10 Undeniably Inspirational NFL Draft Stories

The NFL Draft may just be the ultimate stage for hope. 

It’s where fan bases, families, and franchises all collide in an orchestra of optimism. A three-day long, nationally televised extravaganza that fuels inspiration all over the country—in 2023, more than 11.9 million viewers tuned in for the first round alone. 

It’s inspiration that arrives in many ways. 

It’s the dream to next season, to be sure, but it’s also a glimmering spotlight on sheer human ability. On the legendary stories of perseverance written by each and every one of these players. Don’t forget that only 1.6% of college football players actually make it into the pros; and less than 300 will actually be drafted. 

Look closely, and you’ll discover a mosaic of success amongst those players—those who overcame immense odds, who beat so-called limitations, who conquered their own demons, or hardships forced upon them.

As we get ready for the 2024 NFL Draft to captivate football fans everywhere from Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27, let’s take a moment to recognize some of the most inspiring NFL Draft stories of all time.

Shaquem Griffin | Fifth Round, 2018 NFL Draft

Draft Team: Seattle Seahawks

College: UCF

The Inspiration

Born with amniotic band syndrome affecting his left hand, which was later amputated. Despite this, he excelled at the University of Central Florida, earning AAC Defensive Player of the Year, and was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, making him the first one-handed player to be drafted in the modern era.

Michael Oher | First Round, 2009 NFL Draft

Draft Team: Baltimore Ravens

College: Ole Miss

The Inspiration

Oher had a challenging childhood with a drug-addicted mother and was homeless at times. His life turned around when he was adopted by the Tuohy family, which helped him focus on his football talents that eventually led to his first-round draft selection. 

James Conner | Third Round, 2017 NFL Draft

Draft Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

College: University of Pittsburgh

The Inspiration

Diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma during his time in college, Conner announced his cancer was in remission in 2016 and returned to play, showing incredible resilience. His comeback story was capped by being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Jaylon Smith | Second Round, 2016 NFL Draft

Draft Team: Dallas Cowboys

College: Notre Dame

The Inspiration

Suffered a catastrophic knee injury in his final college game, which included nerve damage. His inspiring recovery and determination led the Dallas Cowboys to draft him, believing in his ability to return to form.

Maurkice Pouncey | First Round, 2010 NFL Draft

Draft Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

College: University of Florida

The Inspiration

Overcame a background of financial hardship with his twin brother. Both earned scholarships to play at Florida, and Maurkice's impressive college career led to his selection in the first round by the Steelers.

Tyrann Mathieu | Third Round, 2013 NFL Draft

Draft Team: Arizona Cardinals

College: LSU

The Inspiration

Faced numerous off-field issues, including drug-related problems that led to his dismissal from LSU. Mathieu worked to turn his life around and showcased enough talent and improvement to be drafted by the Cardinals.

Josh Jacobs | First Round, 2019 NFL Draft

Draft Team: Oakland Raiders

College: University of Alabama

The Inspiration

Experienced homelessness, living out of a car with his father and siblings during his childhood. His standout performance at Alabama caught the attention of the Raiders, who drafted him in the first round.

Devonta Freeman | Fourth Round, 2014 NFL Draft

Draft Team: Atlanta Falcons

College: Florida State University

The Inspiration

Grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood. Freeman used football as a pathway out of his environment, leading to a successful college career and subsequent draft into the NFL.

Logan Ryan | Third Round, 2013 NFL Draft

Draft Team: New England Patriots

College: Rutgers

The Inspiration

Battled dyslexia, which posed challenges in both academics and athletics. He overcame these to excel at Rutgers and was drafted by the Patriots, becoming a key player in their defense.

Alec Ingold | Undrafted, 2019

Draft Team: Oakland Raiders

College: University of Wisconsin

The Inspiration

Faced family issues with addiction and experienced homelessness during his youth. His leadership on and off the field at Wisconsin was enough to earn him a spot in the NFL, even without being drafted.

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