Pick me ups: Some underrated players turned into NFL caliber studs

09/01/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

There are 2 sides to the debate regarding the necessity of the NFL's pre season. One side says the games are unnecessary and only increase the risk of and the occurrence of injuries. To support that side, look at the number of and some of the big name players who were lost to injuries sustained in exhibition games.
On the other side, there are those who feel the pre season is necessary. They say the players need it to get ready for the regular season. They also say it provides opportunities for low round picks or undrafted players to make an impact and find work in the NFL. To support that side, let's take a look at some of the best undrafted players in recent years who used the pre season as their spring board to NFL stardom.
Current Miami defensive back Brent Grimes played his college ball at Division II Shippensburg University. Coming from a small school, Grimes needed the pre season to show his talent was as good as any Division I players at his position. He was actually cut after being signed in 2006 by Atlanta, then went on to play in NFL Europe. He was signed back by the Falcons in 2007, he used that pre season as an opportunity to make a name for himself, and he's been in the NFL since. Grimes is a three time Pro Bowl selection, and was voted as the Dolphins MVP in 2013.

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Coming out of Kent State, current Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison had an uphill battle to make it to the NFL. He was signed by the Steelers in 2002, put on their practice squad, and released 3 times between the 2002 and 2003 seasons. He signed with Baltimore following the 2003 season and also played in NFL Europe before being cut by the Ravens prior to the 2004 season. He was signed back by Pittsburgh in 2004, and the rest is history. Harrison has won 2 Super Bowls, made the Pro Bowl 5 times, was the Steelers MVP twice, and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Harrison had to work hard in the pre season multiple times, but eventually used that platform as a way to start his stellar NFL career.
Wes Welker was an undrafted wide receiver out of Texas Tech when he was signed by San Diego in 2004. Welker parlayed a strong pre season into a roster spot with the Chargers, but he was released one week into the season. Welker then signed with Miami and made a name for himself playing special teams. He used a strong pre season in 2005 to find his way as one of the Dolphins top 3 receivers heading into the season. After signing with New England in 2007, Welker found stardom in the NFL, playing 6 seasons with the Patriots then 2 more with Denver. He's a 5 time Pro Bowl selection, led the NFL in catches 3 times, is New England's all time receptions leader, and is the all time leader in catches by an undrafted player.
Arian Foster came out of the University of Tennessee in 2009 expecting to be drafted in the middle to late rounds, but his name was never called. He was signed by Houston and used the 2009 pre season to show his skills, enough so that he was added to their practice squad. He became the Texans starter in 2010 and hasn't looked back since. Foster is a 4 time Pro Bowler, who led the NFL in rushing touchdowns twice and rushing yards once. He is also the Houston franchise rushing leader in career rushing yards and touchdowns.
Like James Harrison, Antonio Gates played his college ball at Kent State. Except it wasn't football Gates was playing, he played 2 seasons of basketball for the Golden Flashes. Gates was signed by San Diego in 2003, used the pre season that year to hone his skills, and earned a roster spot at the Chargers 3rd string tight end. Gates broke out as a star in 2004 and has been one since. Gates has been to 8 Pro Bowls, was selected as a member of the NFL's Decade Team for the 2000's, has recorded over 10,000 yards receiving and is 1 touchdown away from 100 in his career. He's also San Diego's franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Despite a strong collegiate career at Division I/AA Eastern Illinois, Tony Romo wasn't drafted in 2003. Instead, he was signed by Dallas as a free agent. Romo parlayed a strong pre season into making the team as the Cowboys 3rd string quarterback. Romo used strong showings in the 2004, 20005, and 2006 pre seasons as well to remain on the Cowboys roster. He took over as Dallas' starter during the 2006 regular season and has been under center since. Romo has made the Pro Bowl 4 times and led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns one time each.
So while some say the pre season is something the NFL doesn't need anymore, I think the six gentlemen mentioned above may disagree.

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