Every Top 25 College Football Team's Best NFL Player Ever
As spring football camps are kicking off across the country, there is a group of players not looking to lace up the shoes and pull on the pads. Instead, a select few are looking to improve 40-yard dash times and vertical jump height.
That's right, for a group of elite players, the NFL draft is all they can think of. It got us to think about the best NFL players to come from the best college football schools this country has to offer.
So, let us take a look at the best player to come from each of the top 25 schools to end this past season.
Check out those players in the following slides.
*Top 25 based on the AP Top 25 Poll.
25. Warren Moon (Washington Huskies)
When you think of Washington Huskies in the NFL, chances are there are two names that immediately come to mind—Warren Moon and Lincoln Kennedy. However, there are just three players from the Huskies to ever make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That means advantage Warren Moon, who may have been the most exciting player at quarterback of the late '80s and early '90s. While Moon's career started in the CFL, he made his name quickly when he went to the NFL.
Moon left the CFL for the Houston Oilers in 1984 and became a household name around the league just five years later. In fact, he would go on to be a nine-time Pro Bowl selection—being named to the game every year from 1988 to 1995.
He finished his NFL career with 49,325 yards passing, 291 touchdowns and 233 interceptions. His total touchdowns between the CFL and NFL were a record until Brett Favre broke it in 2007.
Moon's importance to the quarterbacks of today can't be understated, as he was one of the most revolutionary quarterbacks the league has seen since the early days of the forward pass. Moon not only broke the mold, he paved the way for other black quarterbacks to play and start in the NFL.
He also holds the distinction of being the only player to be named to both the Canadian and Pro Football Hall of Fames.
24. Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt Commodores)
Vanderbilt and success in football don't go hand-in-hand historically, and that means the players with successful NFL careers are slim pickings. However, there is one position that has had some success from the Commodores, and that's quarterback.
It was a close call between the old-school and new-school of Bill Wade and Jay Cutler, but the edge goes new-school on this one. Cutler, while controversial, has already set numerous quarterback records for the Chicago Bears.
Among them are most career yards (14,913), most career completions (1,258) and best season completion percentage (60.5).
He's made one Pro Bowl appearance in his career, coming as a member of the Denver Broncos, who drafted Cutler with the No. 11 pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft.
23. Sonny Jurgensen (Duke Blue Devils)
Duke has never really been considered a football school, but they do have a few of the all-time great NFL players to their credit. In fact, the Blue Devils stake claim to three players with busts at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Easily the most recognizable and best of them is quarterback Sonny Jurgensen. In college, Jurgensen wasn't just a successful quarterback, he was also a very good defensive back. Jurgensen's efforts on both sides of the ball helped the Blue Devils to back-to-back ACC championships in 1954-55, including a berth in the 1955 Orange Bowl.
He would go on to pass for 32,224 yards, 255 touchdowns and 189 touchdowns over an 18-year career as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. Jurgensen was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, won the 1960 NFL Championship with the Eagles and was named to the NFL's 1960's All-Decade Team.
Those numbers got him elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and make him the best NFL player in the history of Duke football.
22. Mike Webster (Wisconsin Badgers)
Wisconsin has a recent reputation as "Offensive Line U," but most don't realize the history of Wisconsin and the O-line go way back beyond the 1990s. In fact, there may not have been a greater Badger player in the NFL than the late Mike Webster.
The Pittsburgh Steelers took Webster, who was a two-time All-Big Ten center, in the fifth round of the 1974 NFL draft. He would go on to win four Super Bowls, play every game for 10 seasons (1976 to 1985) and play more games and seasons with the Steelers than anyone else.
Webster was named to nine Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro selection as well.
He spent the final two seasons (1989 and 1990) with the Kansas City Chiefs before retiring. Webster was elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997, joining fellow Badger Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch as the only players from Wisconsin with their busts in Canton, Ohio.
21. Terrell Suggs (Arizona State)
There may not have been a more disruptive force in a Sun Devils uniform than one Terrell Suggs, and he didn't disappoint after leaving for the NFL following a record-setting junior season. In that 2002 year, Suggs recorded an NCAA single-season record of 24 sacks, but it was just a sign of things to come.
Suggs was a first-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2003, and his career is still ongoing as we speak today. He's totaled 94.5 career sacks to-date in the NFL, while amassing 667 tackles.
In fact, the 2013 season was one of the best statistical seasons of his career—tying his single-season high for tackles (80) and recording his fifth double-digit sack (10) season, too.
He's been a six-time Pro Bowl selection, won one Super Bowl and was the 2011 AFC Defensive Player of the Year, just to name a few of the honors he's received.
While there are other amazing players and three current members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Suggs will certainly be joining them shortly after becoming eligible.
20. Joe Montana (Notre Dame)
When you've got 10 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it's safe to say the choices are difficult to make. However, this one came down to two names—Joe Montana and Paul Hornung.
Both were multi-Super Bowl winning players, and Montana may have had more, but Hornung wasn't just a running back or pass-catcher, he also was a place kicker for the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s. However, Joe Montana remains one of the most prolific quarterbacks of all time to this day, and that gives him the edge.
Montana led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl titles in four tries, and he held six Super Bowl records at the time of his retirement in 1994. His 11 career touchdown passes, 1,142 yards passing and 357 yards in Super Bowl XXIII are just a few of those Super Bowl records.
He also was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and finished his career with 40,551 yards and 273 touchdowns to his name, while ending his career second in quarterback rating at 92.3 upon his retiring.
While there have been spectacular players at nearly every position to come out of Notre Dame, no one was as clutch in big games and in the postseason as Montana was.
19. O.J. Simpson (USC Trojans)
Despite the punchlines and controversy later in life, Orenthal James Simpson was once the gold standard of running backs. He was a superstar in college at Southern Cal and lived up to the advanced billing in the NFL as well.
After winning the 1968 Heisman Trophy, Simpson went on to an NFL career that saw him rack up 11,236 yards (second all time at the time of his retirement) and 61 rushing touchdowns and get enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985.
He set the single-season rushing mark with 2,003 yards in 1973 and still holds a number of records in the NFL today. Among them are most games of 200 yards or more in a career (six) and most consecutive games with 200 yards or more (two).
The fact that Simpson still stands in the record books given names like Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith and others that came after him is a testament to how great of a player he was in his day.
18. Yale Larry (Texas A&M Aggies)
Texas A&M may be one of the blue bloods of college football, however their history of amazing NFL players is few and far between. In fact, just one former Aggie, Yale Larry, has his bust inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he is our selection for best NFL player of all time.
Believe it or not, there was a time when the Lions were one of the most feared teams in the NFL, and Larry had a lot to do with that. He was a key cog in three Lions championships (1952, 1953 and 1957).
Even for his day, Larry was a rare breed. Not only was he a hard-hitting and ball-hawking (before that term existed) safety, he played a key role on special teams as a punter and punt returner during a career that spanned from 1952 to 1964 with the Lions (missing only the 1954 season).
Not only did Larry amass 50 career interceptions, but he also had 14 fumble recoveries as a safety. He also averaged 44.3 yards per punt in his career (503 punts) and had three touchdowns in 126 career punt returns.
Yale was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979 and remains the only Aggie in those hallowed halls.
17. Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State Cowboys)
Would there be any other choice than Barry Sanders to represent the Lions? Maybe you could make a case for Thurman Thomas and his four Super Bowl appearances, but Sanders' career is one of the best in collegiate and NFL history.
After winning the 1988 Heisman Trophy, Sanders went No. 3 to the Detroit Lions in the 1989 NFL draft, and the rest is pretty much history. Of course, by history we mean making history—because Sanders amassed 1,000 yards in each of his 10 seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions.
He was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection, was named an All-Pro six times and won the 1997 NFL MVP award. Sanders also claimed the NFL rushing title four times on his way to 15,269 yards, which is third all time in NFL history.
In his final season, Sanders rushed for over 1,400 yards and decided to retire on top of his game. He would earn first-ballot Hall of Fame honors by becoming a member of the class of 2004.
16. Jonathan Ogden (UCLA Bruins)
Sorry Troy Aikman and your Super Bowl titles, there's one player that trumps you for prestige and greatness at his position, and that is the original Baltimore Raven—Jonathan Ogden.
Ogden came to the NFL with high marks in college, winning the Outland Trophy in 1995 and making the 1994 Rose Bowl against Wisconsin.
After Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore, the Ravens started from scratch in records and in name. Ogden became their first official draft pick, going No. 4 in the 1996 NFL draft, and was quickly the cornerstone for everything that happened after.
All he did was go on and play for 12 straight seasons, go to the Pro Bowl for 11 of those 12 years and be named All-Pro nine of those 12 seasons.
Ogden was named to the All-Decade Team of the 2000s and was the 2002 NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year according to the NFL Alumni. It all led to him becoming a member of the Collegiate Hall of Fame in 2012 and the NFL Hall of Fame in 2013.
There may not have been anyone more qualified to talk on Ogden's greatness than the GM that drafted him in 1996—Ozzie Newsome.
"There's not a player I've seen in my 30 years in the league play his position better than Jonathan Ogden played his," said Newsome, via USA Today.
15. Bruce Armstrong (Louisville Cardinals)
Louisville has put quite a few players in to the NFL, but only one of them currently has a prayer of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame—Bruce Armstrong.
After being drafted No. 23 by the New England Patriots in the first round of the 1987 NFL draft, Armstrong would spend every year of his career in a Patriots uniform and become a staple of the Patriots lineup. Of a possible 220 games, Armstrong started 212 of them, including 118 games to end his career.
He made six Pro Bowls and was twice named second-team All-Pro in his 14-year NFL career.
Armstrong is one of just 11 players in the Patriot Hall of Fame and is one of seven players with their number retired by the organization. While he isn't a member of the NFL Hall of Fame, his play could get him there in the future.
14. Jim Taylor (LSU Tigers)
Paul Hornung was the "Golden Boy," but the engine that made the team of the '60s go in Green Bay was Jim Taylor. In fact, Taylor may not have ever been the player he was had Vince Lombardi not been hired in 1959.
Taylor went from seldom-used fullback to the center of Green Bay's power offense. Starting in 1960, Taylor clicked off five straight 1,000-yard seasons, when 1,000-yard seasons meant something.
The 1962 season was his high-water mark, rushing for 1,474 yards and earning the NFL Player of the Year award, while leading the Packers to the NFL title in a 16-7 win over the New York Giants.
He finished his 10-year career with 8,597 yards and 83 rushing touchdowns, while racking up 225 career receptions for 1,756 yards and 10 touchdowns.
While Jim Brown may have taken the headlines of the era, Taylor was often not far behind him. In fact, Lombardi was once quoted as saying, "Jim Brown will give you that leg and then take it away from you. Jim Taylor will give it to you and then ram it through your chest!"
There may not have been a more old-school player during the '60s than Taylor, and for his two Super Bowl rings and hard-nosed career, Taylor is easily the best player to grace the field from LSU.
13. Mike Singletary (Baylor Bears)
When discussing the greatest Super Bowl champions of all time, the 1985 Chicago Bears often come up. One of the main reasons for that is their defense, and one of the best players on that defense was No. 50, Mike Singletary.
He happens to be the only Baylor Bear in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, getting elected to the Hall in 1998. Considering the history of ineptitude at Baylor, that shouldn't be surprising.
Singletary was a second-round pick of the Bears in 1981 and wound up starting 172 games in his career, which was second-most at the time of his retirement in 1992. As a middle linebacker, Singletary was expected to make big plays, but what he did was otherworldly.
In his final season at Baylor, Singletary racked up a record 232 tackles. That continued in the NFL, where he recorded 1,488 tackles and 19 sacks during his career.
There wasn't a more feared linebacker in the NFL during his day, and the respect was well earned. He was an All-Pro pick seven years in a row (1983 to 1989) and was the rare first-ballot Hall of Famer because of all those numbers.
He later went on to become a coach in the league, leading the San Francisco 49ers as their head coach.
12. Cris Carter (Ohio State Buckeyes)
Cris Carter is living proof that you don't need Super Bowl rings to be considered great. Over his 16-year career, Carter never achieved the ultimate team award as Super Bowl champion, but it wasn't for a lack of effort on his part.
At Ohio State, Carter blazed the trail for wide receivers, becoming the first All-American at the position in 1986, and he became a member of the Philadelphia Eagles via the supplemental draft in 1987 thanks to that pesky thing called signing with an agent before your eligibility is up.
That began a career that ended with Carter pulling in 1,101 receptions, which is second all time in NFL history. In those 1,101 receptions, he amassed 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns, as well. Carter's eight seasons with 1,000 yards or more currently ranks third in NFL history, and his touchdown total is second behind Rice's 197.
Needless to say, Carter was one of the best of his generation in the NFL and it paid off with his name being included in the 1990's All-Decade Team and his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
11. John Elway (Stanford Cardinal)
Stanford may be a college football power, but way back in the late 1970s, that wasn't the case at all. Yet, the Cardinal would find a future Hall of Fame quarterback on its campus in 1979 as two-sport star John Elway came aboard.
He would be named the 1982 Pac-10 Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in his final year at Stanford. The 1983 draft was one of the craziest, as Elway was originally selected by the Baltimore Colts and refused to sign. He forced a trade to the Broncos and went on to become the icon of that franchise.
Elway led the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances, winning the final two before his retirement following the 1998 season. He ended his career with 51,475 yards and 300 touchdowns to 226 interceptions.
With Elway being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, he became just one of three quarterbacks selected No. 1 overall in the draft to also be named a Hall of Famer.
10. Josh Sitton (UCF Knights)
UCF doesn't have a long history as a football school, only starting as a full-blown Division I-A (FBS) program in 1996. However, there have been a few names coming out of the Orlando, Fla. school since that time, and none of them have had the sustained success of Josh Sitton.
Sitton came to the Green Bay Packers via the fourth round of the 2008 NFL draft, and he quickly established himself as a rising star along the offensive line. He's started 80 of an eligible 89 games in his career, won the 2011 Offensive Lineman of the Year award in 2011 and helped the Packers win Super Bowl XLV.
He's been important enough for the Packers that he's moved from right to left guard based on the need to give Aaron Rodgers the best blindside protection possible.
While other names like Daunte Culpepper and Brandon Marshall may have more name recognition, Sitton has the proven results at his position and with his team to be the best player to come from UCF.
9. Dan Fouts (Oregon Ducks)
Is there a more "cool" school in college football than Oregon these days? It hasn't always been the case, but the Ducks have managed to have some great individual players throughout history. However, the name of Dan Fouts stands out above the other five Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Fouts was an All-Pac-8 quarterback out of Oregon in 1972 and was a third-round pick of the Chargers in 1973. He would go on to a 15-year career, all in a Chargers uniform.
Topping 43,000 yards, throwing for 254 touchdowns and completing nearly 59 percent of his passes gave Fouts the credentials to head to the Hall of Fame. At the time of his retirement, he set the career record for most seasons leading the NFL in passing, doing so from 1979 to 1982.
Few other players represent what it means to be a member of a specific team than Fouts does for the Chargers. He was enshrined in 1993, his first year of eligibility for the Hall, making it hard to argue he isn't the best Duck to ever play in the NFL.
8. Brian Dawkins (Clemson Tigers)
For a school with the rich history that Clemson has, it hasn't translated well to NFL stardom or historically significant players. However, that will change soon as recent retiree Brian Dawkins is a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
In fact, he may be the one of the best defensive backs of the 2000s. Dawkins earned Pro Bowl honors nine times in his 16-year career, was named All-Pro six times and was a member of the NFL's All-Decade team of the 2000s.
With the changing role of the safety in the NFL, Dawkins became the poster boy for the new attacking variety. He finished his career with 1,131 tackles, 26 sacks and 37 interceptions.
Dawkins retired after the 2011 season and has already had his number retired by the Eagles. The Hall of Fame may be just a few short years away for him as well.
7. Don Hutson (Alabama Crimson Tide)
For the young crowd, Don Hutson's name isn't probably near the top of your list of players to come from Alabama. Heck, it may not be at the top of the list of players to come from Alabama and play for the Green Bay Packers.
However, for those that witnessed him play or know the history of the passing game in the NFL, there's little question who the best player in NFL history to come from Alabama is. While Hutson may have retired from football in 1945, his numbers still stand the test of time today.
Hutson led the league in receiving in eight of his 10 seasons with the Packers, which is still the all-time record. Other receiving records Hutson still holds to this day include:
- Most Consecutive Seasons Leading League in Receiving (five)
- Most Seasons Leading League in Yards Gained (seven)
- Most Consecutive Seasons Leading League in Yards Gained (four)
- Most Seasons Leading League in Receiving Touchdowns (nine)
- Most Consecutive Seasons Leading League in Touchdowns (five)
Beyond that list, Hutson stands near the top in most 200-yard games in a season (second with two) and is second with four career 200-yard receiving games, as well.
While time may pass Hutson by and the younger generations may not remember him, the NFL record books sure do. Oh, and top off his career, Hutson also was a place kicker and played defensive back.
6. Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma Sooners)
Nine times out of 10, players with the hype that surrounded Adrian Peterson coming out of college simply don't live up to expectations. Peterson is the rare breed that not only lived up to the hype, but surpassed it all.
Since leaving Oklahoma following his junior season, Peterson has been one of the most watched players in the league. The NFL has searched high and low for a running back to take over the mantle that was left behind when Barry Sanders retired, and Peterson has picked it up and run to the record books with it.
In his six years in the NFL, Peterson has done just about everything an individual can do. He's rushed for over 2,000 yards, been named NFL MVP and owns the single-game rushing record at 296 yards. The only thing missing is a Super Bowl ring, really.
To date, Peterson has racked up 10,115 yards, 86 rushing touchdowns and is averaging five yards per carry for his career. He also has over 200 receptions for 1,697 yards and five touchdowns in the pass game.
While Peterson may not break every rushing record out there due to a few injuries that hampered playing time so far, he's been one of the most explosive backs to come into the league since Sanders' retirement and is arguably the greatest Sooner to play in the NFL.
5. Kellen Winslow (Missouri Tigers)
Remember that Dan Fouts character we talked about earlier? Well, meet Kellen Winslow, the guy who was on the receiving end of a lot of what Fouts threw up there in his career. He played with San Diego from 1979 to 1987, encompassing nearly all of Fouts’ career.
Winslow earned his Hall of Fame honors in 1995, thanks to a career full of highlight-reel catches that revolutionized the tight end position.
His pass-catching ability and speed were a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, and along with receiver Charlie Joyner, Winslow and Fouts formed the famed "Air Coryell" attack in San Diego.
In his career, Winslow had 541 receptions for 6,741 yards and 45 touchdowns. He also averaged 12.5 yards per catch for his career.
Heck, he even led the league in receptions during the 1980 and '81 season—something that wouldn't surprise anyone given the importance of the tight end in today's NFL. If you want to know where it all started, a great person to look to would be Kellen Winslow Sr.
4. Sterling Sharpe (South Carolina Gamecocks)
Perhaps no player whose career spanned just six seasons had as great an impact on the NFL game as that of former South Carolina Gamecock and Green Bay Packer, Sterling Sharpe. His was a career cut short thanks to a series of neck injuries, but one that was significant nonetheless.
In his six years in Green Bay, Sharpe set a few significant NFL records, including most games with three touchdown receptions (four) and most games with at least four TDs (two). He ended his career with 595 receptions for 8,134 yards and 65 touchdowns.
What made Sharpe a matchup nightmare in college and the pro game was his rare combination of size, speed and strength. Sharpe became the poster boy for the YAC (Yards After Catch) stat that was so en vogue during the 1990s.
Sharpe broke records at South Carolina, including career receptions (169) and yards (2,497), records that were only recently topped.
The only question is, was his career too short to get him into the Hall of Fame, or will his numbers eventually win out? It's up to the voters, and so far he hasn't been so lucky.
3. Herb Adderley (Michigan State Spartans)
The Packers of the 1960s make another return on our list, and this time it's for the Michigan State Spartans. Having just two Hall of Famers to their alumni roll made this pick a bit easier, but so did the career of one Herb Adderley.
Few remember that Adderley came to the Packers as a running back, and their first-round draft pick, as well. After a collegiate career that saw him amass 813 yards rushing and 519 yards receiving, the Packers saw something else in him.
He quickly transitioned from the offensive backfield to the defensive variety, and the move paid off big time.
Adderley became a Hall of Famer in the class of 1980, but did so thanks to a career as a feared cornerback before the term "shutdown" had ever been applied to a cornerback before. He had 48 career interceptions and returned seven of those for touchdowns.
He was also a key component to winning football teams, as Adderley played in seven NFL/NFC championship games and four Super Bowls. He wound up winning six NFL Championships, the first two Super Bowls with Green Bay and a final one as a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 1971.
2. Takeo Spikes (Auburn Tigers)
Unfortunately, as good as his individual career was, Spikes has the dubious honor of playing in the most regular season games in NFL history (219) without ever making it to the postseason. All of that despite playing for the likes of the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers.
Individually, Spikes' career was pretty impressive. He had 1,423 tackles, 29 sacks, 19 interceptions and 15 forced fumbles.
He was a prolific linebacker at Auburn, racking up 137 tackles in his final year as a Tiger, earning him first team All-American honors. Spikes earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors twice during his career, both while with the Buffalo Bills (2003-04).
Spikes has yet to officially retire, but he did sit out the entire 2013 season, ironically a year in which the Chargers (his last team) made the playoffs and won a game.
1. Deion Sanders (Florida State Seminoles)
Yes, there's an award named after Fred Biletnikoff and his bust is in Canton, Ohio, but how can you not name Primetime, Neon Deion...Deion Sanders as the best NFL player in the history of Florida State? Sanders represented the new era of cornerback and of the pro athlete when he came on the scene in 1989.
He was named All-Pro nine times, was named to eight Pro Bowls and was also one of the most prolific punt returners in NFL history.
Given his time in Tallahassee, Fla. those honors shouldn't have been surprising. After all, Sanders was a two-time consensus All-American cornerback and three-sport star for the Seminoles. He earned those honors with 14 career interceptions and thanks to his punt returning abilities, leading the nation in 1988.
Things didn't change much in the pros, as Sanders piled up touchdowns like they were going out of style. He managed 22 total touchdowns in his 14-season career, nine coming from punt returns, six from interceptions and three on kick returns. He also had 53 career interceptions as a corner for five teams in his career.
Perhaps the one knock on Sanders was that he was more of a soft corner than the bump-and-run style of the day. He rarely could be seen sticking someone on a tackle either, but his talent was undeniable. For that, he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
*Andy Coppens is a National College Football Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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