Every season brings a fresh crop of breakout stars to the NFL – those players who’ve lurked on the sidelines sometimes for years but suddenly get their chance to shine. If you’ve got a hunch that a previously overlooked player is about to show a dramatic change of form, then it’s worth heading over to the best NJ sportsbooks for football to put some money down on them. Spotting these future superstars ahead of the crowd is a rare gift.
The fact is though that there are dozens of players who went undrafted out of university and soon went on to be some of the best scorers of their era. A few of the greatest football players of all time didn’t even play college football. Here, we’ll look at a few of the breakthrough stars who surprised everyone at the time.
Night Train Lane
Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane is regarded as one of the all-time great players, but his origins were far from promising. Born in 1928 and abandoned by his parents when he was three months old, Lane was found in a dumpster and adopted by a poor but hardworking Texas family. Lane played high school football in Austin and then a single season of college football at Scottsbluff, Nebraska before joining the army and playing on a team at Fort Ord.
Following four years of military service, Lane took a job at a Los Angeles aircraft plant. In 1952, at the age of 24, he walked into the office of the LA Rams and asked for a tryout. Based on cuttings from his amateur playing days, he was signed as a free agent and, after switching positions from receiver to defensive back, quickly drew attention for his speed and aggression.
Lane was traded to the Chicago Cardinals in 1954 and played with them for six seasons. In 1960, he was traded to the Detroit Lions and played for them until he retired in 1966. Night Train Lane is still considered one of the most fearsome tacklers in NFL history.
Perhaps the greatest Cinderella story in the NFL is that of quarterback Kurt Warner. After leaving the University of Northern Iowa, he was overlooked in the 1994 draft, and the following year joined the Arena Football League, playing with the Iowa Barnstormers. He was spotted and signed by the St. Louis Rams at the end of 1997, but 1998 saw him playing for the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe. Back in the US, Warner saw out the 1998 season as third-string quarterback, but when number one signal caller Trent Green suffered a preseason injury that precluded him playing at all in 1999, Warner finally got his chance to step up to the mark.
At the age of 28, Warner was made regular-season MVP and, after leading the Rams to a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl victory, Super Bowl MVP as well. His stats saw him topping the NFL charts in terms of quarterback rating, yards per attempt, number of touchdowns, touchdown rate and completion percentage.
Jake Delhomme played college football for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but despite a strong record, he went undrafted in 1997. The New Orleans Saints signed him as a free agent, but Delhomme spent his first season on the practice squad. Assigned to NFL Europe, he was Kurt Warner’s backup at the Amsterdam Admirals, and then played as one of two quarterbacks with the Frankfurt Galaxy, alongside Pat Barnes.
On his return to the US, Delhomme graduated to third-string quarterback with the Saints, but saw limited playing time over the next three seasons. He signed with the Carolina Panthers in time for the 2003 season and finally came into his own halfway through the opening game. With the Panthers down 17-0 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Delhomme threw three touchdowns, securing a comeback victory. He was starter for the rest of the season, leading the Panthers to win after win, all the way to Super Bowl XXXVIII. Unfortunately, despite a stunning performance from Delhomme, they were narrowly beaten by the New England Patriots. Nevertheless, the game saw Delhomme set an NFL record for the longest completed pass, an 85-yard touchdown to Muhsin Muhammad.
These are just three of the breakout NFL stars who had to wait patiently before their true talents were recognized. Doubtless, the coming season will see other giants emerge where once there had been only striplings. Part of the joy of NFL is that you never know what could be just around the corner.