Who Needs The Draft! … Wednesday Cup O’Chiefs

Yesterday in Auburn, Alabama, two of the top choices in the 2011 NFL Draft worked out for NFL scouts, coaches and general managers. Every team including the Chiefs was represented, largely to see QB Cam Newton and DT Nick Fairley.

But there were other players with Auburn roots working out as well. Several of them will not be drafted, but that does not count them out of an NFL career. In fact, it does not mean they won’t have a long and successful time in pro football.

It happens every year – despite all the money and attention that flows to the NFL Draft – players with something to provide and something to prove made a life for themselves every year despite being in the shadows.

Every team in the league has a history of lucky finds, players who arrived with no expectations but carved out a niche. The Chiefs are no different – some of the best players in 50 seasons of football did not enter pro football through the draft. That group includes a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and three members of the Chiefs Hall of Fame.

A spot on this list required several levels of qualifications. First, the player could not have been drafted by the AFL, USFL or NFL. Second, he did not play in a regular-season game for another CFL or NFL team before playing with the Chiefs. Third, with the exemption of one player, this group had a career longer than a cup of coffee.

Here’s my list of the top free agents in Chiefs history, in alphabetical order:  

Fullback Kimble Anders (above) – signed with the Chiefs in March 1991 and then played with the team until 2000. He signed with Pittsburgh coming out of the University of Houston, but was released on the final pre-season roster cut. Anders ended up playing in 125 games for the Chiefs, with 94 starts. At 5-11, 220 pounds, he was more of a receiver out of the fullback spot than a runner or blocker, especially in the west coast offensive scheme. He led the Chiefs in receiving for four seasons (1994-96, 1998) and picked up three trips to the Pro Bowl (after the 1995-97 seasons). Sadly, Anders will be remembered by many Chiefs fans for a negative – his drop of a sure TD pass from Joe Montana in the first half of the 1993 AFC Championship Game.

Free safety Deron Cherry (left) – joined the Chiefs out of Rutgers University for the 1981 training camp as a punter. After a few weeks at William Jewell College, he was going to be sent home but he talked head coach Marv Levy into allowing him a chance to make the team as a safety. Cherry was cut before the start of the season, but rejoined the team and was part of the Chiefs for 11 seasons, establishing a career among the franchise’s best players. He played in 148 games and started 124 at free safety. Cherry earned six Pro Bowl nominations, while contributing 50 interceptions and 927 total tackles, including six seasons of 100 tackles or more. A good athlete, Cherry’s NFL career was built on his brains and study habits and that’s what constantly put him in position to steal an opponent’s pass.

Wide receiver Willie Davis – came out of the University of Central Arkansas and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chiefs in 1990. At 6-0, 170 pounds dripping wet, Davis was a very good athlete and he was fast; as a college junior he averaged 30.2 yards per catch. The 1990 season was spent on the practice squad, but he made the active roster in 1991 and was a fixture in the Chiefs passing game for most of the next five seasons. Davis played in 63 games, starting 58 and catching 172 passes for 3,014 yards. That was an average of 17.5 yards per catch with 20 TDs. When Davis got open and was running free it was like watching a young deer race across the prairie, all smooth but with a hop in his step. His career was remarkable considering what he was working with in size.

Defensive end Eric Hicks – was not drafted out of the University of Maryland and signed with the Chiefs in 1998. Hicks ended up playing in 128 games with 104 starts over nine seasons. He had 574 total tackles with 44.5 sacks, including a team leading 14 sacks in the 2000 season. His career was built on hard work, as Hicks added 25 pounds of muscle during his early years with the Chiefs, while maintaining his speed and quickness. Compared to the defensive linemen who were drafted in 1998, Hicks outperformed 90 percent of them, not only in rushing the passer but stopping the run. He was a great contributor both on and off the field.

Running back Mack Lee Hill – had a short 27-game career out of Southern University in Louisiana, but he left an impression on those early Chiefs teams and Kansas City fans. In many ways Hill was the first Chiefs star in Kansas City. He joined the team as an undrafted rookie and won over the fans with his hard running style that earned him the nickname “The Truck.” In two seasons, he ran for 1,203 yards on 230 carries, a 5.2-yard per carry average along with six TD runs. After suffering a knee injury in the next to last game of the 1965 season, Hill died while undergoing surgery on December 14, 1965. His tragic passing led the Chiefs to retire his No. 36 and to name their rookie of the year award after Hill.

Wide receiver Stephone Paige (right) – was undrafted coming out of Fresno State in 1983 so unknown that for most of his rookie season the club spelled his first name without an “e” on the end. Paige was 6-2, 185 pounds and while not exceptionally fast, he was able to get great separation from coverage with his quickness. He ended up playing in 125 games with 81 starts over nine seasons. Paige caught 377 passes for 6,341 yards and 49 touchdown catches. He stands fifth in catches and receiving yards in club history. The final game of the 1985 season saw him catch eight passes for 309 yards against the Chargers at Arrowhead. That was an NFL record for receiving yards in a game at the time, breaking an NFL record that stood for 40 years. One other thing about Paige that set him apart was his willingness to go over the middle. Many times he was laid out on the field, but got back up and returned to the game.

Fullback Tony Richardson –spent his first football season out of Auburn University on the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys. He signed with the Chiefs in February of 1995 and ended up spending 11 seasons wearing the red and gold. Richardson appeared in 163 games with 96 starts. Most of that time came at fullback, but he also led the team in rushing during the 2000 season working mostly at tailback. TRich finished his Chiefs career with 395 carries for 1,576 yards and 15 TD runs, plus 177 catches for 1,298 yards and nine scoring catches. He was also the main blocker for Marcus Allen, Greg Hill, Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson. In every way he approached the game, and his life, Tony Richardson was the epitome of class.

CB Emmitt Thomas – was signed in 1966 out of the now defunct Bishop College in Dallas as an undrafted free agent. Thomas played quarterback in college, but was moved into the secondary by Hank Stram and established there a 13-year career as a Hall of Fame cornerback. Over his career, he played in 181 games and set a franchise record with 58 interceptions. That’s 10th on the NFL’s all-time interception list and he ranks fourth among cornerbacks. He added five more INTs in the post-season, and scored five touchdowns on returns. Four Pro Bowls and one spot in the AFL All-Star Game were also part of his record. Thomas was one of the final pieces of the defensive puzzle put together by Stram to go with linebackers Bell-Lanier-Lynch, S Johnny Robinson and linemen Buck Buchanan and Jerry Mays.

G Brian Waters (left) – coming out of North Texas State, Waters signed with Dallas as a tight end/fullback after his college career. He was released before the 1999 regular season and signed the next spring with the Chiefs, who sent him to the World Football League where they turned him into an offensive lineman. Waters has been a fixture in the Chiefs line since, moving into the left guard spot and he’s now played 163 games with 149 starts. In his prime, he was one of the strongest and most talented blockers in franchise history. Waters has earned five trips to the Pro Bowl (2004-06, 2008 and 2010.)

KEEPING UP WITH THE PRO-DAY WORKOUTS

For those teams looking at a first-round quarterback in April’s NFL Draft, Tuesday was a busy day as both Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett took part in their school’s Pro Day.

At Auburn, Newton was the major reason all 32 teams were in attendance at the War Eagles session. Observers reported that over a 48-minute workout, he threw 60 drop back passes, missing on just six of those throws. It was a much better throwing session than he had at the NFL Combine.

There was also a lot of attention on DT Nick Fairley, who is expected to be drafted in the top five. Reports said he had a good day, although he did not do the bench press, as he’s coming off a shoulder injury. He measured in at 6-3, 297 pounds.

In Fayetteville, Arkansas, Mallett had a good day throwing the football, displaying his touch, accuracy and velocity. But he had a bad day as an athlete, running the 40-yard dash in an ultra slow 5.37 seconds. His vertical jump was 26 inches with an 8.725 broad jump. He was measured at 6-6, 247 pounds.

NFL PERSONNEL FILE FOR TUESDAY, MARCH 8

  • GIANTS – plan to release RB Tiki Barber from their reserve/retired list.
  • RAIDERS – signed OT Daniel Loper and RB Michael Bennett.

5 Responses to “Who Needs The Draft! … Wednesday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • March 9, 2011  - cowboyChief says:

    Good article Bob, the list of undrafted free agents is very good. Thar list includes several of my all-time favorite Chiefs. Not being drafted seems to have made them try a little harder and appreciate the fans a little more.
    Kimble was here in Joplin last year for a peewee football SuperBowl and I told him he looked like he could still play. He gave a big laugh and said “No Way”. He’s still a great guy.


  • March 9, 2011  - rob says:

    Priest Holmes deserves to be on this list.


  • March 9, 2011  - Anonymous says:

    rob,

    Why Holmes is not on Bob’s list?

    “Second, he did not play in a regular-season game for another CFL or NFL team before playing with the Chiefs.”


  • March 9, 2011  - Anon says:

    @rob and Anonymous: Priest played for 4 years with Baltimore before he came to the Chiefs. He had a 1,000 yard season with them. They let him go to give the starting job to Jamal Lewis. That’s why he’s not on the list.


  • March 10, 2011  - Mark B. says:

    Great article! We have had some great players here in K.C.!




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