackle by his sophomore season.
His success at Fresno State resulted in Wagner being drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. While he only started two games his rookie year, he became a full-time starter for Baltimore and the Detroit Lions from 2014-2020. He’s currently a free agent.
9. OL Logan Mankins
College: Fresno State University
NFL Career: 2005-2015 (11 seasons)
Teams: New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career Stats: 161 games played, 161 games started, 1 fumble recovery
Logan Mankins started to turn heads at Mariposa High School, but didn’t receive any offers to play college ball. Instead, he decided to join Fresno State as a walk-on and redshirted the 2000 season. He was the team’s starting left tackle the following year and the team’s MVP in 2004.
His success at Fresno State caught the eye of the New England Patriots, who drafted him 32nd overall in 2005. He spent nine years and started 130 games as a guard in front of Tom Brady. He finished his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, only missing one game in two years.
8. QB Baker Mayfield
College: Texas Tech University, University of Oklahoma
NFL Career: 2018-present (4 seasons)
Teams: Cleveland Browns
Career Stats: 56 games, 28-27 record, 13,281 passing yards, 1,108 completions, 62.2% completion percentage, 85 touchdowns, 49 interceptions, 5 rushing touchdowns
Baker Mayfield was a three-star recruit out of high school and walked-on at Texas Tech. In 2013, he became the first true freshman walk-on QB to start an FBS season opener. After one year, he walked on at Oklahoma and became the first walk-on to win the Heisman Trophy.
His incredible run didn’t end there. Mayfield was eventually drafted first overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2018 and has been the team’s starting quarterback ever since. He has recorded at least 3,500 passing yards and 22 touchdowns in each of his first three seasons in the NFL.
7. WR Santana Moss
College: University of Miami (Florida)
NFL Career: 2001-2014 (14 seasons)
Teams: New York Jets, Washington Redskins
Career Stats: 197 games, 1,268 targets, 732 receptions, 10,283 receiving yards, 66 receiving touchdowns, 3 punt return touchdowns
Santana Moss was a wide receiver and return specialist in high school, but had to earn his stripes as a college walk-on with the Miami Hurricanes. It didn’t take him long to earn that scholarship, doing so after just three games. He’s the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards.
After four years of college ball, Moss was drafted 16th overall by the New York Jets in 2001. He started to make an impact in 2002 and had his breakout year in 2003 with 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns. Moss recorded a career-high 1,483 yards in 2005 and 93 receptions in 2010.
6. CB Josh Norman
College: Coastal Carolina University
NFL Career: 2012-present (10 seasons)
Teams: Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers
Career Stats: 128 games, 472 tackles, 1.0 sack, 13 tackles for loss, 16 interceptions, 87 passes defensed, 18 forced fumbles, 7 fumble recoveries, 3 defensive touchdowns
Josh Norman was a two-way football player in high school, but also played track, basketball, and baseball. After not receiving any scholarship offers, he joined the Coastal Carolina football team as a walk-on in 2008. He became an immediate difference maker on the football field.
After his strong play in college, Norman was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. After a strong rookie year, he had a rough sophomore campaign. Since then, he has been one of the top cornerbacks in the league and is reinventing himself as of late.
5. WR Jordy Nelson
College: Kansas State University
NFL Career: 2008-2018 (10 seasons)
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders
Career Stats: 151 games, 924 targets, 613 receptions, 8,587 receiving yards, 72 receiving touchdowns
Jordy Nelson not only excelled as a dual-threat quarterback in high school, but also at track and basketball. He was a walk-on at Kansas State in 2003, but didn’t earn meaningful playing time as a receiver until 2005. He had 122 catches, 1,606 yards, and 11 touchdowns as a senior.
After a successful college career, Nelson was drafted in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. He made an immediate impact, but broke out in 2011 with 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns — despite only starting 9 games. He was a force to be reckoned with.
4. K Stephen Gostkowski
College: University of Memphis
NFL Career: 2006-2020 (15 seasons)
Teams: New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans
Career Stats: 219 games, 454 field goals attempted, 392 field goals made, 86.3% field goal percentage, 98.2% extra point percentage
Stephen Gostkowski was a skilled soccer, football, and baseball player in high school. He was originally given a scholarship to play baseball at Memphis, but also decided to join the football team as a walk-on. He would go on to score 369 points as a kicker — which is a school record.
After four successful years at Memphis, Gostkowski was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 draft by the New England Patriots. Alongside Tom Brady, Gostkowski won three championships and currently holds the record for most consecutive extra points made with 479 extra points.
3. LB Clay Matthews III
NFL Career: 2009-2019 (11 seasons)
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams
Career Stats: 156 games, 519 tackles, 91.5 sacks, 130 tackles for loss, 200 quarterback hits, 6 interceptions, 44 passes defensed, 17 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries, 3 defensive touchdowns
Clay Matthews comes from a family of professional football players, so it might be surprising to see him on this list of college walk-ons — but he is. After only receiving offers from small colleges, Matthews chose to attend USC and join their football team as a walk-on player.
After excelling as a special teams player in college, Matthews was drafted 26th overall by the Green Bay Packers in 2009. He spent 10 years with them and recorded 83.5 sacks in that span before signing with the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. He hasn’t played a snap of football since.
2. WR Antonio Brown
College: Central Michigan University
NFL Career: 2010-present (12 seasons)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Career Stats: 144 games, 1,387 targets, 915 receptions, 12,164 receiving yards, 83 receiving touchdowns, 4 punt return touchdowns, 1 kick return touchdown
Antonio Brown was a running back, quarterback, wide receiver, and punt returner in high school. Brown struggled to find a spot on a college roster, but joined Central Michigan’s football team as a walk-on in 2007. He dominated in each of his three seasons for Central Michigan.
Despite his consistent play in college, Brown didn’t receive a lot of attention from NFL scouts. He was eventually drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since then, he has become one of the most explosive and talented wide receivers in the game.
1. DE J.J. Watt
College: Central Michigan University, University of Wisconsin
NFL Career: 2011-present (11 seasons)
Teams: Houston Texans, Arizona Cardinals
Career Stats: 135 games, 547 tackles, 102.0 sacks, 177 tackles for loss, 292 quarterback hits, 2 interceptions, 63 passes defensed, 26 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries, 3 defensive touchdowns, 1 safety
J.J. Watt played football, track, basketball, and baseball in high school, but was just a two-star football recruit. He accepted a scholarship to play for Central Michigan as a tight end. After one year, he gave up his scholarship and became a walk-on defensive end at Wisconsin-Madison.
After a successful two years at Wisconsin, Watt was drafted first overall by the Houston Texans in 2011. He spent 10 years with the team and amassed 16.0 sacks in four different seasons — including 20.5 sacks in two different seasons. In 2021, he chose to sign with the Cardinals.
Recent College Walk-Ons to Win the Burlsworth Trophy
Did you know the FBS has an end-of-the-season award named the Burlsworth Trophy? It’s awarded each year to the most outstanding player in the FBS that started their career as a walk-on. The trophy was named after one of the greatest walk-ons ever, Brandon Burlsworth.
The first player to win the award was C Sean Bedford in 2010. The next four winners were QB Austin Davis in 2011, QB Matt McGloin in 2012, WR Jared Abbrederis in 2013, and WR Justin Hardy in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, QB Baker Mayfield became the first player to win it twice.
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Mayfield almost won it again in 2017, but was beaten out by QB Luke Falk — who was a finalist the previous two years when Baker won. WR Hunter Renfrow won in 2018, DE Kenny Willekes won in 2019, and the most recent winner of the trophy was C Jimmy Morrissey in 2020.
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