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Best undrafted NFL players in the seven round draft era

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The Denver Broncos have four players of the top thirty on this list.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL draft was changed from 12 rounds to eight in 1993 and then to seven in 1994, where it has remained.

So players like Gary Kubiak, who was drafted in the eighth round, would have been an undrafted free agent had he played in the modern NFL. Similarly Karl Mecklenburg, who was taken in the 12th round, would have also been an undrafted college player had he played in the modern NFL.

So with that in mind, I restricted this to players who played at least some of their NFL career after 1993. I used Pro Football Reference.com’s approximate value (AV) to compare players across positions, and I excluded kickers (the original list was the top 100 - there were five undrafted kickers who made it).

I then calculated AV per year in the league that the players generated and sorted from highest to lowest. I also kept an eye on All-Pro selections, Pro Bowl selections and career longevity. The rankings are as below. Note that Phillip Lindsay is not on the list, mainly because he has only played two NFL seasons. AV/year is in the column on the far left. Asterisk denotes player currently in the Hall of Fame.

Rk Player From To G GS Yrs 1st TM ProBowl 1st TM AllPro AV AV/yr
1 Jeff Saturday 1999 2012 211 202 14 6 2 154 11.0
2 Rod Smith 1995 2006 183 158 12 3 0 126 10.5
3 Sam Mills 1986 1997 181 173 12 5 1 126 10.5
4 John Randle* 1990 2003 219 185 14 7 6 138 9.9
5 Kent Hull 1986 1996 170 169 11 3 2 107 9.7
6 Jeff Garcia 1999 2009 125 116 11 4 0 104 9.5
7 Bart Oates 1985 1995 172 165 11 5 0 104 9.5
8 Kurt Warner* 1998 2009 124 116 12 4 2 113 9.4
9 Priest Holmes 1997 2007 113 82 10 3 3 94 9.4
10 Warren Moon* 1990 2000 124 119 11 7 0 103 9.4
11 Wes Welker 2004 2015 175 102 12 5 2 110 9.2
12 London Fletcher 1998 2013 256 240 16 4 0 145 9.1
13 Tony Romo 2004 2016 156 127 13 4 0 116 8.9
14 Tony Jones 1990 2000 171 171 11 1 0 95 8.6
15 Eugene Robinson 1990 2000 174 174 11 3 0 95 8.6
16 Kris Dielman 2003 2011 120 97 9 4 0 77 8.6
17 Cameron Wake 2009 2019 155 126 11 5 1 94 8.5
18 Damon Harrison 2012 2019 117 110 8 0 1 66 8.3
19 Brian Waters 2000 2013 186 170 13 6 2 106 8.2
20 Jason Peters 2004 2019 205 195 16 9 2 130 8.1
21 Chris Harris 2011 2019 139 121 9 4 1 73 8.1
22 Antonio Gates 2003 2018 236 190 16 8 3 127 7.9
23 Arian Foster 2009 2016 80 70 8 4 1 63 7.9
24 Doug Baldwin 2011 2018 123 90 8 2 0 62 7.8
25 Matt Lepsis 1998 2007 150 133 10 0 0 77 7.7
26 Nate Newton 1986 1999 198 180 14 6 2 107 7.6
27 Greg Kragen 1985 1997 200 164 13 1 0 98 7.5
28 Bart Scott 2002 2012 172 118 11 1 0 82 7.5
29 James Harrison 2002 2017 193 117 15 5 2 111 7.4
30 Dave Krieg 1980 1998 213 175 19 3 0 138 7.3
31 Donald Penn 2007 2019 194 189 13 3 0 94 7.2
32 Tyson Clabo 2006 2014 132 116 9 1 0 65 7.2
33 Adewale Ogunleye 2001 2010 130 119 10 1 0 72 7.2
34 Derrick Deese 1994 2004 152 132 11 0 0 76 6.9
35 Shaun O'Hara 2000 2010 151 135 11 3 0 76 6.9
36 Jessie Tuggle 1987 2000 209 189 14 5 0 95 6.8
37 Shelton Quarles 1997 2006 148 113 10 1 0 67 6.7
38 George Koonce 1992 2000 128 118 9 0 0 60 6.7
39 Pat Williams 1997 2010 200 157 14 3 0 93 6.6
40 Ryan Lilja 2004 2012 111 104 8 0 0 53 6.6
41 Robbie Tobeck 1994 2006 176 166 13 1 0 86 6.6
42 Bernardo Harris 1995 2002 120 89 8 0 0 52 6.5
43 Sammy Knight 1997 2008 183 168 12 1 0 77 6.4
44 Gary Plummer 1986 1997 180 163 12 0 0 77 6.4
45 Michael Bennett 2009 2019 156 101 11 3 0 70 6.4
46 Jon Kitna 1997 2011 141 124 14 0 0 89 6.4
47 Brent Alexander 1994 2005 192 178 12 0 0 76 6.3
48 Fred Jackson 2007 2015 122 61 9 0 0 57 6.3
49 Ramon Foster 2009 2019 160 145 11 0 0 69 6.3
50 Vontaze Burfict 2012 2019 79 77 8 1 0 50 6.3
51 Richard Cooper 1990 1998 108 103 8 0 0 50 6.3
52 Antonio Pierce 2001 2009 124 94 9 1 0 56 6.2
53 Casey Wiegmann 1997 2011 227 200 15 1 0 93 6.2
54 Rufus Porter 1988 1997 135 98 10 2 0 62 6.2
55 Wayne Chrebet 1995 2005 152 104 11 0 0 68 6.2
56 Lyle Sendlein 2007 2015 136 124 9 0 0 55 6.1
57 Jake Delhomme 1999 2011 103 96 11 1 0 67 6.1
58 Tony Siragusa 1990 2001 169 148 12 0 0 73 6.1
59 Robert Griffith 1994 2006 195 164 13 1 0 78 6.0
60 Brandon Moore 2003 2012 144 142 10 1 0 60 6.0
61 Joe Andruzzi 1998 2006 122 103 9 0 0 54 6.0
62 Jeff Criswell 1987 1998 171 146 12 0 0 71 5.9
63 Andy McCollum 1995 2008 199 159 14 0 0 82 5.9
64 Mark Tuinei 1985 1997 195 147 13 2 0 76 5.8
65 Barry Sims 1999 2010 174 141 12 0 0 70 5.8
66 Demar Dotson 2009 2019 130 106 10 0 0 58 5.8
67 Hank Fraley 2001 2010 142 123 10 0 0 58 5.8
68 Ronald McKinnon 1996 2005 157 128 10 0 0 58 5.8
69 Pierre Thomas 2007 2015 110 38 9 0 0 52 5.8
70 Hollis Thomas 1996 2009 178 136 13 0 0 75 5.8
71 Ryan Clark 2002 2014 177 152 13 1 0 74 5.7
72 Brent Grimes 2007 2018 148 132 12 4 0 68 5.7
73 James Williams 1991 2002 166 143 12 1 0 68 5.7
74 Orlando Brown 1994 2005 129 119 9 0 0 51 5.7
75 Zefross Moss 1990 1999 154 137 11 0 0 62 5.6
76 James Hall 2000 2011 165 129 12 0 0 66 5.5
77 Lonnie Marts 1991 2000 147 108 10 0 0 55 5.5
78 Tommy Kelly 2004 2014 150 135 11 0 0 60 5.5
79 Victor Green 1993 2003 168 114 11 0 0 59 5.4
80 Quintin Mikell 2003 2013 169 103 11 1 0 59 5.4
81 Nate Washington 2005 2015 159 107 11 0 0 59 5.4
82 Bryan Robinson 1997 2010 207 170 14 0 0 75 5.4
83 Wesley Woodyard 2008 2019 180 110 12 0 0 63 5.3
84 Cullen Jenkins 2004 2016 184 138 13 0 0 68 5.2
85 Darrick Brilz 1987 1998 175 124 12 0 0 61 5.1
86 Tramon Williams 2007 2019 199 153 13 1 0 65 5.0
87 Paris Lenon 2002 2013 189 128 12 0 0 60 5.0
88 Malcom Floyd 2004 2015 121 77 11 0 0 54 4.9
89 Chris Clemons 2004 2015 162 86 11 0 0 53 4.8
90 Mike Adams 2004 2019 228 149 16 2 0 72 4.5
91 Bobby Hamilton 1996 2007 165 104 12 0 0 54 4.5
92 Mike Jones 1991 2002 183 99 12 0 0 54 4.5
93 Otis Smith 1991 2003 180 108 13 0 0 56 4.3
94 Lorenzo Alexander 2007 2019 191 58 13 2 0 52 4.0
95 Jay Bellamy 1994 2007 179 125 14 0 0 53 3.8

The four Denver Broncos who made the top 30 are Rod Smith, Chris Harris, Matt Lepsis and Greg Kragen. Other former Broncos who show up on the list are Casey Weigman, Wesley Woodyard, Paris Lenon, Tony Jones and Mike Adams. With the exception of Woodyard, those guys are not generally associated with the Broncos - although you could make the argument for Tony Jones since he was the starting LT for our first two Super Bowl wins.

One of the problems with using AV/year as the metric is that it penalizes a guy like James Harrison (2x AP, 5x PB) simply for having a long career where he was not a very good player at the end. I don’t think that Matt Lepsis (who never made the Pro Bowl) is a better player than James Harrison, who was the defensive player of the year in 2008. However, that is what the numbers say (numbers can lie, or at least be tortured into lying). Harrison’s yearly average is really hurt by the final six years of his NFL career (2012-2017) where he was a shadow of the player he once was. He had 26.5 sacks and 61 QB hits in his final six seasons. He had 16.0 sacks and 19 QB hits in 2008.

Matt Lepsis, OTOH, started 133 of a possible 144 games for the Broncos from 1999-2007 (he missed 10 games with injury in 2006). He started all 16 games in his final NFL season 2007 before he retired. This gave him a higher AV/yr value than James Harrison. In other words, Lepsis was average or above average as starting tackle for almost every year he played while Harrison was elite for a few years, but below average for enough years at the end of his career that it dragged his yearly average down.

Re-doing this study using All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections (in that order), Harrison moves up to ninth from 29th and Lepsis and Kragen both drop way down the list as neither made the Pro-Bowl (although Kragen was 1st team All-Pro one year). Here is the list resorted using First Team All-Pro and First Team Pro Bowl selections as the sorting criteria (showing only top 30). Note that Chris Harris moves up to 14th with this sorting.

Rk Player From To G GS Yrs 1st TM ProBowl 1st TM AllPro AV AV/yr
1 John Randle* 1990 2003 219 185 14 7 6 138 9.9
2 Antonio Gates 2003 2018 236 190 16 8 3 127 7.9
3 Priest Holmes 1997 2007 113 82 10 3 3 94 9.4
4 Jason Peters 2004 2019 205 195 16 9 2 130 8.1
5 Jeff Saturday 1999 2012 211 202 14 6 2 154 11.0
6 Brian Waters 2000 2013 186 170 13 6 2 106 8.2
7 Nate Newton 1986 1999 198 180 14 6 2 107 7.6
8 Wes Welker 2004 2015 175 102 12 5 2 110 9.2
9 James Harrison 2002 2017 193 117 15 5 2 111 7.4
10 Kurt Warner* 1998 2009 124 116 12 4 2 113 9.4
11 Kent Hull 1986 1996 170 169 11 3 2 107 9.7
12 Sam Mills 1986 1997 181 173 12 5 1 126 10.5
13 Cameron Wake 2009 2019 155 126 11 5 1 94 8.5
14 Chris Harris 2011 2019 139 121 9 4 1 73 8.1
15 Arian Foster 2009 2016 80 70 8 4 1 63 7.9
16 Damon Harrison 2012 2019 117 110 8 0 1 66 8.3
17 Warren Moon* 1990 2000 124 119 11 7 0 103 9.4
18 Bart Oates 1985 1995 172 165 11 5 0 104 9.5
19 Jessie Tuggle 1987 2000 209 189 14 5 0 95 6.8
20 Jeff Garcia 1999 2009 125 116 11 4 0 104 9.5
21 London Fletcher 1998 2013 256 240 16 4 0 145 9.1
22 Tony Romo 2004 2016 156 127 13 4 0 116 8.9
23 Kris Dielman 2003 2011 120 97 9 4 0 77 8.6
24 Brent Grimes 2007 2018 148 132 12 4 0 68 5.7
25 Rod Smith 1995 2006 183 158 12 3 0 126 10.5
26 Eugene Robinson 1990 2000 174 174 11 3 0 95 8.6
27 Dave Krieg 1980 1998 213 175 19 3 0 138 7.3
28 Donald Penn 2007 2019 194 189 13 3 0 94 7.2
29 Shaun O'Hara 2000 2010 151 135 11 3 0 76 6.9
30 Pat Williams 1997 2010 200 157 14 3 0 93 6.6

For what it’s worth, Phillip Lindsay has one First Team Pro-Bowl selection, and he has an average 7.5 AV/yr so far for his career. If he can continue to produce at roughly the same level in the next four or five years as he has in his first two seasons, he will make this list.

That is a tall ask for an NFL RB, though. They generally have very short careers, but I’m hopeful that Lindsay will be mentioned with some of the other notable running backs on this list when he is done: Priest Holmes, Arian Foster, Fred Jackson and Pierre Thomas.

Poll

After Lindsay’s NFL career is over, where will he rank on this list?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    top 10
    (93 votes)
  • 21%
    top 20
    (133 votes)
  • 16%
    top 30
    (103 votes)
  • 11%
    top 40
    (68 votes)
  • 19%
    top 50
    (118 votes)
  • 12%
    not in top 50
    (79 votes)
  • 3%
    not on the list at all
    (22 votes)
616 votes total Vote Now