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From Undrafted to the Hall of Fame


Chiefs FA's Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated / Article by Thomas Minor -Chiefs Focus / @universatchiefs

The 2023 NFL draft has come and gone, and the marquee names have been called by one team or another.  What about all the players that are good enough to play in the NFL, but they were not looked upon as good enough to be drafted?  Eventually, for the ones that make it into the NFL, the answer is they do not give up.  There are a few that make it by participating in open tryouts by various NFL teams, but most undrafted players that make an NFL roster or practice squad are invited to a team’s training camp via an undrafted free agent contract.

What is that?  You may ask.  Essentially, this means a team did not think highly enough of you to utilize a draft pick during the seven-round festival, but they did think enough of you to gamble a little of their money on your potential.  It is a normal result that most undrafted free agent invites do not make a team’s 53-man roster.  Without a doubt, there is always a player or two, that shows relentless perseverance and battles their way onto a practice squad or roster.  When this takes place, do any of these players end up being significant contributors?  Do they ever become Hall of Fame-caliber players?

The answer is emphatically, yes!  Seemingly, each year, players come from nowhere to impact rosters across the Nation Football League.  How many of those players have proven that they were deserving of, not only a draft pick but a significantly high draft pick?  Here is a strong list of players that have lived up to the level of deserving a top-tier draft pick.

Let’s start with the Kansas Chiefs.  One of the most iconic players in Chiefs’ history is Priest Holmes.  After playing his collegiate career at the University of Texas, Priest Holmes emerged as an undrafted free agent for the Baltimore Ravens in 1997.  In his sophomore season in the NFL, Holmes rushed for over 1,000 yards as a backup running back.  In the 2000 season, Priest Holmes would help the Ravens secure a victory in Super Bowl XXXV.


P. Holmes : Pro Football History
Pro Football History


Not being the #1 option in Baltimore, Priest Holmes was hungry for an opportunity to be the featured back in an explosive offense.  His opportunity would come with a team that was in desperate need of a prime time back.  In 2001, Priest Holmes would sign a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.  Holmes did not waste any time placing his mark on the offense of the Chiefs and the NFL.  In his first season with Kansas City, Holmes rushed for 1,555 yards.  Not only did Priest Holmes lead the National Football League in rushing, but he became the first player in NFL history to lead the league in rushing as an undrafted player.  Over the next three seasons, Holmes would dominate as the premier running back in the NFL.  His success led him to be inducted into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame.

The next Kansas City Chief on the list is offensive lineman Brian Waters.  Playing his collegiate ball at North Texas, Waters became an undrafted free agent in 1999.  Even though he ended up being an all-time great Chief, Kanas City wasn’t the original undrafted free-agency landing spot for Brian Waters.  The North Texas product was originally signed by the Dallas Cowboys.  Once the Cowboys gave up on Brian, he was poached by the Kansas City Chiefs and sent to the NFL’s developmental league in Europe.    Waters returned to the Chiefs and proceeded to pull off an outstanding professional career.


Brian Waters : Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs

During the eleven years Brian Waters dawned the Kansas City Chiefs’ uniform, he played at a Hall of Fame level.  Waters was selected to five Pro Bowls as a Chief (and a 6th with the Patriots).  Also, after the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Brian was voted First-team All-Pro.  It is a fact that hard work pays off, and this was proven to be true for Brian Waters.  After retiring from the game, Brain Waters received the utmost compliment from the Kansas City Chiefs.  In 2019, the Chiefs inducted Waters into their Hall of Fame.  To this day, he is considered an essential part of the greatest offensive line in the franchise’s history.

Another legendary undrafted free agent for the Kanas City Chiefs is Deron Cherry.  The Rutgers University product is considered by many to be the greatest safety in franchise history.  One thing for certain, he is the greatest undrafted free-agent safety in franchise history.  There is simply no debate here.  Cherry was a three-time First-team All-Pro selection in 1984, 1986, and 1988.  He was a two-time Second-team All-Pro in 1983 and 1985.  That is some serious hardware for a person not selected for the NFL Hall of Fame.


Kansas City Chiefs v San Francisco 49ers
Bleacher Report

Despite being a five-time All-Pro selection, Deron Cherry was a six-time Pro Bowl selection from 1983 to 1988.  Also, he tallied 50 interceptions in his career and over 900 tackles.  Of all the Kansas City Chiefs that have been snubbed for the Hall of Fame, there is no doubt that Deron Cherry heads that list.  If the committee has any sense at all, he will be rightfully placed in the Hall of Fame where he belongs.

The title of the greatest undrafted free agent in Chiefs’ history belongs to Emmitt Thomas.  One of many historically black college players to be employed by the Kansas City Chiefs, Thomas played his collegiate football at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas.  From 1966 to 1978, Emmitt Thomas roamed the defensive backfield for the Chiefs.  During his career, Thomas tallied a total of 58 interceptions and is the all-time franchise record holder.


Emmitt Thomas -HBCU Gameday
HBCU Gameday


The franchise record for interceptions is just the tip of the iceberg for Thomas’ accolades.  While playing for the Chiefs, Emmitt Thomas was a two-time AFL champion, a two-time First-team All-Pro selection in 1974 and 1975, a two-time Second-team All-Pro selection in 1969 and 1971, and a five-time Pro Bowl selection (1968, 1971, 1972, 1974, and 1975).  Also, he became a World Champion helping the Chiefs defeat the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.  Emmitt Thomas achieved success in his coaching career, as well.  He won two Super Bowl Championships as a part of the coaching staff of the Washington Redskins in Super Bowls XXII and XXVI.


Emmitt Thomas-USA Today
USA Today


For his great accomplishments, Emmitt Thomas received the highest level of compliment from his storied franchise when he was inducted into the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame in 1986 and his #18 was retired.  In 2008, Emmitt Thomas achieved the greatest accomplishment that any player can achieve in the National Football League.  He was enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  Though, many undrafted free agents have impacted the game, none as much as Emmitt Thomas did for the Kansas City Chiefs!


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