The 10 greatest NFL players who began as obscure Eagles


Yesterday, we took a look at the 10 greatest NFL players who finished their careers in obscurity with the Eagles.

Today, we’re going to do the opposite.

Here's a list of the top 10 players who began their careers in obscurity with the Eagles and went on to greatness.

Three rules: 

  1. Players had to actually spend time with the Eagles. That rules out players the Eagles drafted who went directly to the AFL, like 7-time Pro Bowler Ed Budde, or players who returned to college after being drafted by the Eagles, like Hall of Famer Lou Creekmur.
  2. If a player started one game in an Eagles uniform, he’s ineligible. 
  3. Players are also ineligible if they spent more than a year in the organization, even if it was just in training camp or on the practice squad. 

When we say obscure, we mean it!

1. WR Jimmy Smith 

As an Eagle [1995]: Spent the summer in training camp and quickly became a favorite target of Randall Cunningham. Was released because Rich Kotite liked Jeff Sydner more. 

After the Eagles [1995-2005]: Caught 862 passes for 12,287 yards and 67 touchdowns with the Jaguars. During the 10 years from 1996 through 2005 in Jacksonville, averaged 84 catches, 1,200 yards and 6 ½ TDs. Only Marvin Harrison had more yards or catches during that span. Made five straight Pro Bowls. Only Jerry Rice and Randy Moss had more career 1,000-yard seasons. Ranked 7th in NFL history in catches and 11 in yards when he retired. Sydner had three career passes.

2. G Bob Kuechenberg

As an Eagle [1969]: Drafted in the 4th round but released on Sept. 1, 1969, as part of final cuts. 

After the Eagles [1970-1983]: Signed briefly with Falcons (where his coach was former Eagles QB Norm Van Brocklin) but didn’t make final cuts. Signed the next summer with the Dolphins but was released again, only to re-sign early in the season. Became a fixture in Miami for 14 years, starting 176 games and playing in four Super Bowls, winning two. Made six Pro Bowls and one 1st-team all-pro. Has been a Hall of Fame finalist eight times.

3. WR Art Powell

As an Eagle [1959]: Drafted in the 11th round out of San Jose State. Played in 12 games with no starts as a rookie but only on defense, intercepting three passes and also recording a 58-yard punt return TD and a 95-yard kick return (not for a touchdown). Was released at the end of the 1960 preseason.   

After the Eagles [1960-1968]: Disappointed with his role and wanting to play on offense, Powell jumped to the AFL. And in his first six years as a receiver, playing for the Titans and Raiders, Powell led all of pro football with 7,669 yards and 77 touchdowns. He had a league-leading 1,130 yards in 1962 and 1,304 yards in 1963. He made five Pro Bowls and two all-pro teams. His 16 TD catches in 1963 remain the 14th-most in NFL history. He was named to the all-time AFL team in 1970.

4. OL John Madden

As an Eagle [1958]: The Eagles drafted Madden as an offensive lineman out of Cal Poly in the 21st round in 1958, but he tore up his knee during training camp at Hershey and never played football again.

After the Eagles [1969-1978]: He DID, however, become a hell of a coach. Madden only coached the Raiders for 10 years but went 103-32-7 and guided the Raiders to a win over the Vikings in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl. His .759 winning percentage is highest in NFL history by a head coach (minimum 100 games), and the Raiders reached the postseason in eight of his 10 years. Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006, was an NFL color analyst from 1979 through 2008 and lends his name to the popular Madden NFL video games.

5. WR Danny Amendola

As an Eagle [2009]: Spent training camp with the Eagles and began the season on the practice squad. Had 4 catches for 53 yards in the preseason, with the four catches coming from four different quarterabacks [A.J. Feeley, Michael Vick, Adam DiMichele, Kevin Kolb].

After the Eagles [2009-2020]: Signed off the Eagles’ practice squad by the Rams on Sep. 22 and caught 43 passes for 326 yards. Caught 85 passes the next year and through last season had 547 catches for 5,362 yards and 21 TDs. Played in three Super Bowls for the Patriots, winning two (and losing to the Eagles). Has 709 career postseason yards. His 547 career receptions are 6th-most in NFL history by an undrafted player.

6. C Jeff Bostic

As an Eagle [1980]: Spent the summer of 1980 in training camp at West Chester as an undrafted rookie from Clemson. Was released on Aug. 26.

After the Eagles [1980-1983]: Was claimed by the Falcons but quickly released and signed with Washington. Served as a backup as a rookie and then started 149 games at center as one of the original Hogs over the next 13 years. Started on the 1982, 1987 and 1991 Super Bowl championship teams. One of three Hogs (along with Joe jacoby and Russ Grimm) to start on all three Super Bowl teams. Made one Pro Bowl.

7. RB Raheem Mostert

As an Eagle [2015]: Signed with Eagles as a free agent after going undrafted out of Purdue. Led entire NFL with 348 scrimmage yards in preseason but was released by GM Chip Kelly on Sept. 4 and signed to Eagles’ practice squad two days later. Eight days after that, the Dolphins signed Mostert off the Eagles’ practice squad.

After the Eagles [2015-2020]: After being released by the Dolphins, Mostert had brief stints with the Ravens, Browns, Jets and Bears before finally finding a home with the 49ers. He ran for 772 yards last year with a 5.6 average and eight TDs. Ran for 220 yards with four TDs in NFC Championship Game win over Packers, 2nd-most rushing yards ever in a playoff game (behind Eric Dickerson’s 248 in 1986). Has a career rushing average of 6.1 yards per carry, highest in NFL history by a running back with at least 200 carries.

8. DE-OT Alejandro Villaneuva

As an Eagle [2014]: Villaneuva, who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Ranger and hadn’t played football in four years, was in training camp as a defensive lineman with the Eagles. He was released on Aug. 23.

After the Eagles [2014-2020]: The Steelers signed Villaneuva on Sept. 1 and immediately converted him to offensive tackle. He spent 2014 on the practice squad but became a starting left tackle in 2015 and made the Pro Bowl in 2017 and 2018, earning a four-year, $24 million contract.

9. DT Kelly Gregg

As an Eagle [1999]: Gregg, the Oklahoma high school wrestler of the year in 1995, played college football but didn’t wrestle at Oklahoma. He played in three games for the Eagles late in 1999 and had three tackles. He initially made the team in 2000 but was released when the Eagles were awarded a waiver claim on Darwin Walker, who had been released by the Cards. 

After the Eagles [1999-2011]: The Ravens signed Gregg to their practice squad one day after the Eagles released him. He won a Super Bowl ring in 2000, was a backup in 2001 and then was a full-time starter through 2010. During his nine years as a starter– from 2002 through 2010 – the Ravens had the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL, allowing just 3.5 yards per carry, and the No. 2 overall defense, behind only the Steelers, allowing just 17.8 points per game. Andy Reid once told me releasing Gregg was one of his biggest mistakes and said he should have kept him and converted him to guard.

10. PK Mark Moseley

As an Eagle [1970]: Made just 14 of 25 field goals as a rookie 14th-round pick. Missed a 27-yard potential game-winner vs. the Falcons. 

After the Eagles [1971-1986]: Wound up spending two years with the Oilers before finding a home in Washington, where he spent 13 years, making two Pro Bowls and one all-pro team. Made both his field goals in Washington’s 27-17 Super Bowl win over the Dolphins at the Rose Bowl in 1982. When he retired following the 1986 season, Moseley was the 5th-leading scorer in NFL history with 1,382 points.

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