Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 5/21/12
10. Emlen Tunnell, Iowa, Defensive Back
Undrafted out of Iowa in 1949, Tunnell became the first African-American player to ever play for the New York Giants. Starting in 1950, Tunnell started in eight straight Pro Bowls. He was selected as an All-Pro eight out of nine seasons from 1949-1957. Tunnell won NFL Championships in 1956 and 1961, and was named to the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967, becoming the first ever African-American player to be enshrined in Canton. At the time of his retirement, Tunnell was the NFL’s all-time leader in interceptions with 79. Tunnell’s great career as a defensive back is that much more impressive considering that he played at a time when black players were still discriminated against in a variety of ways. One form of discrimination was the NFL draft itself, which helps explains why Tunnell may have gone undrafted.
 
9. Willie Brown, Grambling, Cornerback
Signed by the Broncos in 1963, Brown was named an AFL All-Star in five of his first seven seasons. Following the AFL-NFL merger, he was named to the first four Pro Bowl rosters. Along with being named to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, Brown was also named a member of the AFL All-Time team. The latter is quite a remarkable accomplishment, considering that Brown only played in the AFL for the first seven seasons of his career. Brown was ranked the 50thgreatest player of all-time in 1999 by Sporting News, the first Raider to be named on the list. Brown was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1984 in his first year of eligibility. He also played a key role in the Raiders Super Bowl XI victory over the Vikings. In what was perhaps the most memorable moment of his entire career, Brown intercepted a Fran Tarkenton pass and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown, at the time a Super Bowl record for an interception return. Brown retired in 1978, finishing his sixteen Pro Football seasons with 54 interceptions.
 
8. Marion Motley, Nevada, Fullback
Marion Motley was one of the most feared players of all time. Few ball carriers have ever run the football with such reckless abandon and utter disregard for the human condition. While comparing eras is never easy, I’d put my money on Motley succeeding in any era. Motley played for the Browns in every season of his career with the exception of his last, when he departed for the rival Steelers in 1955. He is the all-time leading rusher of the AAFC (All-America Football Conference). In 1950, Motley rushed for 188 yards on 11 carries against the Steelers—a 17.1 yards-per-carry average, a record which stood until Michael Vick broke it in 2002. Motley was a two time rushing champion, first in 1948 in the AAFC and again in 1950 in the NFL. He was named to the NFL 1940s All-Decade Team, as well as the NFL 75thAnniversary All-Time Team. From 1946-1950, Motley helped the Browns win five straight AAFC and NFL championships. Motley was listed as the 32ndgreatest player of all-time by Sporting News. Motley’s most important accomplishment was probably breaking the color barrier in 1946 along with three other African-American players. Though he’s remembered primarily for his running, Motley also played linebacker on defense. Even back then this was very uncommon. Had his career not been shortened by injuries, Motley would be even higher on this list.
 
7. Warren Moon, Washington, Quarterback
Since Moon played the first six seasons of his career in the CFL, it’s rather difficult to define his place in NFL history. Moon played in the NFL from 1984-2000 and put up some huge numbers in the process. When I look at Moon’s numbers, I see quantity but mixed quality. This explains why I put him this low despite the fact that some have hailed him as the best undrafted player of all-time. First of all, I take issue with anyone who wants to include Moon’s CFL stats in with his NFL stats. While it’s all well and good that Moon had a high degree of success in the CFL, the competition in the CFL simply cannot compare to the level of competition in the NFL. Moon’s accomplishments after 1984, the year he was signed by the Houston Oilers, are the only body of evidence I am assessing. He had a very difficult adjustment period in the league, throwing for 61 touchdowns and 79 interceptions in his first four seasons on the Oilers. From 1988-1998, Moon was one of the very best quarterbacks in the league. His accolades are numerous and he was selected to the Hall of Fame in 2006. I’m not trying to take anything away from him; I just wanted to explain my rationale for not placing Moon higher on the list.
 
6. Kurt Warner, Northern Iowa, Quarterback
Like Moon, I bet many people would have Warner placed higher on this list than at number six. Either I’m prejudiced against quarterbacks or everyone else is. Naturally my money is on the latter. When I look at Warner’s career, I see a mixed record. While he had six absolutely great seasons (1999, 2000, 2001, 2007, 2008, and 2009), the years in between were more down than up. Warner couldn’t keep himself on the field in the middle of his career, and when he did he mostly struggled. The fact that his career was bookended by greatness has certainly led some to forget the muddled years that came between Super Bowl appearances. Regardless of all this, it’s still crazy to think that Warner went undrafted when you look at his daunting career numbers. Warner was awarded two MVPs and one Super Bowl MVP. He has the third-highest completion percentage in NFL history. Perhaps Warner’s most remarkable statistic is that he holds the three highest passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history. Warner was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time All-Pro. The guy had an outstanding career and will be a Hall of Famer soon. Just don’t let anyone tell you he was the gold standard of consistency.
 
5. Wes Welker, Texas Tech, Wide Receiver
Wes Welker has been an absolute nemesis to opposing defenses ever since the Dolphins gave him a shot after going undrafted in 2004. Not only has he put up huge numbers, Welker’s also changed the way NFL teams look at the receiver position. Welker has proven that small, quick, slot receivers that can work the middle of the field can be more dangerous than tall burners on the outside. On the Dolphins, Welker set records for kick return yardage and touchdowns. Then he was foolishly traded to the Patriots where he’s been a perennial Pro Bowler ever since. Welker’s led the NFL in receptions three times. He’s also the one receiver in NFL history to record at least 110 receptions in three different seasons. Last season, Welker had by far his best season statistically with 1569 yards and 9 touchdowns. Since being traded to the Patriots in 2007, no player has caught more passes than Wes Welker. Watching your defense trying to stop Welker is an extremely frustrating experience.
 
4. Antonio Gates, Kent State, Tight End
Antonio Gates is not only one of the great players of his generation; he has also played a key role in revolutionizing the tight end position in the NFL. It is because of Gates that NFL teams now routinely draft or sign tight ends that can stretch the field, even if they can barely hold a block. When Gates first entered the league, he had no blocking skills to speak of, but he excelled at separating and catching the ball away from his body. His unparalleled success influenced the shift away from the bigger and slower run-blocking tight ends that came before. Gates has been selected to eight Pro Bowls, five All-Pro teams, the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, and the Chargers 50thAnniversary Team. At age 31, Gates’ career still has a long way to go. Someday he may even surpass Tony Gonzalez for some of the all-time tight end marks.
 
3. James Harrison, Kent State, Linebacker
James Harrison is the best outside linebacker in football today. Unlike DeMarcus Ware, Harrison isn’t a liability against the run. The man can do it all, and those who call him a dirty player just don’t understand football. Harrison has been named to the last five Pro Bowls and to four out of the last five All-Pro Teams. In 2008, Harrison was named the Defensive Player of the Year. He has also earned two Super Bowl rings. Harrison has logged 58 sacks thus far in his career. He has battles injuries the last few seasons, but if he can get himself healthy then he could still have a lot of good years left in him. When you look at some of Harrison’s measureables, it’s actually not all that surprising that he went undrafted. One of the reasons is probably because he is actually quite slow and short for an outside linebacker. Harrison uses his relatively short stature to his advantage by utilizing the leverage it creates as he rips through low off the edge. No pass rusher gets lower off the snap than Harrison. For his size, Harrison is probably the strongest player in the NFL. If not the best, Harrison is the most feared undrafted player of all-time.
 
2. John Randle, Texas A&M-Kingsville, Defensive Tackle
John Randle has 137.5 sacks in his career. After reading that, you might be thinking that the position entry above was a typo and that Randle was actually a defensive end. Wrong. Randle was the best pass-rushing defensive tackle of all-time. Brett Favre was once quoted as calling him “unblockable” on artificial turf. For his career, Randle had 10 eight sack seasons. Randle was named to seven Pro Bowls and 5 All-Pro Teams, and to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team. In 2010, Randle was elected to the Hall of Fame in just his second year of eligibility. Randle was known for his eccentric face-painting and trash-talking, but he always backed up his antics with results.
 
1. Dick “Night Train” Lane, Cornerback
The story of how Night Train Lane became an all-time NFL great is absolutely nothing short of remarkable. Lane attended community college for one year before dropping out and joining the U.S. Army for the next four years. When he showed up to the Rams practice facility, the rest was history. Out of all the players on this list, none of them had a more unexpectedly great career than Lane. His 69 career interceptions rank Lane third on the all-time list. In his rookie season in 1952, Lane set the record for interceptions in a single season with 14. This record still stands today, despite the fact that Lane did it at a time when regular seasons were only twelve games long. It doesn’t get much more impressive than that. Lane was named to seven Pro Bowls, the NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, and the NFL’s 75thAnniversary Team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974. Along with being a great cover man, Lane was one of the most vicious tacklers to ever play the game. Many would argue that Night Train Lane was the best cornerback that ever lived, and although all the other players on this list had great careers in their own right, no one would argue the same for them. That is why Night Train Lane is the best undrafted free agent in NFL history.
 

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