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Top 10 NFL Defensive Players Produced by the Clemson Tigers

Kris NeildContributor IIJanuary 10, 2017

Top 10 NFL Defensive Players Produced by the Clemson Tigers

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    When you read "Top 10 Defensive Players" and "Clemson" in the same sentence, you may not be able to contain the chuckling. The team has allowed 667 yards and 575 yards in their two most recent high profile games against Florida State and West Virginia. In the recent past, defense does not seem to be Clemson's "thing."

    Fans are wondering whether to put the blame on new DC Brent Venables or on whoever recruited his personnel. Followers of rival teams are having a great time coming up with new punch lines every time a player scores against the Tigers.

    If you allow your mind to drift past the last 10 months or so, you may remember a time when Clemson had beastly, intimidating defenders. In fact, Clemson has a long history of producing NFL caliber defenders that went on to have great professional careers. 

    The following list of Clemson alumni features five players who were first-round picks. The 10 players accumulated 28 Pro Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl rings.

    If Clemson is to have success going forward, they don't necessarily need a reincarnation of Da'Quan Bowers, though that would be nice. They just need players who compete with the heart and determination of these Tigers past. 

Honorable Mentions

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    Since we are only doing the 10 best defensive players produced by the Clemson Tigers, not everyone could make the cut. Here are a few guys who were right on the bubble. 

    Da'Quan Bowers 

    Yes, Da'Quan has only played one season thus far, and just underwent surgery for a torn Achilles back in May. But, we are talking about a guy who was seriously being considered for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Buccaneers are hoping to get a half season out of him this year, according to ESPN. Assuming he comes back playing anything like he did during his Clemson stint, and he will push his way up the list before you know it. 

    Wayne Simmons

    Simmons was a downright nasty linebacker for the Packers in the early-mid nineties, and their first-round pick in 1993. While he didn't accumulate the counting stats that he did at Clemson (19 sacks), he did develop a rep for having a mean streak and loving to fight. At 6-2 250 lbs, Simmons was a defensive menace, but also high strung and not at times totally focused on the game of football. He did help the Packers take home the rings in Super Bowl XXXI

    Johnny Rembert

    Johnny Rembert was a steady NFL professional, playing his entire 10 year career with the New England Patriots. The linebacker went to the Pro Bowl twice in the late 80's and appeared in Super Bowl XX.

    He is responsible for the first defensive touchdown ever in a playoff game in Giants Stadium.  In the '85 playoffs against the Jets, he whacked the ball out of the grasp of running back Johnny Franklin, recovered the ball and ended up in the end zone 15 yards later for the score. 

    He ended up with 16 NFL sacks, and shared the same grit and pride that all of the '81 champion Tigers are known for having. 

    Jim Stuckey

    Stuckey is fun to bring up. He was a first-round pick of the 49ers in 1980. He won two Super Bowl rings with the team and was a master at the fumble recovery. In an oft overshadowed event, he sealed the win for the 49ers in the 1981 NFC Championship game with a fumble recovery. This, of course, occurred after "The Catch," which featured another Clemson alum, Dwight Clark. 

No. 10: Gaines Adams

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    Gaines Adams left us way too early, but before he did, we were allowed to witness his immense talent on the NFL stage for three seasons. 

    Adams was drafted fourth overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007. Over his three seasons, he accumulated 13.5 sacks, including six in his rookie year, leading all defensive rookies. 

    The Chicago Bears acquired him for a second-round pick in 2009, and had high hopes for the defensive end. At Clemson, he was not only known as a great football player, but also a great person. Buccaneers' head coach Raheem Morris seemed to mistake his niceness for a lack of physicality, which is why the move was made so soon after they drafted him near the top of the board. 

    Adams is tied atop the Clemson record book for most sacks in a season with 28. Had he been able to complete a full career, he certainly would have bested that total in the NFL. 

No. 9: Terry Kinard

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    Terry Kinard is a Clemson legend. He is one of six Tigers to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and holds the Clemson records for interceptions and tackles by a defensive back. 

    In the NFL, Kinard did some good things, too. He was picked in the first-round by the New York Giants in 1983, a season in which he was designated an All-Rookie with 70 tackles. He played professionally for eight seasons as a safety and was notorious around the league for being a hard hitter and a ball hawk. He picked off 31 balls during his tenure, and took two of those to the end zone. 

    Kinard was always dependable, having started 115 of the 121 games he played in. He kept a pretty low profile and is often over shadowed by many other players of his day, despite his successes. He was a Pro Bowler in 1988 and also won a Super Bowl ring with the Giants. 

No. 8: Levon Kirkland

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    Levon Kirkland played most of his 11 NFL seasons with the gold and black at linebacker. He made a name for himself in Superbowl XXX, registering 10 tackles and a sack of opposing QB Troy Aikman. At around this time, it was pretty common belief that Kirkland was one of the best linebackers in the game. 

    Kirkland took advantage of both the dining halls and weight rooms at Clemson. By the time he entered the league, he was a physical freak, often playing the linebacker position at a robust 300 pounds. Having said that, he was quick mover, and excellent at defending the pass.

    Kirkland ended up with over 1,000 tackles in his career, and played in the Pro Bowl twice. 

No. 7: Donnel Woolford

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    Donnell Woolford was taken in the '89 NFL draft by the Bears in the first-round. The second corner taken after Deion Sanders, he was a integral part of the Bears' defense during Mike Ditka's final four years at the helm. 

    Woolford played a mean cover corner, smothering receivers and picking off 36 balls over his 10 year career. Clemson fans saw this ball hawking nature of Donnell's during college. He holds the all time record for career pass deflections for the Tigers. 

    Woolford would have been a lot higher on this list if not for a slew of injuries that shortened his career. He was arguably one of the leagues top corners from 1990-1994, earning a Pro Bowl nod in 1993. The Chicago Bears Daily Blog, the top Bears fan blog, rates Woolford as the team's second best corner all time behind Charles Tillman. 

No. 6: Charlie Waters

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    Charlie Waters had a tough time deciding what position he wanted to play during his time at Clemson, but once he got situated in the pros, found strong safety to be his strong suit. 

    Waters played all 11 of his NFL seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, accumulating a ton postseason appearances in the process. He played in five Super Bowls (would have played in six if not for fellow Tigers Dwight Clark and Jim Stuckey), won two and holds the record for most playoff interceptions with nine. His playoff performances earned him a special place in the hearts of Dallas fans.

    When he was drafted by the Cowboys, he is on record saying he hadn't tackled anybody since high school. Somehow the Cowboys, before the days of draft gurus and video scouting, had the foresight to project Waters athletic ability, even though he was never the biggest or strongest guy on his team. 

    Waters can claim that as a pro, he never experienced a losing season. His 41 interceptions rank third all time for the Cowboys, and are the most of any Clemson graduate who played professionally. 

No. 5: Trevor Pryce

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    Trevor Pryce slips through the cracks sometimes when trying to remember the Tigers that moved up through the ranks. Pryce only played one season with Clemson after transferring over from Michigan. 

    NFL scouts had been on to Pryce for awhile and became yet another Clemson player go in the first-round, this time to the Denver Broncos. He had a menacing second season with Denver, recording 8.5 of his eventual 91 career sacks (38th on the all time list). 

    He won two Super Bowls during his time with the Broncos and racked up three Pro Bowl appearances during his career. He was always very well respected by teammates and fans, and was also pretty smart. These days, he writes Hollywood screenplays and op-ed pieces about how boring his post-NFL life is. 

No.4: Chester McGlockton

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    The late Chester McGlockton, aka "Big Chet" was a seriously imposing NFL defensive lineman. He entered the league as a first-round pick of the Raiders. During his time with the team, he made the Pro Bowl on four separate occasions and once had 9.5 sacks in a season. 

    Big Chet's playing weight was 335 pounds. He was known for forcing his will upon the offensive line, leading to much disruption in the backfield. If there was a forced fumble, sack or QB pressure, chances are McGlockton had something to do with it. 

    McGlockton ended up with 51 career sacks and a ton of tackles, 551 to be exact. 

No. 3: William Perry

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    William "The Refrigerator" Perry is probably the most well known Clemson alum to ever play in the NFL. His showmanship was unrivaled. He garnered a good amount of fame for being part of the "Shufflin' Crew" and holding his own when laying down his verse for The Super Bowl Shuffle

    But you can't get to No. 3 on this list by just dancing and rapping.

    The Fridge was picked in the first-round by the Chicago Bears. He struggled through some initial adversity (such as then-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan saying the team wasted a pick on him) before settling in as an intimidating force on Mike Ditka's defensive line. 

    Perry pushed 380 pounds during his playing days. Not only could he stuff the run, but had quick feet and made it to the quarterback 29.5 times during his illustrious ten year career. 

No. 2: Michael Dean Perry

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    Another Perry? If you can't tell by the picture, this is actually the brother of William "The Fridge" Perry. He entered the league in 1988 with the Cleveland Browns. Though he did not generate as much fanfare as his brother, he still managed to get his name out there. 

    Michael Deal Perry, or MDP, is currently tied with Gaines Adams for the all time Clemson career sack record. In the pros, MDP took down the quarterback 61 times and forced 13 fumbles. He made six Pro Bowls and during his best season earned the AFC Defensive MVP Award. 

    As far as his showmanship, he was popular enough in Cleveland that McDonald's named a monstrous burger after him, the "MDP."

No. 1: Brian Dawkins

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    Brian Dawkins holds down the top spot in this "Top 10 NFL Defensive Players Produced by the Clemson Tigers" list. Dawkins is best known for his time spent with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he registered most of his 1,131 tackles, 37 interceptions and 26 sacks, which is a lot for a safety. 

    Dawkins went to nine Pro Bowls, which is the most of any Clemson alum. While he didn't win any Super Bowls over the course of his career, he was widely regarded as one of the best safeties in the league. 

    In 2017, Dawkins will be eligible to become the first Clemson Tiger to be enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame. There have only been ten safeties to have their busts carved and Dawkins has better numbers than all of them according to this piece by Pete Lieber. 

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