Former New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet reveals his thoughts on the greatest undrafted players in NFL history.
Not all NFL superstars were always considered great. There are plenty of examples throughout league history of players who went undrafted, signed with a team, and turned out to be a dominant franchise cornerstone.
On the latest episode of The Underdog Jets Podcast, New York Jets legendary receiver Wayne Chrebet — a former undrafted free agent himself — spoke with Jets X-Factor’s Robby Sabo about his opinions on some of the best undrafted players of all time.
This does not serve as a ranking of the greatest UDFAs of all time, but rather homage to players who truly took the concept of an underdog story and ran with it.
Wayne Chrebet, WR
As mentioned previously, Chrebet himself was, in fact, undrafted upon entering the NFL. On Chrebet’s very first day, a security guard refused to let him into the facility, thinking he was a fan trying to get in. On a depth chart of 10 receivers, Chrebet sat at the very bottom and fought his way into a starting role as a rookie.
Over the course of his career, Chrebet became one of the most popular players in Jets history (if not the most popular). He retired second in the franchise’s all-time receptions (580) and third in all-time receiving yards (7,365).
Today, Wayne Chrebet is considered not only the best undrafted New York Jet of all time but also one of the best undrafted players of all time. He was ranked No. 10 on NFL Network’s latest ranking.
“Just to be on that list. … I don’t care if I’m number 10,” Chrebet said. “I mean just to be considered one of the greats is an honor in itself.”
John Randle, DT
Watching Aaron Donald dominate every Sunday is a privilege that we as NFL fans take for granted. He makes consistent sack production from the defensive tackle spot look deceptively easy. However, a player who was doing it at an extremely high level when Donald was still in grade school is former Minnesota Vikings pass rusher John Randle.
After going undrafted and then failing a tryout with Tampa Bay, Randle signed with the Vikings and made seven Pro-Bowls in his NFL career, including a streak of six straight from 1994-99.
“He was nasty, but he was funny out there,” said Chrebet. “He talked nonstop. … I remember one time I said something to him as I crossed paths with him, and he said ‘I’m gonna taste your blood, little man.’”
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) June 14, 2021
Randle finished his NFL career with 137.5 sacks, tied for 10th all time, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
Richard “Night Train” Lane, CB
Not only one of the top undrafted corners of all time, “Night Train” Lane is considered by some to be the greatest corner of all time, period. Lane started for the Rams as a rookie and intercepted 14 passes — to this day, the most by any cornerback in NFL history. He finished his career with a total of 68, which ranks fourth all-time.
Aside from his evidently elite ball-hawking skills, Lane was the kind of player who looked to hurt his opponents as badly as possible. His hits were absolutely brutal and the league had no choice but to implement multiple rule changes in order to handicap the unfair advantage he provided.
“He was vicious out there,” said Chrebet. “[He had] a lot of interceptions for that era, considering they didn’t throw the football nearly as much as they do now. I might have to get me a Night Train Lane jersey.”
It’s almost unbelievable that Lane went undrafted. How could so many people be so wrong on one guy? But that just goes to show why it’s worth paying attention to UDFAs each year.
Lane went on to earn Pro-Bowl honors seven times in his career and made three first-team All-Pro appearances. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Adam Vinatieri, K
Yes, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer was undrafted. Adam Vinatieri is arguably the greatest kicker in NFL history, with over twenty years of a legendary career to prove it.
Vinatieri had two Super Bowl-winning field goal kicks in his time with the Patriots alone. Then, after going to the Colts, he helped Peyton Manning overcome New England and win his first Super Bowl ring.
Chrebet recalled what it was like to have Vinatieri on the other sideline. “If you were watching the game, you just knew he was going to make it. That’s how it was with him.”
Rod Smith, WR
Rod Smith won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. He played 183 regular-season games for them, had nine straight seasons with at least 70 receptions, and finished his career with 11,389 receiving yards and 68 touchdowns.
“A very underrated receiver in NFL history,” Chrebet said. “I think him and Ed McCaffrey were one of the most successful tandems you could ever look at.”
What made Smith so valuable as a player wasn’t just his superior talent on the field. He was also an unquestioned leader in the Broncos locker room throughout the entirety of his career, and he served as a mentor to countless young players.
While Jets fans may hate Smith because of the success that he and John Elway had against New York, there is no denying his name belongs right up there with the best undrafted players of all time.
These are just five names, but the list of the best undrafted NFL players of all time is an impressive one. Every year, there are always a few undrafted players who carve out a role for themselves and make teams pay for passing on them.
Who that will be this year remains to be seen.