Hidden Gems: NFL Players Who Came Out Of Nowhere To Shock Fans

Darren - January 26, 2023

Hidden Gems: NFL Players Who Came Out Of Nowhere To Shock Fans

Darren - January 26, 2023

Every NFL fan has a favorite player. They may not be the best athlete in the league but they bring a lot of joy. Sometimes they appear out of nowhere but become icons. Perhaps they were late draft picks like Tom Brady or went undrafted like Kurt Warner. Some players appear to be major busts but explode to life with a fresh start in another situation.

So today we’ll look at the best examples of NFL players who shocked fans by coming out of nowhere. These stars have great and inspiring stories that will bring joy to everybody’s day. All of these men faced incredible odds but stayed mentally strong. Greatness was their reward, so check them out here.

Sports Illustrated

Daniel Jones

Jones came out of nowhere in 2022 when he helped the Giants to a surprising spot in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoff. Before the season, everyone seemed to give up on the former Duke quarterback, including the franchise that drafted him in the first round in 2019. They declined his fifth-year option after he failed to set the NFL on fire. But then a new coach and the electric influence of the surging Saquon Barkley changed everything for him in 2022 (via The Guardian).

The Denver Post

Jones demonstrated maturity across the regular season before they met the Vikings in the Wild Card round. He put in the performance of his career against Minnesota and showed that he had arrived. His coach Brian Daboll deserves immense credit for helping Jones reach another level. But it’s incredible to see how a new situation can help a player.

Minnesota Vikings

John Randle

There are many lists of the greatest undrafted NFL players ever. Randle is a constant feature on them because he’s an icon and had a magnificent career. His legendary career came against the odds after he failed to make the cut in the NFL Draft. The defensive tackle-end played well for the Aggies but there were laughable concerns about his size.

Pro Football History

That’s why the Bucs also rejected an opportunity to sign him after he tried out for them. But he came out of nowhere and convinced the Vikings to take a chance. Minnesota made the right call and he spent an incredible decade with them. Randle made six All-Pro teams and led the league in sacks in 1997 (via

San Francisco Chronicle

Warren Moon

Moon was another future Hall of Famer who went undrafted. The quarterback refused to allow this disappointment to define him and went up North to the CFL. There he won five Grey Cups with Edmonton and became a Canadian football icon. The Oilers decided to bring him home to the States and he became an NFL legend.

Bleacher Report

He won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award in 1990 and was a passing yardage machine. The nine-time Pro Bowler was one of the best pure passers of his generation and kept the Oilers in contention. Houston never saw a quarterback like him before and he broke most of their records before joining the Vikings (via Andscape).


Deacon Jones

Few players came out of nowhere like Jones. The defensive end endured more obstacles than modern players will ever encounter. That’s because he endured a lot of civil rights problems during a fraught era. Scouts didn’t know much about the Mississippi Valley State product in the 1961 Draft because there was no tape. Eventually, the Rams selected him in Round 14 as an afterthought.

CBS Sports

But this proved to be one of the luckiest moments in franchise history. Jones exploded into life and personified the franchise in this era. He was a quarterback’s nightmare as he led the league in sacks five times. Meanwhile, he won five All-Pro selections and was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year (via

Kansas City Chiefs

Priest Holmes

Most people don’t expect to hear anything about undrafted players again. Sometimes they take the long road and make a roster after joining a franchise’s practice squad. But usually, this means they’re providing depth and will never play. Holmes defied this to become one of the Ravens’ most important players of the 2000s. But it was with the Kansas City Chiefs where he became a true star in the league.

Sporting News Archive

The former Texas Longhorn led the NFL in rushing touchdowns twice. He also won the 2002 Offensive Player of the Year award as he proved that undrafted players can compete. Some athletes are late bloomers and require better coaching to develop. Others are much better than the scouts think and prove it when they get the chance (via BVM Sports).

Sporting News

Hunter Renfrow

Indeed, Renfrow hasn’t had the career of some of the players on this list, at least not yet. Nonetheless, the wide receiver became a key cog in the Raiders’ offense against all odds. The former Clemson walk-on fell to the fifth round of the Draft before Oakland signed him. But he thanked them for some outstanding displays for the franchise.

Renfrow made the Pro Bowl in 2021 after a career year when he became one of Derek Carr’s key weapons. He proved that it’s possible to find quality players in the later rounds of the draft. There aren’t any guarantees despite all of the modern metrics that scouts use to identify talent (via FOX Sports).

Antonio Brown

Nobody will pretend that Brown is a good person, but he was an outstanding player. The wide receiver spent almost a decade with the Steelers during an elite career. However, he fell to the sixth round of the 2010 Draft and nobody expected him to do anything special. It just goes to show that the Draft isn’t always an accurate barometer of an athlete’s prospects.

Sky Sports

Brown made four All-Pro appearances throughout the 2010s because he was elite. It’s fair to say that he came out of nowhere because Pittsburgh expected him to be a backup. But he showed his talents as he led the NFL in receiving yards and receptions twice. Brown also became a Super Bowl champion during his controversial time in Tampa Bay (via National World).

Pioneer Press

Terrell Davis

Davis is another Hall of Famer whose career came out of nowhere. He didn’t have the best college career because he spent time as a backup and with injuries. That’s why he fell to the sixth round of the 1995 draft. This is where the best athletes prove their mental strength. He had the right mindset and showed his coaches that he deserved a place on the Broncos’ roster.

Denver Post

Then he evolved into one of the best running backs in NFL history. Davis spent his entire career in Denver and won two Super Bowls. He also enjoyed a lot of individual success as he set new standards for his position. The former MVP was a two-time Offensive Player of the Year and a three-time All-Pro selection (via Bleacher Report).

Larry Brown Sports

Tyreek Hill

These days people take it for granted that Hill is one of the NFL’s best wideouts. But this wasn’t always a given because he overcame adversity. NFL scouts had a poor perception of him because of his history of domestic violence. However, Hill changed this when the Chiefs made him a fifth-round draft selection.

Sky Sports

This was an unpopular decision but Hill knew that there was one way to bring the fans onside. Some people will never forgive a domestic abuser but a lot of them overlooked this because of his elite play. He became a seven-time Pro Bowler and helped the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl win in 50 years (via Sporting News).

Sports Illustrated

Roger Staubach

Staubach is the epitome of an elite player who came out of nowhere. First off, he was a tenth-round draft pick in 1964 after he impressed with Navy. The Cowboys saw enough to give him a chance but he missed four years because of his military commitment. Then he exploded onto the scene when he returned to the football field.


Dallas has had some iconic quarterbacks in its history but Staubach is up there with the best. The two-time Super Bowl champion was also a Man of the Year as well as a six-time Pro Bowler. He defined a different era and became a great family man. Staubach’s career and achievements were more than anybody expected (via The Athletic).

New York Times

George Kittle

Kittle starred for Iowa in the Big Ten Conference but the tight end wasn’t selected until the fifth round. He expected a team to take him before this so it felt like he came from nowhere when he played for the Niners. The former Hawkeyes star evolved into one of the NFL’s leading tight ends (via ESPN).

NBC Sports

He’s a consistent player and comes up clutch in the tensest situations like the 2022 NFC Divisional Round. Kittle earned Pro Bowl selections for five straight years and proved his credentials to the league. He also showed that the scouts don’t always get it right. They can read the stats and look at Combine performance but they don’t have a crystal ball.

AP News

Darren Waller

Waller’s story is one of the most inspiring in NFL history. The Ravens made him a sixth-round pick in 2015 after he left Georgia Tech. But he wasted his entire tenure in Baltimore because he suffered from substance abuse. Many people gave up on him and expected him to fall out of the league. But then he joined the Raiders and changed his destiny.

New York Post

The tight end came out of nowhere in 2020 as he earned a Pro Bowl selection. He dealt magnificently with his previous issues and showed that he had the heart to be an NFL star. Waller may not win Super Bowl rings or set records but he has a lot of heart. Some fans considered him to be a Comeback Player of the Year candidate (via FOX Sports).


Wes Welker

Welker had the misfortune of playing for the Patriots between Super Bowl wins. Nonetheless, he was one of the best wide receivers of his era and set several records. He spent most of his time on special teams and as a punt returner for Texas Tech. Then he went undrafted before joining the Chargers’ practice squad and playing for Miami.


But it wasn’t until the Dolphins traded him to New England that Welker exploded into life. It felt like he came out of nowhere as he evolved into an elite wideout. Welker earned five Pro Bowl selections and scored an unbelievable 99-yard touchdown against the Dolphins. It was an amazing encounter with his former team (via USA Today Sports).


James Harrison

Harrison was brilliant for Kent State but failed to convince NFL scouts that he had the right physique. That’s why the linebacker went undrafted in 2002 and found himself clutching at straws. Luckily, the Steelers took a chance on him and he made the opportunity count. Harrison became one of the franchise’s greatest-ever players.

Matthew Sunday

The Hall of Famer was a two-time Super Bowl champion and had a crucial role in their successes. He won the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award and was a five-time Pro Bowl selection. Many people regard him as one of the best undrafted NFL players ever because of his extraordinary story (via Men’s Journal).


Josh Allen

Amazingly, Allen evolved into one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks after his inconsistent start in Buffalo thanks at least in part to a coach mentioned previously on this list, Brian Daboll. The quarterback impressed for the Wyoming Cowboys before the Bills made him a first-round draft pick. However, he failed to set the world on fire and many fans wrote him off before he turned his career around (via ESPN).


Then it felt like he came out of nowhere in 2020 and he fell narrowly short of winning the MVP Award. Everybody realized that he was the Bills’ best quarterback since Jim Kelly. His duels with Patrick Mahomes became the stuff of legend and he personified an exciting Buffalo team. It’s one of the great turnarounds in NFL history because nobody saw it coming.


Shannon Sharpe

Sharpe is another player who came out of nowhere and fell to the seventh round of the 1990 Draft. He defied scouting metrics across the board as he proved that he wasn’t too small for his position. The tight end had a glorious career with the Broncos and was a three-time Super Bowl winner. He regularly made a difference for his franchise and was one of its most iconic stars.

The four-time All-Pro selection had outstanding moments for Denver as well as the Ravens. Some players define an era and Sharpe is one of them. Sharpe was fantastic in college too and he proved that sometimes talent is enough. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have the traditional physical attributes that scouts expected at the time (via Mashable).

CBS Sports

Geno Smith

Technically, Smith had a long and nomadic NFL career but it feels like he came from nowhere currently. He became Seattle’s undisputed starter after Russell Wilson was sent off to the Broncos. Everybody wrote him off and said that the Seahawks had one of the weakest quarterback rooms in the league. They laughed at the prospect of Smith and Drew Lock competing to play.

Fox News

But Smith had a brilliant season as he fired the Seahawks to the playoffs against the odds. He produced better statistics in many areas than the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. It was fantastic to see because most people thought he would be a stop-gap. Instead, he was the answer and a Comeback Player of the Year candidate (via The Ringer).


Adam Vinatieri

Did anybody love his job more than Vinatieri? The kicker spent an astounding 24 seasons in the NFL before he retired as the league’s oldest player. The 46-year-old could have been his teammates’ father before he finally quit the sport. His brilliant career came against the odds after he went undrafted (via Washington Post).

Boston Globe

Vinatieri spent a brief period in NFL Europe in Amsterdam before he joined the Patriots. He won a remarkable four Super Bowls with several crucial field goals along the way. Meanwhile, he had a great period with the Colts and was one of the most reliable kickers in the sport. His consistency was a testament to his dedication to being the best.

Sports Illustrated

Johnny Unitas

Some athletes change the way we play a sport and Unitas was one of them. The former Baltimore Colts’ star was the first true modern quarterback. Amazingly, he spent 18 seasons in the NFL because he came out of nowhere. The Steelers made him a late-round draft selection before releasing him.

Sports Illustrated

This was a massive mistake but they had no idea that he was going to become of football’s greatest quarterbacks. He proved them wrong when he joined the Colts and won three NFL Championships. The 10-time Pro Bowler also won a Super Bowl during his outstanding tenure with the franchise (via Baltimore Magazine).

Bleacher Report

Stefon Diggs

Diggs is one of the top wide receivers of today’s era but nobody expected him to be so good. These days the best wideouts go in the first or second rounds of the Draft. But Diggs fell to the fifth round when the Vikings took him in 2015. He embarrassed the scouts with some great displays for the franchise as he came out of nowhere.

Larry Brown Sports

Everybody knows about the Minneapolis Miracle but he isn’t a one-hit-wonder. Diggs also had a key role in helping the Bills reclaim their position as an AFC force. Quarterbacks appreciate when their receivers are as capable as Diggs because it makes them look better. Even if he never wins a ring he’s still an all-time great (via Irish Mirror).


Jason Kelce

Everybody loves to hate the Eagles but it’s impossible not to respect Kelce. The imposing center is living a fairytale story after he fell to the sixth round of the 2011 draft. Scouts have an obsession with size and they didn’t think that he was big enough for the position. But the best athletes adapt to a situation and turn their weaknesses into strengths.

Fox News

Kelce proved this because he became a key member of the Eagles’ roster. He’s also one of the most consistent NFL players of the past decade with six Pro Bowl selections. Kelce was a key member of their remarkable Super Bowl-winning team in 2017. It’s no surprise that the city of Philadelphia adores him (via


Bart Starr

The Packers have had some outstanding quarterbacks throughout their history. Before Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre, there was the brilliant Starr. However, unlike Favre and Rodgers, nobody expected Starr to be a breakout star. He came out of nowhere after the Packers made him the 200th overall pick in 1956.


That’s right, the Alabama QB fell to the 17th round of a grueling draft. But he belied his lowly status and emerged as the starter in his third season. Then he became a franchise legend in Green Bay’s most successful period. They won five NFL Championships and two Super Bowls with Starr playing a crucial role (via NBC Sports).

Sky Sports

Brock Purdy

Nobody spoke about Purdy before December 2022. This was supposed to be Trey Lance’s year after Kyle Shanahan confirmed that he was the starter. But he tore his ACL and gave Jimmy Garoppolo the chance to reclaim his starting spot. However, yet another Jimmy G. injury brought Purdy into the equation. He came out of nowhere to be the perfect fit for their offense.


Suddenly, people were mentioning Purdy in the same breath as Kurt Warner and Tom Brady. The Niners chose him with the final pick of the 2022 Draft so it wasn’t meant to be this way. It appeared that he was destined to fall out of the NFL quickly or float around as a backup. Instead, he showed his talent and led his team to the postseason (via Des Moines Register).

Kurt Warner

Warner is the greatest undrafted NFL player of all time after an astonishing rise to the top. He infamously stocked shelves in a grocery store before he played in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe. Finally, he signed a contract with the Rams and made their roster as a backup quarterback. Nobody expected to play but he came out of nowhere after Trent Green’s injury.

Sports Illustrated

Netflix made a movie about Warner’s extraordinary story because it was so dramatic. He led ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ to the Super Bowl and had a magnificent career. Nothing like this had ever happened before and it was a true Cinderella story. Now he’s a Hall of Famer and one of the most respected men in football (via N.Y. Post).


Tom Brady

Everybody knows how Brady came out of nowhere to become the best player in NFL history. The Patriots made him a sixth-round pick in 2000 and he became their fourth-string QB. Drew Bledsoe was their highly-paid starter but an injury handed Brady a massive opportunity in his sophomore year. Suddenly, Bill Belichick threw the Michigan starlet into action.


It became a truly iconic season because Brady demonstrated maturity beyond his years. He ousted Bledsoe and convinced Belichick that he was the man to lead the franchise forward into their bright future. Meanwhile, he became the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback ever. We all know what happened over the next couple of decades as Brady became the quarterback with the most Super Bowl rings in NFL history. But it was an amazing beginning overall (via Indy Star).