Every year, there are thousands of student-athletes that suit up to play college football across the country. Playing college football — particularly for a top program in Division 1 — is basically a young player’s best chance to try out for a highly sought after spot in the NFL. Throughout the history of the football programs which play in what is called the Power Five conferences, they have produced many good players. We have chosen the greatest players ever to have played for each program, focusing heavily on the football careers they had. In case you were wondering, the Power Five is comprised of 65 schools and includes the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and ACC. Take a look and decide if you agree with our list.
Derrick Thomas — Alabama (SEC) (1985-1988)
A massive amount of football talent has come from the Crimson Tide, including NFL legends like Ozzie Newsome and Bart Starr. But, the most feared player that the program has produced is arguably defensive end Derrick Thomas. While playing for Alabama, Thomas was tagged as a unanimous All-American and would have set a record for sacks in the NCAA’s single-season had it been an official statistic during the time he played. He was even better in the NFL, playing for the Kansas City Chiefs his entire career and making nine Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams. He also holds the record for the most sacks in one NFL game at seven, but his brilliant career ended when he tragically died at 33 years old from injuries that he suffered in a vehicular accident.
Tedy Bruschi — University Of Arizona (Pac-12) (1991-1995)
The history of the Arizona Wildcats includes defensive standouts, such as “Scooby” Wright, the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. But Tedy Bruschi, the winner of that honor in 1995, gets the crown for being the best player to come from the school. At University Of Arizona, he was definitely a sack machine with 52 sacks during his career in the NCAA, though no record was set since the stat was not officially counted at that time. Bruschi joined the New England Patriots and became a legend, winning three Super Bowls.
Terrell Suggs — Arizona State (Pac-12) (2000-2002)
Terrell “T-Sizzle” Suggs was another legendary pass rusher both in college and the NFL. He is the best ever football player that the Arizona State Sun Devils have produced, topping the incredible careers of Pat Tillman and Eric Allen. Suggs was a three-time All-American while at ASU, which include being a unanimous pick back in 2002, the year that he broke the single-season sack record in the NCAA with 24 (he still holds the record). Suggs has had an NFL career that is Hall-of-Fame-caliber, being named the 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and winning a Super Bowl while playing for the Baltimore Ravens. He has also made seven Pro Bowls and is a two-time All-Pro.
Lance Alworth — Arkansas (SEC) (1959-1961)
Former Razorbacks Darren McFadden and Dan Hampton went on to have impressive football careers, but Lance Alworth is the only player from Arkansas who has been inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame so far. In the 1960s, Alworth played brilliantly as a wide receiver for the AFL’s San Diego Chargers and won a championship there before he played for the Dallas Cowboys and eventually won a Super Bowl in 1972. He is one of the greatest players in the history of the AFL, having been a seven-time AFL All-Star and a six-time All-AFL. In addition, he led the league in receiving yards for three different seasons.
Bo Jackson — Auburn (SEC) (1982-1985)
While it is a really tough call to pick between Cam Newton and Bo Jackson, Jackson gets the nod owing to his stellar career at Auburn and his mythical accomplishments. In college, he was averaging 6.6 yards per carry, setting the all-time record in the SEC, and was a star player for Auburn’s track and field and baseball teams. He played in the NFL for only four seasons but he made a Pro Bowl. He also played baseball in the MLB for nine seasons, which makes his career one of the most unique in sports history.
Mike Singletary — Baylor (Big 12) (1977-1980)
Robert Griffin III may be the only Heisman Trophy winner who is from Baylor, but Mike Singletary still gets the nod for being the best football player to ever come from the program. When he was at Baylor, Singletary set many records and was an All-American twice. The legendary linebacker’s career in the NFL was even better. He played for the Chicago Bears his entire career, made the Pro Bowl 10 times out of the 12 seasons he played, was a nine-time All-Pro, and was an eight-time All-Pro first-team selection. He played a major role in the Bears’ defense which won the 1986 Super Bowl, making him a part of what has been called the greatest team in NFL history.
Matt Ryan — Boston College (ACC) (2004-2007)
While Doug Flutie makes a really strong case here, Matt Ryan has almost matched his numbers while only playing in the NFL instead of the Canadian Football League, so this gives him the nod. Ryan played a big part in the Eagles winning three bowl games and he was named ACC Player of the Year and an All-American. His career in the NFL has been outstanding and he has earned honors including NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, and MVP at various times. In addition, he has made four Pro Bowls and was selected as a first-team All-Pro. He shows no signs of stopping as he plays his 13th NFL season with the Atlanta Falcons.
Aaron Rodgers — California (Pac-12) (2003-2004)
In recent years, Cal has produced a lot of great football players, including Keenan Allen, Jared Goff and Marshawn Lynch, but Aaron Rodgers tops all of them. He started playing college football for a community college, but Rodgers transferred to Cal, where he played for two great years and set a number of school records for passing. He has been nothing but historic in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl, making seven Pro Bowls and being named NFL MVP twice. In addition, he holds a number of all-time records for NFL quarterbacks, including the lowest career interception percentage and highest career passer rating.
Troy Aikman — UCLA (Pac-12) (1986-1989)
While several NFL standouts have come out of UCLA, including Jimmy Johnson and Jonathan Ogden, the best Bruin ever has got to be Troy Aikman. He started his college football career at Oklahoma before he transferred and played two seasons at UCLA, winning several prestigious awards and eventually getting inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. In the 1990s, he was the leader of the Dallas Cowboys dynasty, making six Pro Bowls and winning three Super Bowls and an NFL Man of the Year Award. He made it to the Pro Football Hall of Famer on the first ballot.
Terry Kinard — Clemson (ACC) (1978-1982)
Recently, the football program of Clemson has been a juggernaut, giving us players who are out to prove themselves like Deshaun Watson and C.J. Spiller, but safety Terry Kinard is so far the program’s best star. While with the Tigers, Kinard was brilliant, was named a consensus All-American twice, and still holds multiple records at the school for defensive play. When Kinard played in the NFL, he was a Pro Bowler and a part of the fierce defense of the New York Giants in the 1980s, winning a Super Bowl with the team in 1987.
Nate Solder — Colorado (Pac-12) (2006-2010)
Offensive linemen do not get much of it but they deserve some love, too. Despite producing standouts like Kordell Stewart and Mason Crosby, Colorado’s best has to be Nate Solder. With the Buffaloes, he was a unanimous All-American offensive tackle in 2010 although he started out as a tight end there. He played for the New England Patriots, helping them win two Super Bowls within three seasons. In his eight seasons in the NFL, he has missed only 13 games.
George McAfee — Duke (ACC) (1937-1939)
Duke has produced old-school football heroes including Clarkston Hines and Sonny Jurgensen, but it has been a while since a memorable player came from the Blue Devils. George McAfee was among the school’s first legitimate football stars, and arguably its best. In the 1930s, McAfee played for Duke and was a three-way player for the team, leading in stat categories on defense, offense and special teams. His NFL career was the Hall-of-Fame kind and he played for the Chicago Bears, though his career was divided since he served in the Navy for several years during the Second World War. With the Bears, he won four NFL championships and he still holds the NFL record for punt returns.
Emmitt Smith — Florida (SEC) (1987-1989)
Apologies to Gators like Tim Tebow and Maurkice Pouncey, but when the greatest rusher in the history of football came from your school, you are taking the back seat. In the late 1980s, Emmitt Smith played at Florida and was already outstanding even during his freshman season, having been an All-SEC first-team selection in all of the three seasons of his college football career. He went on to become an icon in the NFL while playing for the Dallas Cowboys, whom he helped win three Super Bowls. He also made the Pro Bowl eight times, was named to five All-Pro squads, and holds the NFL’s record for career rushing yards, a record that he may always have.
Deion Sanders — Florida State (ACC) (1985-1988)
With stars like Sebastian Janikowski, Derrick Brooks and Fred Biletnikoff, there have been many great Seminoles in football, though nobody touches “Neon” Deion Sanders. Sanders was a unanimous All-American selection twice while at Florida State, and he is now considered one of the greatest football cornerbacks ever, making both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame. In the NFL, he was a Defensive Player of the Year, won two Super Bowls, made eight Pro Bowls and was an eight-time first-team All-Pro as well. On top of all of that, he played baseball in MLB for nine seasons.
Champ Bailey — Georgia (SEC) (1996-1998)
In Georgia’s football history, there has been some incredible players in its program, and while it is hard to overlook Fran Tarkenton and Herschel Walker, Champ Bailey came to really define his position. While playing for the Bulldogs, Bailey was a three-way player but he earned consensus All-American status because of his work at cornerback. In the NFL, he was even more electrifying, being named to seven All-Pro teams and 12 Pro Bowls, while leading in interceptions once. Thanks to his dominant career, he became a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2019.
Calvin Johnson — Georgia Tech (ACC) (2004-2006)
Even though he cut his own career short when he retired at 30 years old, Calvin Johnson has a stout enough resume, so he is considered as Georgia Tech’s best football player of all time. “Megatron” had a stellar career while with the Yellow Jackets and he holds practically all of the major school records that a receiver can hold. In 2007, he became the highest NFL Draft pick in the school’s history, going second overall. He lived up to his pick, setting and tying many NFL records in spite of only playing nine seasons prior to his retirement in 2016. Other Georgia Tech football standouts include Maxie Baughan and Demaryius Thomas.
Dick Butkus — Illinois (Big Ten) (1962-1964)
It is very difficult to pick a GOAT football player the the University of Illinois has produced. Between Ray Nitschke and Red Grange, you have two of the most legendary players in gridiron history — though the tough-as-nails Dick Butkus is our pick. The star offensive lineman and linebacker for the Fighting Illini, Butkus was a consensus All-American twice and was the 1963 Big Ten MVP. In an NFL career which only lasted nine seasons because of injuries, Butkus was prolific, making eight Pro Bowls, being named to eight All-Pro teams, and being named the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL.
Pete Pihos — Indiana (Big Ten) (1942-1943; 1945-1946)
While Indiana’s football program has not cranked out many memorable football stars like other programs on this list, Pete Pihos was definitely an excellent paragon for the school. At Indiana, he was a two-way player and a three-time All-American, something that is even more impressive once you realize that he was out for one season to serve in the Second World War, earning silver and bronze stars for his bravery in battle. After Pihos came back to Indiana University, he then played his entire career in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, winning championships twice. He was a three-time league leader in receptions and was a six-time first-team All-Pro in only nine seasons of action.
Paul Krause — Iowa (Big Ten) (1960-1963)
Some of the great football players from Iowa include Shonn Greene, Andre Tippett and Alex Karras, but the program’s all-time great has to be Paul Krause, who was a two-way player at Iowa. Krause went on to become an NFL icon and a nightmare for a lot of opposing quarterbacks in the league. Playing safety for the Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins, Krause set the record for all-time career interceptions at 81, which will probably never be touched, and he missed only two games in 16 seasons. In 1969, he won a championship with the Vikings, but aside from that, Krause was named to eight Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams.
Matt Blair — Iowa State (Big 12) (1971-1973)
While the Iowa State Cyclones do not have a long history of outstanding football players, linebacker Matt Blair probably had the best career of any player from the program. He was an All-American at Iowa State, leading to him getting drafted in 1974 by the Minnesota Vikings, where he spent his entire NFL career. He played in the Super Bowl twice and was a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time selection for All-Pro honors. The Vikings have recognized Blair as one of their all-time great players and he is now a part of the franchise’s ring of honor.
Gale Sayers — Kansas (Big 12) (1962-1964)
You might think Gale “Kansas Comet” Sayers was the clear choice for the greatest Kansas Jayhawks football player ever but John Riggins makes a strong case as well. Sayers ultimately gets the nod since his career at Kansas was better – he was a unanimous All-American running back twice and was named all-conference in the three seasons that he played varsity football. He was just as brilliant in the NFL in spite of injuries that drastically shortened his career. He spent his entire career with the Chicago Bears, made four Pro Bowls and was named to five first-team All-Pro. Sayers still holds Bears rushing records almost 50 years after the end of his career.
Darren Sproles — Kansas State (Big 12) (2001-2004)
Names that come up when comparing all-time great football players to ever come from Kansas State include Jordy Nelson, Terence Newman and Larry Brown, but Darren Sproles has to be the greatest Wildcat ever. Sproles proved to be an outstanding offensive talent at Kansas State, where he broke dozens of school records, and he vaulted up NCAA records charts and was named an All-American. In the NFL, he kept it up, winning a Super Bowl together with the Philadelphia Eagles and being named to a first-team All-Pro twice and the Pro Bowl three times. Sproles still holds the league’s record for most all-purpose yards gained in one season, contributing 2,696 back in 2011 while playing for the New Orleans Saints.
Dermontti Dawson — Kentucky (SEC) (1984-1987)
You might think Kentucky is a basketball school but over the years, it has produced a number of football icons like Art Still, Randall Cobb and George Blanda. However, the Wildcats’ GOAT honor goes to Dermontti Dawson, who played center and anchored the team in the mid-’80s. The average football fan may find it tough to judge the performance of a center in a game but Bill Cowher, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach, has named Dawson as the all-time best player in that position, so we are taking his word for it. At Kentucky, Dawson lettered the four years he spent there but in the NFL, he became a star, spending his whole career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and eventually being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Y.A. Tittle — Louisiana State (SEC) (1944-1947)
Like some other SEC schools, picking only one player from LSU is a tough task, but between Y.A. Tittle and Patrick Peterson, who are fairly evenly matched, the former gets the nod. In the mid-1940s, Tittle’s career as a quarterback for the Tigers was pretty solid but when he went pro, he became a legend. In the NFL, he made seven Pro Bowls, was a four-time first-team All-Pro, and was a league MVP. Considered a legend with the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, he went to three consecutive championship games with the Giants in the 1960s.
Johnny Unitas — Louisville (ACC) (1951-1954)
At the football stadium of the University of Louisville, there is a statue of Johnny Unitas which all the players touch prior to each home game, so it is pretty clear what his legacy means to the school that he attended. At Louisville, Unitas enjoyed a solid career and was a three-way player of the game, but he was not an All-American and spent plenty of time nursing injuries. In the NFL, he was a longtime Baltimore Colts quarterback and became one of the early football stars in the nation. He won a Super Bowl and three NFL championships with the Colts, made ten Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro teams and was a three-time NFL MVP. With all due respect to Louisville icons like Deion Branch, Tom Jackson and Elvis Dumervil, “The Golden Arm” cannot be topped.
Randy White — Maryland (Big Ten) (1972-1974)
Maryland has produced some really talented football players — Domonique Foxworth, Stan Jones and Boomer Esiason come to mind — including one of the all-time fiercest defensive backs, Randy White. A star for the Terrapins, White was a two-time first-team All-American and a recipient of the prestigious Lombardi Award. He played his entire NFL career for the Dallas Cowboys and was named to nine Pro Bowls and incredibly nine first-team All-Pro squads. When the Cowboys won in 1978, he was a co-awardee of the Super Bowl MVP, an honor that few defensive players earn.
Ray Lewis — Miami (ACC) (1992-1995)
It is almost impossible to choose the greatest player to ever come from Miami owing to the fact that the program has produced a lot of football talent over the past couple of decades. There are many names to choose from like Cortez Kennedy, Jim Kelly, Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp and Ed Reed — but our pick is football legend himself, Ray Lewis, who was a can’t-miss defensive player with the Hurricanes and a two-time first-team All-American selection. When he went to the pros, he cemented his legacy and is arguably the best linebacker of all time, being the NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice, a Pro Bowler 13 times and an All-Pro 10 times. He also helped the only team that he played for, the Baltimore Ravens, win two Super Bowls, not to mention he won the 2001Super Bowl MVP.
Tom Brady — Michigan (Big Ten) (1995-1999)
For many years, we have witnessed the Michigan Wolverines play great football and all-time great players like Dan Dierdorf, Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson come from the program, but who can top the legacy of Tom Brady? At Michigan, Brady started at quarterback for only two years but he still vaulted its record books up, putting together an overall record of 20-5 in spite of never being an All-American. After being infamously picked by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the NFL Draft in 2000, Brady started a pro career which continues to amaze everyone today. So far, he has won more games than all the quarterbacks in the history of the sport, including six Super Bowls, four of which he was named MVP. He was also named NFL MVP three times, a Pro Bowler 14 times and an All-Pro five times, but his achievements do not end there since he holds NFL records that are too many to list here.
Herb Adderley — Michigan State (Big Ten) (1958-1960)
Hall-of-Fame cornerback Herb Adderley was a star for the Green Bay Packers in the ‘60s and the Dallas Cowboys in the ‘70s, and he was the only player who played four times in the first six Super Bowls. At Michigan State, he played as an offensive back and led the team in catches and rushing yards at various times. In the NFL, he was used as a defensive back and he started to really shine, winning three Super Bowls. He was named to five Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams. Other outstanding Spartan football stars include Bubba Smith, Joe DeLamielleure and Morten Andersen.
Bronko Nagurski — Minnesota (Big Ten) (1927-1929)
Former Minnesota Golden Gopher Bronko Nagurski is among the earliest American football icons and is a charter inductee in the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Back in the day, it was incredibly tough for players since they wore hardly any padding, but at Minnesota, Nagurski played two ways and was a unanimous All-American at fullback back in 1929. He spent his entire NFL career with the Chicago Bears, winning three NFL championships and was named to seven All-Pro teams. There are other great Golden Gophers like Charlie Sanders and Bobby Bell.
Eli Manning — Mississippi (SEC) (2000-2003)
On this list, Eli Manning is the only one who has edged out his father to become their school’s best player ever. Archie Manning had a great career — as did another Ole Miss alum Gene Hickerson — but Eli Manning’s two impressive Super Bowl wins get him the nod. In Eli Manning’s senior year at Mississippi, he became the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and while playing for the school, he was also a recipient of the prestigious Maxwell Award. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the memorable NFL draft in 2004 and he has been New York Giant his entire career, winning those two Super Bowls and being named MVP at both games. He is also four-time Pro Bowler.
Fletcher Cox — Mississippi State (SEC) (2009-2011)
Eric Moulds may have had a strong career and Dak Prescott seems like he is not done yet with establishing his own legacy, but Fletcher Cox is our pick for the best football player to ever come from Mississippi State. With the Bulldogs, Cox was an outstanding defensive tackle and was an All-SEC selection in 2011 and a first-team All-American. In the NFL Draft in 2012, Cox was the 12th overall pick and has been with the Philadelphia Eagles so far. He has been a four-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro selection and was part of his team’s 2018 Super Bowl win.
Roger Wehrli — Missouri (SEC) (1966-1968)
It is a toss-up between Kellen Winslow and Roger Wehrli if you pick the best Mizzou Tiger in history. We Wehrli gets the nod because, ultimately, he had more Pro-Bowl and All-Pro selections. In addition, he played his whole football career, college and pro, in the Show-Me State. He was cornerback at Missouri and a consensus All-American in 1968. From there, Wehrli went on to play for the then-St. Louis Cardinals his entire NFL career, carving out a Hall-of-Fame career. Also, he made seven Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams, including five first-team picks.
Will Shields — Nebraska (Big Ten) (1989-1992)
A college and pro Hall of Famer, Will Shields is our pick for Nebraska’s greatest football player ever, over fellow Cornhuskers Mick Tingelhoff and Ndamukong Suh. At Nebraska, Shields was an offensive lineman and a consensus All-American, and his jersey number has actually been retired by the program. He showed he was an iron man in the NFL, never missing any game in the 14 seasons he played for the Kansas City Chiefs. In addition, he was named to 12 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams.
Otto Graham — Northwestern (Big Ten) (1941-1943)
Two of the all-time, early legends of football were Northwestern stars, but between Otto Graham and Paddy Driscoll, we have to go with the former as the best Wildcat. Actually, Graham had a basketball scholarship at Northwestern but he switched to football and became a quarterback and was a first-team All-American selection. From there, he went on to become the first starting quarterback in the history of the Cleveland Browns and remains arguably the best the team has ever had. He led the team to three championships — part of the seven total league championships that he won with them — and was a five-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro selection in only 10 seasons he played. Graham was practically unbeatable in his day.
Lawrence Taylor — North Carolina (ACC) (1978-1981)
Another school that is typically considered a basketball powerhouse, North Carolina has actually produced plenty of great NFL players in the past decades, including Jeff Saturday, Hakeem Nicks and Julius Peppers. However, Lawrence Taylor, arguably the best linebacker in the history of NFL, has to be the greatest Tar Heel ever. “L.T.” was a unanimous All-American at UNC and he was the 1980 ACC Player of the Year. In the pros, he played for the New York Giants his entire career, winning two Super Bowls with the team in the 1980s. In addition, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times and made 10 Pro Bowls and 10 All-Pro teams, including inside and outside linebacker first-team selections.
Philip Rivers — North Carolina State (ACC) (2000-2003)
Memorable NFL talents like Mario Williams, Torry Holt and Russell Wilson each played for North Carolina State, but legacy of quarterback Philip Rivers edges them out. Rivers broke a number of ACC passing records while at NC State, and he started 51 straight games, which is a sign of the durability that he also showed in the pros. So far, he has spent his whole career with the San Diego Chargers and he has put up numbers which practically guarantee him a Hall of Fame spot. He has been named to eight Pro Bowls and has led the league when it comes to passer rating, passing touchdowns and passing yards at various times but Rivers has somehow never been named to an All-Pro team.
Joe Montana — Notre Dame (Independent) (1975-1978)
Notre Dame tops other schools when it comes to the number of former players that are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and it is the only school regarded as a Power Five program which doesn’t officially compete in any conference. While icons like Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis and Paul Hornung are on the list, the best player the school has produced has to be Joe Montana. His five years at Notre Dame was remarkable and he led the Fighting Irish to the 1977 national title. In the NFL, “Joe Cool” was even better, putting together a legacy that few quarterbacks can rival. He won four Super Bowls, was a two-time NFL MVP, never threw an interception during the Super Bowl and did not lose the game in four appearances, making him arguably the best big-game quarterback ever.
Cris Carter — Ohio State (Big Ten) (1984-1986)
Ohio State has a long history of football icons, so it was tough to pick the greatest Buckeye, but ultimately, wide receiver Cris Carter gets the nod. Carter was a unanimous All-American at OSU, something that no wide receiver had done at the school. In the pros, Carter was initially taken in the fourth round, having been considered a problematic player, but he proved all the doubters wrong while he was with the Minnesota Vikings. With the team, he made eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams, and for three seasons, he was the league leader in receiving touchdowns. Other brilliant Buckeyes include Ezekiel Elliott, Chris Spielman, Lou “The Toe” Groza, and Eddie George.
Adrian Peterson — Oklahoma (Big 12) (2004-2006)
Promising Oklahoma quarterbacks like Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield are trying to make a name for themselves in the NFL, but they still have a long way to go before they can pass Adrian Peterson’s legacy. “A.P.” was a running back at Oklahoma, a first-team All-Big 12 during the three years that he started and a unanimous All-American in 2004. In the NFL, he was a first-rounder and played for the Minnesota Vikings, racking up the yardage as well as the honors, including being named NFL MVP, making seven Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams. “A.P.” might be the only one with a real shot at breaking all-time NFL rushing record that Emmitt Smith holds.
Barry Sanders — Oklahoma State (Big 12) (1986-1988)
Speaking of incredible rushers, Barry Sanders has to be the best Oklahoma State Cowboy ever, topping others like Tre Flowers, Dez Bryant and Dan Bailey. At Oklahoma State, Sanders was a beast, winning the Maxwell Award and Heisman Trophy in 1988 and being named a unanimous All-American. In the 1989 NFL Draft, was third overall and went to the Detroit Lions, where he spent his entire pro career. Sanders was in only 10 seasons in the NFL, but he was impeccable, being Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in every year that he played. Unfortunately for football fans, Sanders went into retirement in 1998, only one year after he was named NFL MVP.
Haloti Ngata — Oregon (Pac-12) (2003-2005)
Oregon has produced two Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks, Norm Van Brocklin and Dan Fouts, but Haloti Ngata has to be the greatest Duck ever. In 2005, the standout defensive tackle was a unanimous All-American. In the NFL, Ngata was drafted 12th overall by the Baltimore Ravens in 2006 and he spent almost all of his career with the team. Ngata won a Super Bowl, was named to five All-Pro squads, and was a five-time Pro Bowler. In 2019, he announced his retirement, capping off a professional career which will probably earn him a spot at the Hall of Fame.
Chad Johnson — Oregon State (Pac-12) (2000)
While Oregon State has not had plenty of players go on to do a lot in the pros, Chad Johnson definitely did. In 2000, he transferred to Oregon State and played only one season, although he lit it up, something that he continued to do in the NFL. His pro career was mostly spent with the Cincinnati Bengals and he made headlines for being an outstanding wide receiver and for his larger-than-life personality. He made six Pro Bowls and was a four-time All-Pro, including a three-time first-team.
Franco Harris — Penn State (Big Ten) (1969-1971)
Mike Munchak makes a really strong case for this one, but fullback Franco Harris is our pick for the best football player to ever come from Penn State. At Penn State, Harris was not an All-American probably because he was a ball carrier and underused, but the Pittsburgh Steelers saw enough to draft him and he was 13th overall NFL Draft pick in 1972. With the Steelers, he became a big part of the team’s dynasty in the 1970s, being named 1975 Super Bowl MVP and winning four Super Bowls. In addition, he was a three-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler, eventually earning a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Dan Marino — Pittsburgh (ACC) (1979-1982)
This one was another really tough call because Pittsburgh ranks fourth out of all the college programs in the number of Pro Football Hall of Famers. Icons like Larry Fitzgerald, Tony Dorsett and Mike Ditka are impossible to overlook, though Dan Marino has to be the best Panther yet. At Pittsburgh, Marino had a strong career, being a first-team All-American selection and a Heisman Trophy finalist. In the NFL, however, he was almost untouchable, setting many passing records and becoming an NFL idol to young quarterbacks. He was named to nine Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams, and he was a five-time league leader in passing yards.
Rod Woodson — Purdue (Big Ten) (1983-1986)
Purdue is another school with a long history of standout football players — like Mike Alstott, Bob Griese and Drew Brees, to name a few. However, since Rod Woodson is arguably the greatest defensive back in history, he gets our nod. With the Boilermakers, Woodson was named a first-team All-American twice and was a first-team All-Big Ten pick three times. He was unmatched In the NFL when it came to forcing turnovers and he set the all-time records for interceptions returned for touchdowns and fumble recoveries. Also, he led the insanely talented Baltimore Ravens defense to a Super Bowl win in 2000, made 11 Pro Bowls and was selected an All-Pro eight times.
Devin McCourty — Rutgers (Big Ten) (2006-2009)
Rutgers may be known for being the first ever college football program, but there haven’t been many outstanding pro football players who came from the school. However, Devin McCourty has had a strong career. He had the safety position with the Scarlet Knights, was a four-year starter, and was named to the 2009All-Big East team. He was a first-rounder in the 2010 NFL Draft and he has spent his entire career playing for the New England Patriots so far. McCourty has been a two-time Pro Bowler, has won three Super Bowls, and has been a three-time All-Pro, representing Rutgers in a huge way.
Sterling Sharpe — South Carolina (SEC) (1983-1987)
While playing for South Carolina, Sterling Sharpe’s career was so strong that he earned a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame, which resulted in the Gamecocks football program retiring his jersey number. As a wide receiver, he set many school records in the mid-’80s and in the 1988 NFL Draft, he was picked seventh overall. Sharpe spent his entire professional career with the Green Bay Packers, but it was sadly shortened when he suffered a neck injury. Even though he just played seven seasons, he made five Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro teams, which landed him in the Packers Hall of Fame. There are other great football players from South Carolina, including Jadeveon Clowney and George Rogers.
Junior Seau — Southern California (Pac-12) (1988-1989)
Among all the college football programs, the USC Trojans have produced the second most inductees in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, making it almost impossible to pick a greatest player. While there have been a great number of football titans who came from USC, including Ronnie Lott, O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen, Frank Gifford, and Anthony Muñoz, we had to give Junior Seau the nod for his legacy both on and off the field. One of the greatest linebackers in history, Seau was both a consensus first-team All-PAC 10 and the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 1989. He was dominant in the NFL, being a consecutive 12-time Pro Bowler and consecutive 10-time All-Pro and earning the title NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
John Elway — Stanford (Pac-12) (1979-1982)
It is not hard to see Stanford’s legacy of producing talented quarterbacks — just think of Andrew Luck and Jim Plunkett — but John Elway definitely exemplifies that the best. He was the Pac-10 Player of the Year and a consensus All-American in 1982, which led to the Cardinal football program retiring his number. Elway went first overall to the Denver Broncos in the 1983 NFL Draft, and he more than lived up to the high selection. He was NFL MVP one season, a nine-time Pro Bowler, and a three-time All-Pro, but the sweetest part of his career came at the end – Elway won two consecutive Super Bowls, then retired on top.
Jim Brown — Syracuse (ACC) (1954-1956)
Over the years, some outstanding football talents have come from the Syracuse Orange, including Donovan McNabb, Marvin Harrison, Art Monk and Larry Csonka, but Jim Brown gets the nod for being arguably the most dominant player in football history. At Syracuse, Brown was named All-American fullback twice, including as a consensus selection in 1956. In the NFL, he trampled anyone who got in the way. His career may have lasted only nine seasons, but Brown was an All-Pro selection and Pro Bowler every single year, a league leader in rushing for eight seasons and a three-time NFL MVP. His average yards per game was more than 100 for his entire career, the only player in football history who can say that.
Reggie White — Tennessee (SEC) (1980-1983)
Even though a lot of people will probably be unhappy to see that Peyton Manning is not representing the Tennessee Volunteers, Reggie White is arguably the most unstoppable defensive back ever so we have to give him the nod. In college, “The Minister of Defense” was a force to reckon with, being named a unanimous All-American and SEC Player of the Year in 1983, when he had 15 sacks, which remains a single-season record at the school. In the NFL, he was just as vicious, making 13 Pro Bowls and 13 All-Pro teams in the 15 seasons he played. He was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and won a Super Bowl, which are just some of the reasons both the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers retired his jersey number.
Earl Campbell — Texas (Big 12) (1974-1977)
A Texan to the core, Earl Campbell is our choice for the greatest Longhorn football player, thanks to his great career as a rusher. While playing for Texas, Campbell won a Heisman Trophy and was named to two first-team All-American teams. After being selected first overall in the 1978 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, he made the team proud and became their greatest player ever. Campbell just played in the NFL for six full seasons but he did enough to land in the Hall of Fame, make five Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro squads, and be named NFL Offensive Player of the Year three times. Those reasons give him the nod over other Longhorns like Derrick Johnson, Brian Orakpo and Ricky Williams.
Von Miller — Texas A&M (SEC) (2007-2010)
Yale Lary may be the only Texas A&M Aggie Pro Football Hall of Famer so far, but Von Miller is our choice as the greatest player from the school since he will probably join him in Canton soon. While Miller was at Texas A&M, he was one of the most dominant linebackers in the nation, winning the Butkus Award back in 2010 and being a two-time first-team All-American. He was selected second overall in 2011 by the Denver Broncos and has been with the franchise his entire career so far. In 2016, he helped the team snag a Super Bowl win and was named the game’s MVP. In addition, Miller has been a seven-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro.
LaDainian Tomlinson — Texas Christian (Big 12) (1997-2000)
“Slingin’” Sammy Baugh makes a very good case as the greatest football player in the history of the TCU Horned Frogs, but he still takes second place to LaDainian Tomlinson, who came to the school around 60 years after him. From the jump, Tomlinson proved he was a stellar running back, being a unanimous All-American in 2000 and a two-time WAC Offensive Player of the Year (TCU played in the conference during Tomlinson’s era). In the 2001 NFL Draft, he was selected fifth overall by the San Diego Chargers, where he spent almost his entire career. Within 10 seasons in the NFL, Tomlinson was a five-time Pro Bowler, a six-time All-Pro and an NFL MVP.
Zach Thomas — Texas Tech (Big 12) (1993-1995)
Texas Tech has not really produced a lot of football players who had brilliant careers after leaving the program, but Zach Thomas is an exception. His career as a linebacker for the Red Raiders landed him in the College Football Hall of Fame and earned him All-American honors twice. In the 1996 NFL Draft, he was a fifth-rounder and he definitely proved his doubters wrong. At the position, he was a monster, being a seven-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro, putting together an NFL career that is borderline Hall-of-Fame and frightening a lot of offensive players.
Eric Weddle — Utah (Pac-12) (2003-2006)
There has not been a lot of pro football talent from the University of Utah, current players like Eric Weddle and Alex Smith represent the Utes well, but we went with Weddle as the program’s best. He has proven to be an excellent safety at both levels, being a two-time conference defensive player of the year and a unanimous All-American in 2006 while at Utah. So far, he has been with three different teams and has played outstanding football for each, being a six-time Pro Bowls and five-time All-Pro. Weddle even led the league in interceptions while he was with the San Diego Chargers back in 2011.
Will Wolford — Vanderbilt (SEC) (1982-1985)
Unfortunately, Vanderbilt does not have much NFL legacy, but offensive lineman Will Wolford is our pick as the best from the program. He played all four years at Vandy, including starting in 33 consecutive games from the time he was a sophomore to when he was a senior. In addition, he was named first-team All-SEC back in 1985. He was drafted in the first round by the Buffalo Bills in the 1986 NFL Draft, played in three straight Super Bowls with the team, and was a three-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro.
Ronde Barber — Virginia (ACC) (1994-1996)
Edging out Tiki Barber, his own twin brother, by a narrow margin, Ronde Barber gets the nod as the best football player to ever come from Virginia. In college, Ronde Barber was outstanding as a defensive back, was a first-team All-ACC selection all three years that he started at Virginia, though he also returned kicks. He was picked in the third round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1997 NFL Draft, and he spent his entire career with the franchise, proving he should have been taken much higher. Barber helped the team win a Super Bowl back in 2003 and made five Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams. Aside from the Barber twins, other great Virginia players include Heath Miller and Bill Dudley.
Bruce Smith — Virginia Tech (ACC) (1981-1984)
Virginia Tech may have produced Michael Vick, the most exciting offensive player who has come from the school, but Bruce Smith is definitely the best Hokie football star ever. In 1984, he won the Outland Trophy, one of two seasons which he was a unanimous All-American while playing at Virginia Tech as a defensive end. He was first overall in the 1985 NFL Draft and went to the Buffalo Bills, becoming one of the league’s most imposing defenders of all time. Smith was an 11-time Pro Bowler and a 10-time All-Pro, eight of which was a first-team selection. Also, he was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and still holds the record for most sacks at 200.
Bill George — Wake Forest (ACC) (1949-1952)
With roughly 8,000 students, Wake Forest is actually the smallest school which currently plays in a Power Five conference, but several memorable NFL stars have come from the program. Brian Piccolo and Norm Snead are two examples, with the former’s tragic story still making many football fans cry, but the best football player to ever come from Wake Forest has to be Bill George, who was the first football player to become an All-American in the Demon Deacons program. He went on to become a Chicago Bears middle linebacker and won an NFL championship. He was a consecutive eight-time Pro Bowler and an eight-time All-Pro before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Warren Moon — Washington (Pac-12) (1975-1977)
Warren Moon was eventually inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he actually flew under the radar when he was a college athlete. He was at a junior college program for two years before getting signed by Washington, but he led the team to win a Rose Bowl in 1977. He was undrafted in the NFL, but he became one of the best quarterbacks in the history of Canadian Football League, and in 1984, he was signed by the Houston Oilers. In the NFL, he was a nine-time Pro-Bowler and was a two-time league leader in passing yards. The only Huskies player whos career can rival that of Moon’s was Hugh McElhenny, another Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.
Mel Hein — Washington State (Pac-12) (1928-1930)
On this list, Mel Hein is one of the earliest players. Before becoming an NFL star in the ‘30s, he was a standout at Washington State, where he was named an All-American and played center. The team had an undefeated season in 1930 with him. Hein went on to play for the New York Giants his entire pro career, helping the team win two NFL championships. He was named NFL MVP in 1938 and was eight-time All-Pro selection. Drew Bledsoe was also great, but Hein gets the nod for the greates Wazzou player ever.
Chuck Howley — West Virginia (Big 12) (1955-1957)
This one was not a tough call because there is no doubt that Chuck Howley is the best football player to ever come from the program. With the Mountaineers, Howley was the 1957 conference player of the year and a three-time all-conference pick, while he played on the offensive line. In the NFL, he switched to linebacker and he was dominant, winning a Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys in 1972. In addition, he is the only player in the history of the NFL who was named Super Bowl MVP from the losing team, which happened in 1971. He made six Pro Bowl and six All-Pro teams.
Mike Webster — Wisconsin (Big Ten) (1971-1973)
This was a toss-up between Joe Thomas and Mike Webster, but the latter’s Super Bowl wins and long NFL career decided it. At Wisconsin, Webster played center and was a two-time All-Big Ten selection, which made him stand out and noticed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Webster spent almost his entire NFL career with the Steelers, holding the franchise record for the most seasons and games played, and he was part of four teams there that was legendary and Super Bowl-winning. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, seven-time first-team All-Pro selection, and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. His death at 50 years old and his brain’s posthumous examination revealed that he was the first player to ever be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and this has drastically changed how concussions in football are viewed in recent years.