Every year, we see a new class of star athletes enter the NFL through the draft. In fact, we just witnessed 262 college star athletes hear their name called just a week ago. The real question is whether or not those athletes will successfully transition into star athletes at the next level.
While some of them will – and some sooner than others – most of the players that get drafted will become an afterthought and/or find themselves out of the league in a few years (if that). It goes to show that star athletes at the college level aren’t always star athletes at the NFL level.
There’s no guarantees and no promises when joining the league through the draft. Getting there is one thing, but proving yourself and showing that you can run with the best of them is a whole different story. With millions of dollars at stake, coaches and front office members need results.
Star Athletes Who Joined the NFL as Undrafted Free Agents
What’s crazy is that some of the best, most profitable star athletes from this year’s incoming class (as we’ve seen in previous years) weren’t drafted at all. They never heard their name called during the NFL Draft, despite having productive and successful collegiate careers.
These players take a different path to the NFL. They’re signed as undrafted free agents – usually within days of the draft ending – and are given a second chance at competing. Once signed, they have the same opportunity as everyone else – prove your worth, and you’re in.
And every year, a handful of players step up to the plate and crush it. They don’t always get an opportunity right out of the gate, but they continue to earn that opportunity over time and give their team no reason but to play them. In fact, let’s take a look at some of those players!
20. P Jeff Feagles
Jeff Feagles played football, basketball, and baseball at Gerard High School before playing one season of football at Scottsdale Community College. He then played for the University of Miami for three seasons, recording 119 punts for 4,659 yards, an average of 39.2 yards per punt.
Despite going undrafted in the 1988 NFL Draft, Feagles spent 22 seasons in the league with the Giants, Seahawks, Cardinals, Eagles, and Patriots. He never missed a game and finished his career with 1,713 punts, 71,211 yards, and 41.6 yards per punt. He also won a Super Bowl.
19. K Adam Vinatieri
Adam Vinatieri played football, wrestling, basketball, soccer, and track at Central High School. In football, he was a quarterback and middle linebacker, but eventually switched to kicker. He played four years at South Dakota State as kicker and punter – he’s their all-time leading scorer.
Despite going undrafted in the 1996 NFL Draft, he spent 24 seasons in the league with the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots. In 365 games played, he hit 599 of his 715 field goals (83.8%) and 874 of his 898 extra points (97.3%). He hit 45 field goals from over 50 yards.
18. K Justin Tucker
Justin Tucker played soccer and football at Westlake High School – he was teammates with Nick Foles. Though he played wide receiver, safety, and kicker, he narrowed it down to kicker and punter at the University of Texas. In four years, he made 40 of 48 field goals (83.3%).
Despite going undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft, Tucker is now entering his 11th season in the league – all of which with the Baltimore Ravens. He has played 161 games, making 326 of his 358 field goals. His field goal percentage of 91.1% is currently the best percentage all-time.
17. QB Tony Romo
Tony Romo played Little League baseball and played football, basketball, golf, and tennis. He garnered some interest from college basketball teams, but decided to play football at Eastern Illinois University. In three years, he threw for 7,816 yards, 82 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions.
Despite going undrafted in the 2003 NFL Draft, the Cowboys assured their interest and signed him as an undrafted free agent. He made his first start in 2006 and was full-time starter by 2007. In 156 games, he had a 78-49 record, 34,183 yards, 248 touchdowns, and 117 interceptions.
16. RB Joe Perry
Joe Perry played four sports at David Starr Jordan High School. He was rejected by UCLA, but scored 22 touchdowns in his lone season at Compton Junior College. His talent finally caught the eye of UCLA, but he decided to enlist in the Navy and played for Naval Air Station Alameda.
Despite going undrafted, he garnered interest from the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers – eventually becoming the 49ers’ first African American player. He spent 16 seasons in the league, rushing for 9,723 yards and 71 touchdowns – as well as 12 receiving touchdowns.
15. OT/K Lou Groza
Lou Groza played football, basketball, and baseball at Martins Ferry High School – he was captain in both baseball and football. He played three games for Ohio State University before enlisting in the Army. In 1945, he served as a surgical technician with the 96th Infantry Division.
Despite going undrafted at the time, he received a contract from his former college coach – who was the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. He played offensive line and kicker for 21 seasons in the league, playing in 268 games, making 264 field goals, and 810 extra points.
14. WR Wes Welker
Wes Welker played football at Heritage Hall High School in Oklahoma City, but was barely recruited due to his height. He ended up playing four years at Texas Tech and appeared in 50 games for the Red Raiders – recording 259 catches, 3,069 yards, and 21 touchdowns.
Despite going undrafted in the 2004 NFL Draft, he was quickly signed as an undrafted free agent. He didn’t make his first NFL catch until the 2005 season, but ended up playing 12 years in the league. He finished his career with 903 catches, 9,924 yards, and 50 touchdowns.
13. OT Jason Peters
Jason Peters played football and basketball at Queen City High School in Texas before playing for the University of Arkansas’ football team. He spent one season on the defensive line before switching to tight end, where he had 27 catches for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns in 36 games.
Despite going undrafted in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills signed Peters as an undrafted free agent. That’s when he transitioned to offensive tackle, where he spent the next 17 seasons in the league. He’s a Super Bowl champion and was also named to nine Pro Bowls in that time.
12. QB Warren Moon
Warren Moon played football at Alexander Hamilton High School, becoming the starting quarterback during his junior year. He spent one season at West Los Angeles College before joining the University of Washington – where he threw for 3,277 yards and 19 touchdowns.
He decided to forego the draft and joined the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL. After an extremely successful CFL career, he joined the Houston Oilers in 1984 and spent 17 seasons in the NFL. He finished his career with a 102-101 record, 49,325 yards, 291 touchdowns, and 233 picks.
11. CB Willie Wood
Willie Wood played football at Armstrong High School and spent one season at Coalinga Junior College in 1956. The following year, he started a career at USC and played three seasons with the Trojans. In 30 games, he threw for 772 yards, seven touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
Despite going undrafted in the 1960 NFL Draft, Wood signed with the Green Bay Packers and transitioned from quarterback to safety. He spent 12 seasons in the league – all with Green Bay – and finished his career with 48 interceptions, 7 championships, and 8 Pro Bowl appearances.
10. CB Emmitt Thomas
Emmitt Thomas played football at Marshall High School in Texas before attending Bishop College in Dallas. He went undrafted in the 1966 NFL Draft, but was quickly signed as an undrafted free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs and played 13 seasons with the team.
During his 13-year NFL career, Thomas embarked on a Hall of Fame career as a cornerback. He played in 181 games (157 starts) and recorded 58 interceptions, 5 touchdowns, 1 forced fumble, 7 fumble recoveries, and three championships. He led the league in interceptions twice.
9. CB Willie Brown
Willie Brown played football at Taylor High School in Yazoo City, Mississippi before playing football at Grambling State. Although he played well, he went undrafted in the 1963 NFL Draft after leaving school. He was later signed as an undrafted free agent by the Houston Oilers.
He didn’t last long in Houston and was released during training camp, but landed on the Denver Broncos and was a starting cornerback mid-season. He spent 16 seasons in the league, recording 54 interceptions, 2 touchdowns, 1 safety, 2.0 sacks, and 4 fumble recoveries.
8. CB Emlen Tunnell
Nicknamed ‘The Gremlin,’ Emlen Tunnell played running back for Radnor High School and was a star player in 1940 and 1941. He took his talents to the University of Toledo, where he played football and basketball. After a stint with the Coast Guard, he played for the University of Iowa.
Despite going undrafted in the 1948 draft, Tunnel was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Giants. He spent 14 seasons in the NFL (11 with the Giants, 3 with Green Bay), where he had 79 interceptions, 4 touchdowns, 12 forced fumbles, and 16 fumble recoveries.
7. LB London Fletcher
London Fletcher excelled in football and basketball at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland, Ohio before enrolling at John Carroll University. He again excelled at football and basketball, recording 202 tackles as a senior – which remains a school record to this day.
Despite going undrafted in the 1998 NFL Draft, Fletcher signed as an undrafted free agent with the St. Louis Rams. He spent 16 seasons in the league, recording 2,039 tackles, 109 tackles for loss, 39.0 sacks, 2 safeties, 23 interceptions, 19 forced fumbles, and 12 fumble recoveries.
6. RB Priest Holmes
Priest Holmes played football at John Marshall High School, where he rushed for 2,061 yards as a senior. He enrolled at the University of Texas and played on their football team for four years. During that time, he rushed for 1,276 yards and 20 touchdowns (13 TDs as a senior).
Despite going undrafted in the 1997 NFL Draft, Holmes signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent. He had a breakout season in 1998 and an incredible six-year stint with the Chiefs. He spent 10 years in the league and rushed for 8,172 yards and 86 touchdowns.
5. DB Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane
Richard Lane, commonly known as Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane, played basketball and football and L.C. Anderson High School. He later played one season of football at Scottsbluff Junior College before serving four years in the Army – where he played well for the Fort Ord football team.
While working at an aircraft plant, he decided to ask the Los Angeles Rams for a tryout. He later made the team and embarked on a Hall of Fame, 14-year career in the NFL. He caught 14 interceptions his rookie year and finished his career with 68 picks, 1 safety, and 6 touchdowns.
4. DL John Randle
John Randle played football at Hearne High School before playing two years of college football at Trinity Valley Community College and two years at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. He went undrafted in 1990, but earned a tryout for his brother’s team – the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That tryout didn’t lead to a contract, but he was later signed as an undrafted free agent by the Minnesota Vikings. He spent 14 seasons in the league – 11 with the Vikings. He finished his career with 556 tackles, 137.5 sacks, 29 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, and one pick.
3. LB James Harrison
James Harrison played football and track at Coventry High School and while he played well, his off-the-field issues resulted in top colleges rescinding their scholarship offers. He was a walk-on at Kent State University and played in 24 games after sitting out his freshman year.
Despite going undrafted in 2002, the Pittsburgh Steelers signed him as an undrafted free agent. He went from being a practice squad player to one of the most feared defensive players ever. He played in 193 career games and recorded 811 tackles, 128 tackles for loss, and 84.5 sacks.
2. TE Antonio Gates
Antonio Gates played football at Central High School and wanted to play football and basketball at Michigan State University. When that fell through, he decided to pursue basketball at Eastern Michigan University before transferring to Kent State. He never played college football.
NBA scouts weren’t interested in Gates, but there were as many as 19 NFL teams that called him for a tryout. He eventually signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent and spent 16 seasons with the team. He retired with 955 catches, 11,841 yards, and 116 TDs.
1. QB Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner has one of the most interesting football careers in NFL history. He played football at Regis High School before enrolling at the University of Northern Iowa. He was the team’s third string quarterback until his senior year, eventually being named Offensive Player of the Year.
Warner went undrafted in 1994 and earned a tryout with the Packers, but that didn’t work out and he was working at a grocery store shortly after. He then got a shot in the Arena Football League and eventually signed with the St. Louis Rams in 1997. He made his first start in 1999.
He spent 12 seasons in the league and threw for 32,344 yards and 208 touchdowns. He was a two-time MVP and won the Super Bowl in 1999. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017.
Star Athletes That Went Undrafted in Other Sports
Star athletes going undrafted before having incredible careers at the pro level is nothing new to the sports community and it certainly isn’t limited to just the NFL. It’s something that happens in other sports every single year and it’s what makes sports so exciting as you witness greatness.
Fred VanVleet, Udonis Haslem, Ben Wallace, Avery Johnson, John Starks, and Bruce Bowen are all NBA star athletes that went undrafted. Larry Walker, Bruce Sutter, Kirby Yates, Larry Bowa, Kevin Millar, and Bobby Bonilla are MLB star athletes that went undrafted.
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Let’s not forget about the NHL – Ed Belfour, Sergei Bobrovsky, Dan Boyle, Dino Ciccarelli, Mike Giordano, Steve Duchesne, Geoff Courtnall, Tim Kerr, and Wayne Gretzky all went undrafted. Don’t worry, college star athletes will continue to emerge despite going undrafted.
NFL Practice Squad Salaries and 15 Regular Jobs That Compare
Did you know that most NFL practice squad salaries compare to that of most dentists and physicians? That might surprise a lot of people considering how little attention these players get. And while they don’t play on Sundays, they still make much more than the average person.
Let’s not forget that the NFL is the richest and most profitable professional sports league in the world – along with Major League Baseball (MLB). The NFL pulls in roughly $13-$16 million in revenue every year and while the COVID-19 pandemic hurt a little, they’ve recovered well.
The average NFL team is worth nearly $3.5 billion and while most players are compensated well, there’s still a large gap between what the players make and what the owners make. You don’t really recognize it with today’s superstars, but you do with NFL practice squad salaries.
How Much Are NFL Practice Squad Salaries?
NFL practice squad salaries range anywhere from $165,000 to $252,000 per year minimum – more than what the average American makes per year, which is abou $50,000. Some practice squad players make more than the minimum and some even twice as much as the minimum.
Like those that make the regular roster, NFL practice squad players are paid on a weekly basis during the season, which amounts to roughly $9,200 to $14,000 per week for 18 weeks. You also have to consider the sponsorships, signing bonuses, and other income sources they have.
Compared to the average American, NFL practice squad salaries are huge. Compared to NFL owners and the NFL itself, NFL practice squad salaries are laughable. Nonetheless, let’s take a look at 15 regular jobs that have a median annual salary between $165,000 and $252,000.
15. General Dentists
Dentists make $180,000 per year on average. Some of us enjoy and look forward to the dentist, while others hate and even fear the dentist. No matter which side of the spectrum you fall on, you can’t deny the importance of oral health and necessity of those annual dental check-ups.
There are three notable athletes that became dentists after retiring from sport – former Heisman Trophy winner Dr. William Abb “Billy” Cannon, former Olympic silver medalist Dr. Wendy Louise Houvenaghel, and former Cy Young winner Dr. James “Gentleman Jim” Lonborg.
Pediatricians make roughly $184,000 per year on average. They provide medical care for infants, children, teenagers, and adolescents. In the United States, pediatricians generally provide care for anyone under the age of 21 years old. In the United Kingdom, it’s 18 years old.
Dr. Diane Straub is one former athlete that eventually turned to pedatrics. She’s a former two-time gold medalist at the Paralympic Games for swimming, but became a top pediatrician in the state of Florida later in her life. She has achieved a lot, despite not having a right leg.
13. Airline Pilots & Co-Pilots
Airline pilots and co-pilots make roughly $187,000 per year on average. Let’s be honest, pilots have one of the coolest jobs in the world. While it comes with a lot of responsibility, it also comes with a pretty big paycheck. You get to travel the world and you always have a nice view at work.
There are a lot of famous athletes that have or had their pilots license, including Tom Brady, Tony Stewart, Cory Lidle, Alexei Kovalev, Bobby Clampett, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth. It’s clear that athletes are extremely attracted to the thrill of controlling and flying an airplane.
12. Nurse Anesthetists
Nurse anesthetists make roughly $189,000 per year on average. They’re registered nurses that assist or collaborate in providing pain medication (anesthesia). Nurse anesthetists care for the patient before, during, and after anesthesia is administered, ensuring a safe environment.
The nurse anesthetist assists the anesthesiologist and monitors the patient’s bodily and biological functions while under medication. One notable athlete-turned-nurse anesthetist is Mark Barr. He’s a former Paralympian swimmer that won 2018 Elite Paratriathlete of the Year.
11. Chief Executives
Chief executives make roughly $198,000 per year on average. Also known as a chief executive officer or CEO, these guys are the big guns at any company. They manage the company’s operations and delegate tasks to those below them. When things go bad, they’re often blamed.
It’s extremely common for athletes to become CEOs of their own companies and sometimes other people’s companies. For example, former New York Yankees’ superstar Alex Rodriguez is the current CEO of A-Rod Corp, an investment firm that works with promising businesses.
10. Internal Medicine Physician
Internal medicine physicians, also known as internists, make roughly $211,000 per year on average. These physicians specialize in the detection, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of internal diseases – those that affect internal organs, such as the heart, kidney, liver and lungs.
Although not common, there are several internists that pursue a career in sports medicine and most of these people are former athletes – usually at the collegiate level. Nancy Gritter is a name worth mentioning – she became the first female lead internist for an NFL team in 2018.
9. Family Medicine Physician
Family medicine physicians make roughly $214,000 per year on average. A family medicine physician is a primary care physician that provides health care to patients of any age. They’re perfect for families that want to maintain a close relationship with the same trusted doctor.
One famous athlete that became a family care physician upon retiring was Randy Gregg. He spent 10 seasons in the NHL before completing a residency at the University of Alberta. He currently runs a successful sports medicine practice as a family physician in Edmonton.
Prosthodontists make roughly $215,000 per year on average. While a dentist is focused on repairing teeth and preventing tooth disease, a prosthodontist is focused on replacing teeth and restoring oral health through treatment. They complete an additional three years of training.
Elaine Lim is referred to as the ‘Master of Implant Prosthodontics’ by the ICOI and has enjoyed a successful career in dentistry. Before that, she was one of the world’s most promising table tennis players and is currently a blue badge umpire for the International Table Tennis Federation.
Psychiatrists make roughly $217,000 per year on average. A psychiatrist is a mental health professional that specializes in the detection, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health disorders. They’re similar to a psychologist, but treat more complex conditions.
Psychiatry has become an extremely important component to some athlete’s lives. With mental health awareness at an all-time high in the sports community, sports psychiatrists are being employed by many top athletes to help them achieve greatness both on and off the field.
Ophthalmologists make roughly $219,000 per year on average. An ophthalmologist, also known as an eye surgeon, is a medical doctor that detects, prevents, diagnoses, and treats eye disease and other eye-related conditions. They often specialize in surgical procedures.
One athlete that comes to mind here is Dr. Renée Richards. She’s a former professional tennis player and one of the first professional athletes to identify as a transgender. After retiring from tennis, she became an ophthalmologist – in addition to coaching Martina Navratilova in tennis.
5. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons
Oral and maxillofacial surgeons make roughly $235,000 per year on average. An oral and maxillofacial surgeon is responsible for detecting, treating, preventing, and diagnosing a wide range of conditions that affect the head, neck, face, jaws, oral, and maxillofacial regions.
Two athletes stand out when it comes to oral and maxillofacial surgeons – former Clemson Tigers’ quarterback Cullen Harper and former professional basketball player Robert ‘Bob’ Guyette. Harper began his residency at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in 2020.
Orthodontists make roughly $238,000 per year on average. An orthodontist is a specialty in the dental space that focuses on detecting, diagnosing, treating, and preventing misaligned teeth or jaws. If you’ve ever had braces or a retainer, then you’re well-aware of the orthodontist.
We previously mentioned Billy Cannon as one of the three notable athletes turned dentists, but he also graduated with a degree in orthodontics from Loyola University Dental School. He was hired by the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s dental clinic and passed away on May 20, 2018.
3. Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Obstetricians and gynecologists, sometimes referred to as OB/GYN, make roughly $239,000 per year on average. Obstetricians specialize in pregnancy, while gynecologists specialize in reproductive health. If you plan on having a baby, you’ll get used to seeing these doctors.
T.J. Abraham is a former football player that eventually became an obstetrics and gynecology doctor. Despite delivering thousands of babies, he was forced to retire at the age of 42 due to a brain injury he likely suffered during his football days. It’s a sad story, but a reality for many.
Surgeons make roughly $250,000 per year on average. Of course, there are plenty of surgeons out there that make way more than that, but it all depends on what type of surgeon you are. Nonetheless, it’s clear that surgeons are typically at the top of the medical field among doctors.
Two athletes I’d like to highlight here are Myron Rolle and Dan Fortmann. Rolle was a linebacker in the NFL for three years before pursuing a career as a neurosurgeon. Fortmann spent eight seasons in the NFL, but also spent time as a surgeon for the Navy and St. Joseph Hospital.
Anesthesiologists make roughly $271,000 per year on average. They’re responsible for creating anesthetic plans and administering anesthesia to patients. While they sometimes have their nurse anesthetists administer the anesthesia, they’re always monitoring the procedure.
Nate Hughes is a former NFL player that later pursued a career as an anesthesiologist. He’s currently a resident at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi and was hard at work during the COVID-19 pandemic’s darkest day as he helped patients daily.
Comparing NFL Practice Squad Salaries to NFL Superstars
The minimum an NFL practice squad player can make is $165,000 (for rookies and those with less than two years experience) or $252,000 (for those with at least three seasons in the NFL), but how does that compare to some of the league’s biggest superstars? Prepare to be shocked.
Patrick Mahomes, for example, makes a whopping $45 million per year ($2.5 million per week for 18 weeks). He’s the highest-paid player in the league, but that spot could be taken by Aaron Rodgers, depending on how this offseason goes. He wants to be the highest-paid player ever.
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Outside of Patrick Mahomes, there are two quarterbacks making over $40 million per year – Dak Prescott at $40 million per year and Josh Allen at $43 million per year. That’s more than $2 million more per week than most NFL practice squad salaries. That’s how valuable stars are.
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