can you play in the nfl without going to college

Can You Play in the NFL Without Going to College?

It is said that every third football player in the West wants to play in the NFL someday. No matter how strong your game is, you will be thrown out if you don’t hold a college degree. This is a statement that many have heard and most of them believe it. But, the truth is something different.

Any athlete who has graduated from high school three years prior can join the NFL. Numerous football players have signed up for the NFL draft without attending college and have had successful careers in the game.

So, next time someone shows doubt or asks the question can you play in the NFL without going to college or not, simply say yes you can.

But given the background of the game and seriousness that goes into the NFL selection process, one should have complete information on how to do it without a college degree, who has done it before and what all are the intricacies that most people don’t know about. Let’s look at each of them.

How Do Players Get To The NFL Without Attending College?

Two ways can be counted as the most practised ones when it comes to playing in the NFL without attending college.

Multi Sports Athlete

Multi-sport athletes are one of the most popular routes to the NFL without competing in college football. Some professional athletes opt to switch sports at some point during their sporting careers probably at a later stage. When this occurs, the players are too old, most of the time, to play college football.

Many professional sports do not take the same route of going to college to further themselves in the sport. Athletes decide to not attend college to increase their prospects of becoming professional athletes.

These athletes won’t have any experience playing college football when they decide to move from, say, basketball to football.

The NFL’s decision to suspend these players because they did not complete college, would not make any sense. Instead, these athletes are accepted into the NFL, albeit the odds are sometimes stacked against them just because they lack collegiate football preparation.

Foreigner Players

Coming from an entirely different region of the world is another popular path for non-collegiate NFL players. When North American football players start realizing that they have the skills to play the game, they often enroll in college.

But, some sportsmen who didn’t grow up in this region of the world do not discover their skillset for football until much later in life. Once they get to the United States, it is mostly too late for these athletes to enroll in college.

Punters and kickers who discover their potential of playing on football’s special teams in later stages of life are especially likely to take this kind of career.

A lot of late bloomers are found in NFL since these positions can perform well even in subsequent life stages.

How Does One Get Eligible for the NFL Draft?

Players must have graduated from high school at least three years before the start of the college football season and have used up all of their collegiate eligibility to be eligible for the draft.

player in white jersey trying to get the football

Otherwise, a player must have completed his college eligibility before the start of the next football season to be eligible for the NFL Draft.

A player occasionally completes their degree before their period of academic eligibility expires. If so, they need to request permission from the NFL’s Player Personnel Staff before entering the draft early. Freshmen and Juniors have just seven days following the NCAA Final Four to complete these requirements.

The Player Personnel Staff will inform scouts, clubs, schools, and agents about a player’s status once he or she becomes draft-eligible. They collaborate with the aforementioned parties on player exercises and other planning as well.

How Hard Is It To Get Drafted in NFL?

In reality, getting into the NFL is challenging. Only 200 or more football players are chosen on draft night, even though there are thousands of them in the world. NFL draft picks come from just 1.6% of college football players.

To answer, how hard is it to get into the NFL, you can easily say that only a small number of the drafted players take the field.

Those who aren’t selected for the active roster or don’t get to play are instead given a spot on the practice squad. There are benefits to being a practising player as well. The weekly pay for the practise squad is about $8,400. However, the security of their contracts makes their income uncertain. This gives rise to the question that how many players go undrafted in NFL?

There are presently 15 undrafted members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and almost 500 undrafted players in the NFL (486 undrafted players made 53-man rosters).

What Happens With the Undrafted Players?

Players who were eligible for the NFL Draft but were not chosen are considered undrafted free agents and are free to negotiate and sign with any club. The remaining players are unprotected and free to discuss contract terms with the other teams in the league.

Does NFL Have Open Tryouts?

Unless an NFL franchise makes it feasible, it is technically not possible to conduct open tryouts.

man holding football practicing

College football players who do not have a football scholarship are referred to as walk-ons. They might go to an open tryout or a practice and earn a spot on the squad by doing well. Contracts rather than scholarships are used in the NFL.

NFL Players Who Didn’t Attend College

There have been many renowned players who played in the NFL and never completed college or never even thought of one. It was all about their gameplay and all of them never failed to attract the attention of watchers from around the globe.

Below is the list of players who didn’t go to college.

Lawrence Okoye

Lawrence Okoye never played college football but did spend some time with the San Francisco 49ers. He never played, but up until 2017, he did move around a few practice teams until being kicked out of the league. This year, Lawrence Okoye will be 30.

Antonio Gates

Antonio Gates, who was not even serious about it, played basketball in college. Now Gates, a tight end who played from 2003 to 2018, is perhaps the finest NFL player who never played football in college.

In his 236 career appearances, he accrued more than 955 receptions, 116 touchdowns, and 11000 yards. This year, Antonio Gates will turn 41.

Ray Seals

Ray Seals, one of the most praised players, never played football in college yet managed to infiltrate the NFL. He was a nose tackle and defensive end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1989 to 1993.

Later, from 1994 to 1995, he was a player with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He didn’t play in 1996 but did for the Carolina Panthers, appearing in 14 games before retiring at the age of 32. This year, Ray Seals will turn 56.

Vince Papale

Mark Wahlberg plays Papale in the Disney film “Invincible,” which is based on his life. When Papale was given the chance to try out for the Philadelphia Eagles, he was working as a part-time bartender. He entered the NFL in 1976 and played there through 1978.

american football on the field with players at the back

Saverio Rocca

Saverio Rocca played a type of football in Australia before moving to the United States. At age 34, he began his playing career. Before retiring in 2013, he continued to punt for the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles. This year, Saverio Rocca will turn 48.

Efe Obada

Efe Obada is still playing in the NFL, unlike most people on this list. He is a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers. He recorded 50 tackles in his career and 5.5 sacks in 2020. He has participated in 42 games thus far. He’s had one forced fumble as well. According to Pro Football Reference, Efe Obada is 29 years old.

Michael Lewis

In a sense, Michael Lewis did go to college. He does, however, fit the criteria for this list because he solely played basketball. From 2001 until 2007, he played wide receiver with the New Orleans Saints.

He had played 76 games by the time his NFL career came to an end in 2007. Lewis has 5989 receiving yards and three touchdowns towards the end of his career. This year, Michael Lewis will be 50.

Brian Banks

In high school, Brian Banks was a fantastic athlete. But his college record was not very bright. He was even accused of sexual assault and wound up in jail before playing collegiate football. After ten years of fighting to prove his innocence, Banks was finally freed.

He was given a chance by the Atlanta Falcons, with whom Banks spent the summer before being released. Forbes claims that Banks played a few plays in a preseason game before being released. This year, Brian Banks will turn 36 years old.

Eric Swann

From 1991 through 1999, Eric Swann was a player with the Cardinals. Prior to his retirement, he played for the Carolina Panthers in 2000.

Swann played defensive tackle and defensive end during his career in the NFL. Pro Football Reference lists his 126 NFL games as having resulted in 386 solo tackles, six forced fumbles, and 46.5 total sacks. Later this year, Eric Swann will turn 51 years old.

You can also read about Tyreek Hill, the fastest NFL player.


How To Get an NFL Tryout?

The best way is by the college. Teams usually tend to demand current footage of your playing experience in college, so playing in college games is essential.

football team in black jersey standing on the field

Since they often don’t offer open tryouts, it is somewhat difficult to join an NFL team if you didn’t play college football.

Who Are the NFL Players Who Went Back to College?

Some sportsmen decide to complete their education because they feel there is more to life than fame and wealth. Although the choice is frequently personal, it may also be a smart PR move.

Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, and Bo Jackson are some of the most famous NFL players who went back to complete their college degrees while being a player in the NFL.

Is There an Age Limit for NFL Players?

There is no minimum age requirement or age quota in NFL, so players can participate if they feel they are physically fit.

Now, although there is a wide age range for professional football players. For NFL players, the average age tends to be younger. As of 2015, it was 26.6 years old. That is more recent than it was ten years ago.

This average younger age is a combination of not so long career durations, younger rookies joining the league, and organizations not desiring elderly players. A younger squad may suggest that a player has greater endurance and stamina, although experience is not necessarily implied by youth.


So, when it is said that anyone who has completed high school is eligible to participate in the NFL draft, it is completely true and has worked out for many successful players who have won millions of hearts.

Just focus on your game, build an exceptional skillset, work hard for it, and never lose hope. No one can stop you from there onwards. 

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