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For part 4 of the best undrafted NFL players we’re off to the AFC (American Football Conference) West to discover more examples of hard work over talent!
WR (Wide Receiver) Rod Smith comes in as a tricky choice for the recent Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. They’ve had a good amount of success with undrafted picks including CB (cornerback) Chris Harris Jr., one of the best in the league and holder of three pro bowl attendances, as well as of course Karl Mecklenburg who is remembered in the Ring of Fame. Rod Smith ousts the competition here however, playing a whopping 183 games for the Broncos including two super bowl wins. Not only that, he was true to his team, committing to nine seasons with Denver, consistently performing with at least 70 receptions per season and 68 touchdowns. He was also extremely popular, thankful for his chance in the NFL and was known for being a leader by example to the younger players.
Kansas City Chiefs:
CB (Corner back) Emmitt Thomas is a true hero of the Chiefs and has such a humble beginnings story. After going undrafted coming out of Bishop College in Texas he had little hopes. Bishop College was not a famous football college, in fact it no longer exists, and so after an unsuccessful draft his NFL hopes were all but gone. Thomas didn’t stop grinding though, working hard on his abilities, and soon enough his opportunity came, picked up by the Chiefs. What a decision it was as he went on to play 13 seasons and played in both Kansas Super Bowl victories in that period. He set a franchise record of a huge 58 interceptions which is held still to this day and is a member of both the Chiefs’ hall of fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame!
Los Angeles Chargers:
No prizes for guessing this one, it is of course TE (tight end) Antonio Gates. Antonio Gates is not only a legend for the Chargers, he’s also regarded as having forever changed the position of tight end in the NFL. The tight end was previously a position used to make blocks and lead astray defenders if possible, rarely receiving the ball, definitely not as much as a WR (wide receiver). Gates was a very powerful forward able to create mismatches on defenders being too big and strong for defensive backs but too fast for LBS (Linebackers) as he demonstrated in college with Kent State. He was surprisingly overlooked in the draft however, perhaps due to his unconventional utility of the TE position which was regarded as fine in college but not good enough for the NFL. The Chargers took a chance however and signed Gates in 2003 following the draft since when he has led the NFL in TE receiving touchdowns at 114, reached the pro bowl eight times, had almost 1000 receptions for the Chargers ( a franchise record) and has connected with QB (quarterback) Phillip Rivers for 87 of those 114 touchdowns; yet another league record. Mainstream methods aren’t always the best it seems!
FB (fallback) Marcel Reece actually played receiver at college but after going undrafted transitioned to FB in Raiders’ training camp. After a couple of years in training camp he sped on to the field creating mismatches with his speed and strength, reaching four consecutive pro bowls and was an all pro in 2013 with 46 carries, two touchdowns and 32 receptions. Those stats may not sound impressive in comparison to the previous wide receivers discussed or running backs but given that a FB’s main job is to block and make space for his teammates it is incredibly impressive to have been recognised in so many pro bowls and to have handled the ball as much as he did.
IMAGE SOURCE: http://www.chargersgab.com/2011/08/01/antonio-gates-placed-on-the-bolts-pup-list/