Undrafted NFL Players Who Became Hall of Famers

By Jennifer Hassan in NFL
| April 27, 2020 2:26 am PDT
Undrafted NFL Hall of Famers

There’s so much hype in round one of the NFL Draft. Who will be the first player chosen? Which team will get him? Did they trade up for him? How much are they going to offer him to keep him from coasting over to another team?

In fact, there’s so much focus on round one that the players on day two of the draft, the ones chosen in rounds two and three, are often overlooked, as they sit in the green room watching others chosen before them walk past on their way to the podium.

Yet so many players from day two go on to become superstars. And some players from the first round fade away after a few seasons in the league.

People consider day two standouts to be a big surprise, like it’s upending the entire draft system. And yet consider this: 17 players who never got drafted at all went on to become superstar NFL players and have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Let’s take a look at a few of these undrafted NFL players who ended up making the Hall of Fame.

Warren Moon, Quarterback

It’s like walking past a diamond to pick up a penny. I don’t know how this player went undrafted in 1978. When he did enter the NFL, he became a nine-time Pro Bowler.

It’s possible that Moon, who was the Rose Bowl MVP in his college days, went undrafted by the NFL because in 1978 very few teams needed a quarterback. In the entire first round of that draft, only one quarterback was taken, and that was Doug Williams, who was invited to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Williams went on to play one of the best quarters in Super Bowl history in Super Bowl XXII when he was QB for the Washington Redskins as they utterly demoralized and demolished John Elway’s Broncos. Moon simply went unnoticed.

Since Moon was ignored by the NFL during all 12 draft rounds in ’78, he went into Canadian football and played for several seasons. Houston took notice of his performance with the Edmonton Eskimos and brought him on down to Texas in 1984.

Moon was so skilled that when he was brought onto the Oilers, the starting quarterback retired, knowing that he’d soon be pushed out, anyway.

Moon’s first couple of seasons with Houston were unspectacular. There were some staffing changes, and the team didn’t have a good season until 1986.

He took the team to the playoffs in the late eighties, and by 1989, Warren Moon was the NFL’s most highly paid player. Houston had offered him $10 million for another five years.

Moon played with the Oilers for ten years. With Houston, Moon made close to 200 touchdowns. He also had a couple of seasons in which he passed for more than 4,600 yards.

After Houston, Moon went on to play with the Seahawks, the Vikings, and the Chiefs. By the end of his NFL career, Moon had made 330 touchdowns. He was ensconced in the Hall of Fame in 2006. His highlights are definitely worth watching.

Mick Tingelhoff, Center

Vikings Ring of Honor

Here’s a player who brought a lot of happiness to Minnesota…once he was finally unearthed. He was overlooked at the draft in 1962 but was hired by the Vikings as a free agent and ended up playing with them for sixteen seasons.

He became the team’s starting center the very first year with them and never left that position as long as he was with the NFL. Tingelhoff was so happy to be a Viking starter that he never wore any pro ball colors other than Minnesota purple and gold.

Tingelhoff was voted to the Pro Bowl six times in his career with Minnesota and was awarded the Vikings Ring of Honor. He went to the Super Bowl four times and was thought to be the league’s best center in the 1970s.

Interestingly, the first center drafted in 1962 was Curtis Miranda, in round five. Centers weren’t at the top of teams’ lists for draft picks that year, which is how Tingelhoff slipped through the cracks into free agency.

Tingelhoff was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.

Kurt Warner, Quarterback

Warner had a few months of excitement, thinking he’d been picked up by the NFL, before his hopes were dashed. This future Super Bowl MVP was brought onto the Green Bay Packers roster as a free agent in 1994, the year that he was up for the draft but went unchosen.

However, Warner was released by Green Bay before the season started.

Warner worked at a grocery store for minimum wage after he was released by the Packers and also worked as an assistant coach with his college team in Northern Iowa.

He was then able to get onto an Arena Football team and played with the Iowa Barnstormers for a few years. Warner did so well in the Arena league that he garnered notice by the NFL for a second time.

The St. Louis Rams finally brought him onto their regular season roster, but he was the third-string QB and played very little. In 1999, he became the backup QB, and then the starting QB after the team’s original starter suffered injury.

It’s terrible, but it’s true: injury is a second-stringer’s best friend.

The Rams didn’t know what lay in their immediate future. Warner was still virtually an unknown quantity, and here he was, suddenly at the helm of the team.

That season, Warner threw 41 TDs for more than 4,300 yards. The Rams didn’t know what hit them. One game really hit home to St. Louis the fact that they’d unearthed a real gem in Warner.

The Rams had been losing to the San Francisco 49ers every single time the two teams had faced each other for quite a while, such that the past 17 games against San Francisco had the Rams at 0-17. The first time the Rams faced the 49ers with Warner as QB, he threw four touchdowns in the first half alone, and the Rams ended up winning 42-20.

Warner was the NFL MVP that year, and the league was blindsided by his abilities. The next year, he signed a contract for close to $50 million.

Fast forward to 2001. Warner was the NFL MVP again, and he took his team to the Super Bowl. The Pats triumphed over the Rams by three points (thanks to Adam Vinatieri), but the Rams were thrilled to have barnstormed their way all the way through the postseason.

Warner played with the Rams for a few more seasons, then moved on to the Giants and the Cardinals. In his time with the NFL, he became the Super Bowl MVP, a four-time Pro Bowler, won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, and was the league’s leader in passing touchdowns twice.

To Sum Things Up

The lesson? The draft isn’t everything. Just like the SATs don’t foretell future success, a woman’s pant size is not a determinant of her beauty, and a person’s IQ doesn’t give them a commensurate amount of common sense.

Perhaps instead of thinking of the NFL draft as the “be all and end all” of professional football potential, we should just be thinking of it as a “first draft.”

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