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Eagles All-Time Undrafted Free Agent Rankings: Who's No. 1?

The Philadelphia Eagles have done well finding key contributors after the draft, and here are the top 15 undrafted free agents plus honorable mentions

Before Eli Ricks crossed the goal line after his pick six on Baltimore’s Anthony Brown in the fourth quarter of the 2023 preseason opener, the undrafted rookie – out of Alabama by way of LSU -- immediately was dubbed “the next one.”

It is not so much who he is, but what he is – an undrafted free agent in a Philadelphia Eagles’ franchise with a long and rich history of cultivating the species. Even a year ago – on a team that won the Super Bowl everywhere except the scoreboard – there were four undrafted rookie free agents.

Most notably, safety Reed Blankenship out of Middle Tennessee played more snaps than any rookie, including all the drafted big names. A year later, in the preseason, Blankenship’s starting job was so secure that he wasn’t even required to suited up.

For the purposes of this drill – the Top 15 undrafted free agents in Eagles history – we will not “go there,” with current players on the active roster, which includes the likes of tight end Jack Stoll because their stories are still being written. So, this list does not include current Eagles.

Additionally, it should be noted that several notable players in team history were undrafted free agents but were signed and released by other teams before coming here.

This is only for players signed right out of college by the Eagles.

The list is topped by all-time franchise-scoring leader David Akers and includes Tommy Thompson, who quarterbacked the Eagles to championships in 1948 and 1949, and wide receiver Charlie “Home Boy” Smith, and many others.

Thompson was signed and cut by Pittsburgh before landing cross state and Smith was initially let go by the Rams.

Jake Elliott, once his career ends, would also be disqualified by the same technicality.

And now, the Top 15:

15) Vince Papale - For those who don’t directly remember his rags-to-riches story in the mid-70s, there was the movie “Invincible” to bring it home.

The movie, however, left out some of the best parts of the improbable tale of a 30-year-old rookie.

Papale, who attended St. Joe’s on a track scholarship, played in the rough-and-tumble football minor leagues, which earned him a successful tryout with the Philadelphia Bell of the ill-fated WFL. Unlike in the movie, Papale had a more private tryout with Dick Vermeil (the big open tryout as depicted in the movie was actually with the Bell).

Papale made the team and, at a time when Rocky Balboa was on the big screen in the first of the litany of “Rocky” movies, it made him a hometown hero.

Papale only recorded one career catch for 15 yards but was named special teams captain and the team’s Man of the Year.

Had the Pro Bowl selected a special team player at the time, he would have likely been in the mix during his career (1976-78).

chad lewis

14) Ed “Bibbles” Bawel – Signed out of the “powerhouse” of Evansville College in 1952, Bawel’s short career (36 games) overshadows his impact in a franchise loaded with many standout safeties.

While Eagles coach Jim Trimble reportedly only gave Bawel a look as a favor to Evansville coach Don Ping, he led the league as a rookie with 34 punt returns while recording eight interceptions. After serving two years in the military, Bawel rejoined the Eagles and picked off nine passes (a franchise record that stood until 1971, when Bill Bradley snatched 11).

In the meantime, Bawel paced the NFL in return yards (168) and touchdowns (two).

After only one interception in 1956, Bawell went to Canada with Trimble and helped the Hamilton Tiger Cats capture the Grey Cup in 1957.

13) Rod Hood – While The Auburn product’s best pro years came after using his solid contribution to the Eagles as a springboard to a more productive stint with the Arizona Cardinals.

Hood signed with the Birds in 2003 and was fifth in the league in special team tackles (21). He was the third corner of the 2004 NFC title team (and opened the Super Bowl loss to New England with a long kickoff return). He became a starter in 2005, after an injury to Lito Sheppard, and picked off three passes.

12) Corey Clement – Though a native of Glassboro, N.J., Clement grew up a fan of the dreaded Dallas Cowboys. Fans don’t hold that against him now.

Clement played at Wisconsin from 2013-2016 but dealt with injuries and intermittent playing time, leading him to go undrafted in 2017. Although his career here only lasted two full seasons, his performance in Super Bowl LII left an indelible mark in team history, with four catches for 100 yards and a highlight reel touchdown from game MVP Nick Foles.

In addition, he was part of the famed Philly Special play, taking a direct snap and tossing the ball to Trey Burton, who then hit a wide-open Foles in the end zone.

If they gave out a runner-up award for MVP, Clement – along with maybe Zach Ertz and a few others – would have been in the running.

11) Jamaal Jackson – Undrafted out of Delaware State in 2003, Jackson came through the system the hard way. He spent his first year on the practice squad and the next on injured reserve with torn biceps. In 2005, though, he was inserted into the starting lineup at center after starter Hank Fraley was injured and retained the job, signing a long-term deal.

Jackson started every game in the pivot from 2006 to 2008 and the first 15 of 2009 before being sidelined with a knee injury. He suffered another torn triceps early in the 2010 season and then lost his job in 2011 to a rookie named Jason Kelce.

10) Hollis Thomas – In 1996, undrafted out of Northern Illinois, Thomas signed a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. At 340 pounds, he was a vital run-stuffer here for nine seasons, and in 126 games with the Eagles, he made 95 starts with 13.5 career sacks and 32 tackles for loss.

9) T.J. Edwards – A more recent former Eagle, Edwards went undrafted in 2019 out of Wisconsin and made four starts as a rookie.

His second season saw him miss several weeks in October with a hamstring injury, but he put himself on the map with 13 tackles and a strip sack (returned for a touchdown by Rodney McLeod) against Dallas on Sunday night football.

Last season, he was at the heart of the NFC championship defense with 159 tackles (7th in the league. His tackle total was the third most in franchise history, behind only Byron Evans, who had 184 in 1989 and 175 in 1992.

8) Ken Clarke – After making the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse in 1978, Clarke soon found himself at the literal epicenter of Marion Campbell’s 3-4 defense by the NFC Championship season of 1980.

While not a starter at nose guard, Clarke was in the regular rotation, playing in place of starter Charlie Johnson on passing downs and recording seven sacks that season and six the next. He became a full-time starter in 1983 and remained there (albeit as a traditional defensive tackle in Buddy Ryan’s defense) until 1987. In his 10 seasons in Eagle Green, he had 48 sacks.

7) Quinten Mikell – The Boise State product signed with the Eagles after the 2003 draft and became an immediate staple on special teams. After being voted special teams MVP in 2005 and 2006, Mikell was a starter at strong safety from 2007 to 2010. He was named All-Pro second team in 2008 and went to the Pro Bowl as a second alternate in 2010.

6) Brenard Wilson – Forgotten by time, this drill provides a chance to recall a guy who not only made the team as an undrafted rookie in 1979 but who became an immediate starter at free safety.

On the strength of four interceptions, he was an All-Rookie choice. The following season, he was the last line of defense on the NFC championship squad and grabbed six interceptions. The following season, Wilson added another five.

After only one theft in 1982, Wilson lost the job to Wes Hopkins, who was drafted in the second round. Wilson, however, remained with the Eagles until 1987.

5) Andre “Dirty” Waters – Waters initially made the Eagles out of Cheyney for his acumen on special teams. In his rookie season of 1984, he returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown and remained a stalwart on special teams the following season.

His big break came in 1986 when new coach Buddy Ryan converted him from cornerback to safety. That season, Waters responded with six of his career 15 interceptions. Some of his best all-around football, however, was played when Bud Carson was defensive coordinator after Ryan was fired.

Waters led the team in tackles four times and went on to coach after retiring.

Sadly, due to CTE, Waters committed suicide in 2006. He was portrayed in the movie “Concussion.”

4) Greg Brown – Brown joined the Eagles as an undrafted rookie out of Eastern Illinois in 1981. Primarily a defensive end, he might be the best player everybody forgot about.

In six seasons – sandwiched between the demise of Dick Vermeil and the rise of Buddy Ryan - Brown had 50.5 career sacks as an Eagle, which puts him 7th on the all-time franchise list.

3) Chad Lewis – Lewis went undrafted in 1997 and signed with the Eagles, making three starts and catching 12 passes. He was cut six games into the following season, played briefly for the Rams, and was brought back by fellow BYU alum Andy Reid in 2000.

Lewis, who caught two touchdown passes from Donovan McNabb in the only NFC championship game victory in five tries in the Reid-McNabb era, posted solid career numbers as an Eagle. In nine seasons, while largely splitting time with L.J. Smith at the tight end position, he caught 228 passes and 23 touchdowns.

He was a second-team All-Pro in 2000 and went to three Pro Bowls (2000, 2001 and 2003).

2) Herman Edwards – Even though the draft was 12 rounds in 1977, Edwards did not hear his name called. He arrived at training camp that year with a chip on his shoulder. He promptly beat out two drafted players for roster spots in the secondary, easily making the final roster.

A vital part of the team that reached the Super Bowl in January of 1981, Edwards is most remembered for scooping up a fumble by Joe Pisarcik and scoring the winning touchdown in the first installment of “The Miracle of the Meadowlands.”

Edwards remained with the Eagles until 1985 when he was among several core veterans unceremoniously cut by Buddy Ryan, but he left with 33 career interceptions, and never missed a game in his nine seasons with the Eagles, remaining active with the team for 135 consecutive regular season games.

1) Bucko Kilroy – You can say this guy is the original Philly Special. Francis Joseph Kilroy – affectionately known as “Bucko” - was born in the Port Richmond section in 1921.

He attended North Catholic and then spurned offers from Notre Dame and chose Temple, where he was All-American Honorable Mention as a two-way lineman in 1941 (the last time the Owls beat Penn State before 2015).

After a two-year hitch in the Merchant Marines during World War II, Kilroy signed on with his hometown Eagles and played all 13 years here. A three-time Pro Bowl choice and a 1940s All-Decade choice, the ferocious competitor was a part of the 1948 and 1949 championship teams and was a scout for the 1960 championship team.

Honorable Mentions:

Trey Burton – Burton is best remembered as the triggerman of the Philly Special play, as he was a high school quarterback before becoming more of a utility player at Florida (Tim Tebow was entrenched at quarterback).

Wally Henry – After playing for Vermeil and UCLA, Henry signed as an undrafted free agent in 1977 and was a Bird until 1982. He had 201 combined punt and kick returns and led the league with 54 punt returns in 1981.

Elbert Foules – Undrafted out of Alcorn State in 1983, Foules was an Eagle until 1987, making him one of the few players from the Marion Campbell era to remain with Buddy Ryan for a while. In 73 career games, he had 10 career interceptions.

Josh Adams – He played only one season for the Eagles but led the team in rushing with 511 yards, even after not being promoted to the active roster until a few weeks into the season.

Vaughn Hebron – Before winning two Super Bowl rings in three seasons in Denver, where he also set kick return records. The Virginia Tech alum was signed after the 1993 draft by the Eagles. In two seasons here, he turned 166 carries into 622 yards and 5 touchdowns while catching 29 passes for an average of 7.6 yards and another 2 scores. He also returned 24 kickoffs for a 19.9 average.

Sam Rayburn - Known as “Truck Driver,” Rayburn was an effective third defensive tackle for the Eagles. Undrafted out of Tulsa, the fan favorite played here from 2003 to 2006, recording 65 tackles and 9 sacks in 53 games.

Jim Nettles – Signed out of Wisconsin in 1963, the defensive back played four seasons here. During that span, Nettles made the most of 28 starts, intercepting 10 passes and returning two for touchdowns.

Gordon Glantz is an award-winning career journalist, having spent 25 years (1988-2013) in the newspaper business. He was a sports writer for 13 years (1988-2001), crime reporter for two (2001-2003) and then the managing editor for 10 (2003-2013). He is now a freelance writer for several publications and websites. Follow his blog at