B1G's best undrafted free agents of all time
After the final name is called this April, there will undoubtedly be B1G players that sign with NFL teams. The life for an undrafted free agent isn’t necessarily a paved road to success, but there is a route.
In fact, a total of 11 players in B1G history went from undrafted free agents to Pro Bowl players. Seven of them were either offensive linemen or kickers and the only skill player on this list was a return specialist. Still, that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment.
It’s worth noting that only two of them came before the draft went from 12 rounds to eight rounds in 1993.
Here’s a look at the path that each of them took:
Brandon Moore, Illinois G (2002) — Why does that name sound familiar? Well, Moore was the owner of the infamous butt that caused Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble. But before that, Moore was a key cog for some dominant New York Jet running attacks that featured Curtis Martin. That’s a pretty impressive 10-year career for a guy who played defensive tackle at Illinois.
Adewale Ogunleye, Indiana DE (2000) — Indiana’s record-holder for sacks and tackles for loss was once pegged by Mel Kiper Jr. as the No. 1 prospect in America. But Ogunleye tore multiple ligaments in his left knee his senior year and his draft stock plummeted. The Miami Dolphins signed him as an undrafted free agent, and he returned to form. His best year came in 2003, during which he earned Pro Bowl honors. He was sent to Chicago in a blockbuster deal, and he anchored the defensive line that went to Super Bowl XLI. Needless to say, the ligament tears didn’t end Ogunleye’s promising career.
Kris Dielman, Indiana G (2003) — Cam Cameron knew he had a steal in Dielman. He coached him at Indiana and when he took the offensive coordinator job with the San Diego Chargers, Cameron got him as an undrafted free agent. He served as a critical force paving the way for LaDanian Tomlinson’s record-breaking seasons. Dielman had a nine-year career that yielded four trips to the Pro Bowl. Even more impressive, he never allowed more than three sacks in a season.
Casey Wiegmann, Iowa C (1996) — The Cal Ripken Jr. of the NFL had one of the more impressive streaks in sports history. He started the final 175 games of his career. Even crazier, he played 11,102 straight snaps over that 11-year stretch. Nobody in the NFL touched that streak, which lasted until his final season at age 38. It took 200 starts before the former Hawkeye finally hung it up.
Jay Hilgenberg, Iowa C (1981) — The Iowa City native started in the middle for arguably the greatest team of all time. He made his first Pro Bowl anchoring the ’85 Bears, which began a streak of seven straight trips. A five-time All-Pro, Hilgenberg was named the No. 25 greatest player in Chicago Bears history for paving the way for Walter Payton. He’s still waiting on the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Hilgenberg could easily be considered the B1G’s best undrafted free agent ever.
Jay Feely, Michigan K (2001) — Feely lived the life that many kickers live. He was undrafted out of Michigan, he signed a free agent deal and played for seven different teams, most of which were two or three-year stops. But Feely kicked until he was 38 and he did broadcasting work during his playing days, which set up an easy transition for his post-NFL life.
Robbie Gould, Penn State K (2005) — Feely’s last game was actually filling in for Gould in Chicago. “Solid Gould,” however, has had a much more stable career. He’s been the Bears’ starter since 2005 and he’s the 10th most accurate kicker in NFL history. The guy who was working construction when the Bears called him also signed the largest deal ever for a kicker, which was worth $15 million with $9 million guaranteed. So yeah, he made a nice living for himself.
Eddie Drummond, Penn State WR (2002) — The versatile open-field threat found a home with the Detroit Lions as a returner after he was an undrafted free agent out of Penn State. It took Az-Zahir Hakim and former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard going down for Drummond to get his shot, but he took advantage of it. Drummond returned a pair of punts and kickoffs for scores and earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2004.
Cameron Wake, Penn State LB (2005) — Wake might not have been a bonafide star at Linebacker U, but he certainly became one when he switched to defensive end full-time as a pro. It took Wake until age 27 before he played in his first NFL game for the Miami Dolphins. His dominant CFL days proved to be no fluke, either. Wake has played in four Pro Bowls, and if not for tearing his Achilles, he could’ve played in his fifth in 2015. The 34-year-old defensive end might still have a couple more years left as one of the league’s premier pass-rushers.
Jim Schwantz, Purdue LB (1992) — The former Purdue sack leader turned into one of the league’s best special teams players in the mid-1990s. He set a franchise record with 32 special teams tackles on the Super Bowl XXX Champion Dallas Cowboys, which earned him a Pro Bowl nod. But Schwantz’s real success came after his playing days. He’s now the Mayor in his hometown of Palatine, Ill.
Mike Schneck, Wisconsin LS (1999) — Hey, long snappers are people, too. Schneck’s skill earned him an 11-year NFL career after his days at Long snapper U. The former walk-on was part of Wisconsin’s 1999 Rose Bowl victory. His Pro Bowl bid came in his first season in Buffalo following the 2005 season.
Notable active undrafted B1G players:
- Pierre Thomas, RB (Illinois)
- Jeff Cumberland, TE (Illinois)
- Bobby Richardson, DE (Indiana)
- Brian Hoyer, QB (Michigan State)
- Alex Boone, G (Ohio State)
- Andrew Norwell, G (Ohio State)
- Philly Brown, WR (Ohio State)
- Jonathan Casillas, LB (Wisconsin)