Greatest Undrafted NFL Hall of Famers of All Time
Every year, minor miracles happen when undrafted players make active rosters for NFL teams. Just making an NFL team is tough, so imagine what the odds are of making an NFL team without being drafted.
And in the history of the game, which now stretches back over 100 years, only 22 players have gone undrafted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That's .0008 percent of the 26,682 players who have suited up for a game in NFL history.
They are the rarest of the rare. This is where every undrafted player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame ranks.
22. Frank Gatski, Center
Born: March 18, 1921 (Farmington, West Virginia)
Died: Nov. 22, 2005 (age 84, Morgantown, West Virginia)
High school: Farmington High School (Farmington, West Virginia)
Frank Gatski Stats
NFL career: 12 seasons (1946-57)
Teams: Cleveland Browns (1946-56), Detroit Lions (1957)
Career highlights: Four-time NFL champion (1950, 1954, 1956, 1957), four-time AAFC champion(1946-49), Pro Bowl (1956), four-time NFL All-Pro (1951-53, 1955)
Year inducted: 1985
Bottom Line: Frank Gatski
Frank Gatski started his college football career at Marshall before he enlisted to fight in World War II, then returned home to find out Marshall hadn't restarted its program yet.
Gatski finished his career at Auburn and made the Cleveland Browns despite going undrafted. He played 12 seasons in the NFL, won eight championships and played in the NFL championship game 11 times.
Gatski was part of arguably the greatest Hall of Fame class of all time in 1985 alongside Joe Namath, O.J. Simpson, Roger Staubach and former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle.
21. Jack Butler, Cornerback
Born: Nov. 12, 1927 (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Died: May 11, 2013 (age 85, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
High school: Mount Carmel High School (Niagara Falls, Ontario)
College: St. Bonaventure
Jack Butler Stats
NFL career: 9 seasons (1951-59)
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers
Career highlights: Four-time NFL All-Pro (1956-59), four-time Pro Bowl (1955-58), NFL 1950s All-Decade Team
Year inducted: 2012
Bottom Line: Jack Butler
A little bit of divine intervention got Jack Butler into the NFL. Dan Rooney, a priest at St. Bonaventure University, watched Butler play for the Bonnies and recommended his brother, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr., sign the standout defensive back.
Butler was one of the premiere ballhawks in the NFL in the 1950s and finished his career with 52 interceptions — a remarkable stat because he only played nine seasons, didn't record any interceptions in 1955 and played only part of the 1959 season because of a career-ending knee injury.
20. Drew Pearson, Wide Receiver
Born: Jan. 12, 1951 (South River, New Jersey)
High school: South River High School (South River, New Jersey)
Drew Pearson Stats
NFL career: 11 seasons (1973-83)
Teams: Dallas Cowboys
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (1978), three-time NFL All-Pro (1974 1976, 1977), NFl 1970s All-Decade Team, Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor
Year inducted: 2021
Bottom Line: Drew Pearson
Drew Pearson made the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent out of Tulsa thanks to his special teams play. He became a full-time starter at wide receiver in 1974, his second year.
Pearson led the Cowboys in receiving yards for four consecutive seasons from 1974 to 1977, capped by leading the entire NFL in receiving yards in 1977, as the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. In 1979, Pearson, Tony Hill and running back Tony Dorsett became the first team to have two players with 1,000 receiving yards and one with 1,000 rushing yards in the same season.
19. Jim Langer, Center
Born: May 16, 1948 (Little Falls, Minnesota)
Died: Aug. 29, 2019 (age 71, Coon Rapids, Minnesota)
High school: Royalton High School (Royalton, Minnesota)
College: South Dakota State
Jim Langer Stats
NFL career: 12 seasons (1970-81)
Teams: Miami Dolphins (1970-79), Minnesota Vikings (1980-81)
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (1972, 1973), six-time NFL All-Pro (1973-78), six-time Pro bowl (1973-78), NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
Year inducted: 1987
Bottom Line: Jim Langer
Jim Langer is one of five Miami Dolphins elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility.
Langer was one of two future undrafted Hall of Famers on the Dolphins' offensive line in that era alongside offensive tackle Larry Little and was on their undefeated, Super Bowl-winning team in 1972.
Langer was cut by the Cleveland Browns during training camp in 1970 before making the Dolphins the same year, where he served primarily as a backup in his first two seasons.
18. Bill Willis, Defensive Line
Born: Oct. 5, 1921 (Columbus, Ohio)
Died: Nov. 27, 2007 (age 86, Columbus, Ohio)
High school: Columbus East High School (Columbus, Ohio)
College: Ohio State
Bill Willis Stats
NFL career: 8 seasons (1946-53)
Teams: Cleveland Browns
Career highlights: NFL champion (1950), four-time AAFC champion (1946-49), four-time NFL All-Pro (1950-53), NFL 1940s All-Decade Team
Year inducted: 1977
Bottom Line: Bill Willis
Bill Willis broke pro football's color barrier alongside Cleveland Browns teammate Marion Motley in 1946 and dominated on the defensive line despite being 6-foot-2 and just 210 pounds.
Willis, a college star at Ohio State, was already 24 years old before he played his first game in the NFL and carved out a four-time NFL All-Pro career, along with leading the Browns to an NFL championship in 1950.
Willis was inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977. Ohio State retired his No. 99, and each year a player wears No. 0 in honor of Willis.
17. Donnie Shell, Safety
Born: Aug. 26, 1952 (Whitmire, South Carolina)
High school: Whitmire High School (Whitmire, South Carolina)
College: South Carolina State
Donnie Shell Stats
NFL career: 14 seasons (1974-87)
Teams: Pittsburg Steelers
Career highlights: Four-time Super Bowl champion (1975, 1976, 1979, 1980), four-time NFL All-Pro (1979-82), five-time Pro Bowl (1978-82)
Year inducted: 2020
Bottom Line: Donnie Shell
Donnie Shell teamed up with another future Hall of Famer in linebacker Harry Carson at South Carolina State before playing his entire NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he won four Super Bowls in 11 seasons.
Shell retired in 1987 with an NFL career record for safeties with 51 interceptions and is still in the top five for the Steelers in career games played with 201. Shell served as the Carolina Panthers' director of player personnel from the team's inception in 1994 through 2009.
16. Cliff Harris, Safety
Born: Nov. 12, 1948 (Fayetteville, Arkansas)
High school: Des Arc High School (Des Arc, Arkansas)
College: Ouachita Baptist
Cliff Harris Stats
NFL career: 10 seasons (1970-79)
Teams: Dallas Cowboys
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (1971, 1977), five-time NFL All-Pro (1974, 1975-78), six-time Pro Bowl (1974-79), NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
Year inducted: 2020
Bottom Line: Cliff Harris
Cliff Harris went undrafted out of tiny Ouachita Baptist but made the Dallas Cowboys roster as a free agent in 1970. He carved out one of the greatest careers of any safety in NFL history — he only played 10 seasons but was a five-time All-Pro, played in five Super Bowls and won twice. Harris was finally elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.
Harris' rookie season in 1970 is a window into a different era — he won the starting spot at free safety despite going undrafted, missed the second half of the season because of military service and then returned to start in Super Bowl V.
15. Willie Wood, Safety
Born: Dec. 23, 1936 (Washington, D.C.)
Died: Feb. 3, 2020 (age 83, Washington, D.C.)
High School: Armstrong High School (Washington, D.C.)
Willie Wood Stats
NFL career: 12 seasons (1960-71)
Teams: Green Bay Packers
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (1966, 1967), five-time NFL champion (1961, 1962, 1965-67), nine-time NFL All-Pro (1962-70), eight-time Pro Bowl (1962, 1965-70), NFL 1960s All-Decade Team
Year inducted: 1989
Bottom Line: Willie Wood
Willie Wood was a two-way player at USC, at safety and as the first African-American quarterback in Pac-12 history.
Wood was injured for most of his last two seasons and went undrafted, but earned a tryout with the Packers after writing a letter to head coach Vince Lombardi. Wood ended up being one of the greatest Packers of all time, a seven-time NFL champion and nine-time All-Pro.
Wood was an assistant coach in the NFL and CFL for over a decade after his playing career ended.
14. Larry Little, Guard
Born: Nov. 2, 1945 (Groveland, Georgia)
High school: Booker T. Washington High School (Miami, Florida)
Larry Little Stats
NFL career: 14 seasons(1967-80)
Teams: San Diego Chargers (1967-68), Miami Dolphins (1969-80)
Career highlights: Two-time Super Bowl champion (1972, 1973), seven-time NFL All-Pro (1971-75, 1977, 1978), five-time Pro Bowl (1969, 1971-74), NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
Year inducted: 1993
Bottom Line: Larry Little
At 6-foot-1 and 265 pounds, Larry Little was the Nate Newton of his era — a human bowling ball who helped lead the Miami Dolphins to back-to-back Super Bowl titles, including an undefeated season in 1972.
Little was one of two future undrafted Hall of Famers on the Dolphins' offensive line in that era alongside center Jim Langer.
The five-time Pro Bower and seven-time NFL All-Pro was a college football head coach for almost two decades, first at his alma mater Bethune-Cookman, then at North Carolina Central University.
13. Joe Perry, Fullback
Born: Jan. 22, 1927 (Stephens, Arkansas)
Died: April 25, 2011 (age 84, Chandler, Arizona)
High school: Jordan High School (Los Angeles, California)
College: Compton Junior College
Joe Perry Stats
NFL career: 16 seasons (1948-63)
Teams: San Francisco 49ers (1948-60), Baltimore Colts (1961-62), San Francisco 49ers (1963)
Career highlights: Two-time NFL All-Pro (1953, 1954), three-time Pro Bowl (1952-54), UPI NFL Player of the Year (1954), NFL 1950s All-Decade Team
Year inducted: 1969
Bottom Line: Joe Perry
Joe Perry's classification as a fullback is more of a symptom of his era than what his actual role was. He was more like a tailback that just lined up two yards closer to the line of scrimmage.
Perry, 6-foot and 200 pounds, only played one year at Compton Junior College before he joined the Navy in World War II. He played for the team out of Naval Air Station Alameda and ran a 9.5-second 100-yard dash in 1947 — just .2 off Mel Patton's then-world record 9.3 seconds.
12. Mick Tingelhoff, Center
Born: May 22, 1940 (Lexington, Nebraska)
High school: Lexington High School (Lexington, Nebraska)
Mick Tingelhoff Stats
NFL career: 17 seasons (1962-78)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings
Career highlights: Seven-time NFL All-Pro (1964-70), six-time Pro Bowl (1964-69)
Year inducted: 2015
Bottom Line: Mick Tingelhoff
Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing just 237 pounds, Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff is regarded as the best center of his era and played in all four of his team's Super Bowl losses in the 1970s.
When Tingelhoff retired after the 1978 season, he'd played in 240 consecutive games. At the time, that was second in NFL history behind only teammate Jim Marshall's 270 consecutive games.
Tingelhoff, who started 17 seasons as Minnesota's center, made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, which was his 32nd year of eligibility.
11. Ed Sprinkle, Defensive End/End
Born: Sept. 3, 1923 (Bradshaw, Texas)
Died: July 28, 2014, 90 years old (Palos Heights, Illinois)
High school: Jim Ned High School (Tuscola, Texas)
Ed Sprinkle Stats
NFL career: 11 seasons (1944-55)
Teams: Chicago Bears
Career highlights: NFL champion (1946), two-time NFL All-Pro (1952, 1954), four-time Pro Bowl (1950-53, 1954), NFL 1940s All-Decade Team
Year inducted: 2020
Bottom Line: Ed Sprinkle
Before there was Dick Butkus and Ndamukong Suh, there was Ed Sprinkle as the most feared, vicious and dirtiest player in the NFL.
Sprinkle terrorized opponents for over a decade on both sides of the ball after going undrafted out of the Naval Academy, leading the Chicago Bears to the 1946 NFL championship while becoming one of the league's first elite pass rushers. Sprinkle's masterpiece in destruction was the 1946 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants when he put three New York starters out of the game with injuries sustained from his famous clothesline tackle.
10. Emmitt Thomas, Cornerback
Born: June 3, 1943 (Angleton, Texas)
High School: Angleton High School (Angleton, Texas)
College: Bishop College
Emmitt Thomas Stats
NFL career: 12 seasons (1967-78)
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (1969), four-time NFL All-Pro (1969, 1971, 1974, 1975), five-time Pro Bowl (1968, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975)
Year inducted: 2008
Bottom Line: Emmitt Thomas
Emmitt Thomas played for tiny Bishop College and made the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 1967 and helped lead the Chiefs to a Super Bowl win in 1969.
In his career, Thomas had 58 interceptions returned for 937 yards, which is a staggering statistic even by today's standards.
Thomas was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the Seniors Committee in 2008 and won two more Super Bowl titles as an assistant coach with the Washington Redskins.
9. Marion Motley, Fullback/Linebacker
Born: June 5, 1920 (Leesburg, Georgia)
Died: June 27, 1999 (age 79, Cleveland, Ohio)
High school: Canton McKinley High School (Canton, Ohio)
Marion Motley Stats
NFL career: 9 seasons (1946-53, 1955)
Teams: Cleveland Browns (1946-53), Pittsburgh Steelers (1955)
Career highlights: NFL champion (1950), four-time AAFC champion (1946-49), Pro Bowl (1950), two-time NFL All-Pro (1948, 1950), NFL1940s All-Decade Team, NFL 75th Anniversary Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Year inducted: 1968
Bottom Line: Marion Motley
Marion Motley and teammate Bill Willis broke the NFL's color barrier together in 1946 as members of the Cleveland Browns, and both players eventually made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Like Jackie Robinson in baseball, Motley and Willis endured racist insults from fans and opponents but maintained through it all, and Motley led the Browns in rushing in 1950 on the way to an NFL championship.
Motley, who served in World War II, desperately wanted a career coaching in the NFL after his playing career, but in an era where teams were willing to put Black players on the field as players, they weren't willing to put them on the sidelines as coaches.
8. Sam Mills, Linebacker
Born: June 3, 1959 (Neptune City, New Jersey)
Died: April 18, 2005, 45 years old (Charlotte, North Carolina)
High school: Long Branch High School (Long Branch, New Jersey)
College: Montclair State University
Sam Mills Stats
NFL career: 12 seasons (1986-97)
Teams: New Orleans Saints (1986-94), Carolina Panthers (1995-97)
Career highlights: Five-time Pro Bowl (1987, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996), three-time All-Pro (1991, 1992, 1996)
Year inducted: 2022
Bottom Line: Sam Mills
The Professional Football Hall of Fame righted one of its greatest wrongs when it added Sam Mills to its brethren in 2022. Mills, just 5-foot-9, played in the Canadian Football League and then was one of the USFL's greatest players before making the leap to the NFL.
It didn't slow Mills' production, and he made three Pro Bowls and five Pro Bowls despite spending his first five seasons elsewhere. Mills, who died of cancer in 2005, is one of the most beloved players in the history of both the Saints and the Panthers.
7. Willie Brown, Cornerback
Born: Dec. 2, 1940 (Yazoo City, Mississippi)
Died: Oct. 21, 2019 (age 78, Tracy, California)
High School: Taylor High School (Yazoo City, Mississippi)
College: Grambling State
Willie Brown Stats
NFL career: 9 seasons (1970-78)
Teams: Oakland Raiders
Career highlights: Three-time Super Bowl Champion (1976, 1980, 1983), four-time Pro Bowl (1970-73), four-time NFL All-Pro (1970-73), NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
Year inducted: 1984
Bottom Line: Willie Brown
The amazing thing about Willie Brown's NFL career is he was an AFL All-Pro for five seasons before the first year of the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
Brown's career almost never got off the ground when he was cut from his first training camp with the Houston Oilers as an undrafted rookie, but he helped lead the Raiders to three Super Bowl wins, including a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl IX.
Brown was working for the Raiders in an administrative role when he died in 2019, at 79 years old.
6. John Randle, Defensive Tackle
Born: Dec. 12, 1967 (Mumford, Texas)
High School: Hearne High School (Hearne, Texas)
College: Texas A&M-Kingsville
John Randle Stats
NFL career: 14 seasons (1990-2003)
Teams: Minnesota Vikings (1990-2000), Seattle Seahawks (2001-03)
Career highlights: Six-time NFL All-Pro (1993-98), seven-time Pro Bowl (1993-98, 2001), NFL 1990s All-Decade Team, NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Year inducted: 2010
Bottom Line: John Randle
That John Randle is the only pure defensive tackle to make the list speaks to his utter strength and dominance up front during 14 seasons in the NFL.
Randle went undrafted out of tiny Texas A&M-Kingsville, made the Minnesota Vikings roster in 1990, then reeled off six consecutive NFL All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections between 1993 and 1998. He's No. 10 on the NFL career sacks list with 137.5.
Randle isn't the only NFL player in his family. Older brother Ervin Randle played linebacker in the NFL for eight seasons, but he was a third-round pick.
5. Emlen Tunnell, Safety
Born: March 29, 1984 (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania)
Died: July 23, 1975 (age 51, Pleasantville, New York)
High School: Radnor High School (Radnor, Pennsylvania)
Emlen Tunnell Stats
NFL career: 14 seasons (1948-61)
Teams: New York Giants (1948-58), Green Bay Packers (1959-61)
Career highlights: Two-time NFL champion (1956, 1961), six-time NFL All-Pro (1949, 1951, 1952, 1954-56), nine-time Pro Bowl (1950-57, 1959), NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Year inducted: 1967
Bottom Line: Emlen Tunnell
Emlen Tunnell played his last NFL game almost 70 years ago, but at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, Tunnell would still be considered an elite safety in today's game.
He helped lead two different franchises, the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, to NFL championships and retired as the NFL's career leader for interceptions, interception return yards, punt returns and punt return yards.
In 1967, Tunnel was the first African-American elected to the Hall of Fame as well as the first primary defensive back to be inducted.
4. Lou Groza, Offensive Tackle/Kicker
Born: Jan. 25, 1924 (Martins Ferry, Ohio)
Died: Nov. 29, 2000 (age 76, Middleburg Heights, Ohio)
High school: Martins Ferry High School (Martins Ferry, Ohio)
College: Ohio State
Lou Groza Stats
NFL career: 21 seasons (1946-59, 1961-67)
Teams: Cleveland Browns
Career highlights: Four-time NFL champion (1950, 1954, 1955, 1964), four-time AAFC Champion (1946-49). nine-time Pro Bowl (1950-55, 1957-59), six-time NFL All-Pro (1952-57), NFL Most ValuablePlayer (1954), NFL 1950s All-Decade Team, NFL 50th Anniversary Team
Year inducted: 1974
Bottom Line: Lou Groza
Lou Groza had a standout career at Ohio State but went right into the Army following college and was never drafted.
Groza became the NFL's first placekicking specialist and was the first player in NFL history who could regularly hit field goals from 50 or more yards. He finished his career as the NFL's career points leader and won eight NFL championships with the Browns. He was also one of the team's greatest offensive lineman.
The Groza family did have one of its own drafted eventually. Lou Groza's younger brother, Alex, won two national championships in basketball at Kentucky and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1949 NBA draft.
3. Warren Moon, Quarterback
Born: Nov. 18, 1956 (Los Angeles, California)
High school: Hamilton High School (Los Angeles, California)
Warren Moon Stats
NFL career: 17 seasons (1984-2000)
Teams: Houston Oilers (1984-93), Minnesota Vikings (1994-96), Seattle Seahawks (1997-98), Kansas City Chiefs (1999-2000)
Career highlights: Nine-time Pro Bowl (1988-95, 1997), NFL All-Pro (1990), NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1990), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2006)
Year inducted: 2006
Bottom Line: Warren Moon
The first Black quarterback and first undrafted quarterback inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Moon wasn't even drafted out of the University of Washington despite being the Rose Bowl MVP and one of the best quarterbacks in the nation as a senior.
Moon spent his first six years as a pro in the CFL, leading the Edmonton Eskimos to five consecutive Grey Cup championships. When he got the NFL with the Houston Oilers in 1984, he ripped up those defenses as well.
The NFL records would look much different had Moon been given the chance he should have out of college.
2. Kurt Warner, Quarterback
Born: June 22, 1971 (Burlington, Iowa)
High School: Regis Catholic High School (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
College: Northern Iowa
Kurt Warner Stats
NFL career: 11 seasons (1998-2009)
Teams: St. Louis Rams (1998-2003), New York Giants (2004), Arizona Cardinals (2005-09)
Career highlights: Super Bowl champion (2000), Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (2000), Two-time NFL Most Valuable Player (1999, 2001), Two-time NFL All-Pro (1999, 2001), Four-time Pro Bowl (1999-2001, 2008), Pro Football Hall of Fame (2017)
Year inducted: 2017
Bottom Line: Kurt Warner
Kurt Warner's career represents one of the greatest underdog success stories not just in the history of the NFL, but all of sports.
Undrafted out of FCS Northern Iowa (then Division I-AA), Warner started just one year in college before playing in the Arena Football League and stocking shelves in a grocery store at night.
His success there led him to NFL Europe, then to the Rams, where he won two NFL MVP awards and led the Rams to two Super Bowls. He won one and also led the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl.
Warner remains the only player in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Arena Football Hall of Fame.
1. Dick "Night Train" Lane, Cornerback
Born: April 16, 1928 (Austin, Texas)
Died: Jan. 29, 2002 (age 74, Austin, Texas)
High School: Anderson High School (Austin, Texas)
College: Scottsbluff Junior College
Dick "Night Train" Lane Stats
NFL career: 14 seasons (1952-65)
Teams: Los Angeles Rams (1952-53), Chicago Cardinals (1954-59), Detroit Lions (1960-65)
Career highlights: Seven-time All-Pro (1956, 1957, 1959-63), seven-time Pro Bowl (1954-56, 1958, 1960-62), NFL 100th Anniversary Team
Year inducted: 1974
Bottom Line: Dick 'Night Train' Lane
Dick "Night Train" Lane went from undrafted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and that wasn't even the most remarkable thing about his life.
Abandoned in a dumpster at 3 months old, Lane only played one season of college football at a junior college in Nebraska and served four years in the military before he landed a tryout with the Los Angeles Rams and made the team in 1952.
Lane set the NFL single-season interceptions record as a rookie, was a seven-time All-Pro and married Grammy Award-winning jazz singer Dinah Washington in 1963.
Related: Best Undrafted NFL Players lNFL Hall of Famers by Team