Forget products of hype, let’s talk “Can’t Miss” prospects. With anticipation for the football season settling in, I got to thinking. Who are the greatest football prospects to come out of college in my lifetime (1971 to present)? I did so much thinking about this, I put together a team. Hope you enjoy…
QB JOHN ELWAY – Stanford, 1983, #1 to Denver via trade with Baltimore
He was the player who held the sport hostage. The best quarterback talent of all-time, and he threatened to play another sport rather than play for Baltimore. The courting of Elway was the subject of a recent documentary. The 49ers actually discussed trading an established Joe Montana for the Stanford Golden Boy. The 1983 draft changed the draft forever. And the Hall-of-Famer proved he was worth all the fuss.
Second Team: Andrew Luck
Honorable Mention: Vinny Testaverde
RB EARL CAMPBELL – Texas, 1978, #1 to Houston
“Earl Campbell is the greatest football player I’ve ever seen, and his mother is the best coach there ever was.”
-Fred Akers, Campbell’s head coach at Texas
Earl Campbell was so good coming out of college, my entire family knew of him — and I’m from Illinois. My older brother had a poster of Campbell on his wall. We often ridiculed my athletic sister Kristi for having “Earl Campbell thighs,” and Grandma only chewed Skoal because of his commercials.
RB HERSCHEL WALKER – Georgia, 1983, signed with New Jersey Generals of USFL
I don’t know why, but it never dawned on me until this week that the greatest draft in NFL history (1983) should have featured the greatest college football player of all time, but it didn’t. Imagine the historic 1983 draft with Baltimore deciding between Elway and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. But Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL and never entered the draft.
Second Team: Bo Jackson and Barry Sanders
Honorable Mention: Billy Sims and Eric Dickerson
WR RAGHIB ISMAIL – Notre Dame, 1991, signed with Toronto Argonauts of CFL
There have only been two wide receivers taken with the #1 overall pick in NFL draft history: Irving Fryar and Keyshawn Johnson. Rocket Ismail would have been the third. The New England Patriots traded the top pick of the 1991 draft to Dallas, and then all the world moaned over America’s team putting themselves in a position to land Ismail. But according to the L.A. Times, Dallas wasn’t going to keep the pick. Atlanta was willing to pay top price for the Heisman Trophy winner, and Dallas was willing to deal. Then, Ismail shocked the football world by signing with — of all teams! — the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Atlanta withdrew their offer. And Dallas was stuck having traded for DT Russell Maryland, whom they took with the #1 selection.
WR RANDY MOSS – Marshall, 1998, #21 to Minnesota
“He’s the greatest prospect we’ve ever seen.”
– Dallas Cowboys front office after Moss’ legendary NFL combine workout, when, at 6’4″, he ran a 4.25 forty and posted a vertical leap of 47 inches.
I know Moss went 21st in the 1998 NFL Draft, but he might have gone #1 had teams not been terrified over his off-field issues. When he was still at Marshall, I declared on-air, “that’s the best receiver in the world. Not in college. The world.” Turns out, I was right.
Second Team: Keyshawn Johnson and Irving Fryar
Honorable Mention: Calvin Johnson
TE RILEY ODOMS – Houston, 1972, #5 to Denver
Only one tight end in history (Ron Kramer-1957) was taken with a higher draft pick than Odoms. The University of Houston star caught only 14 passes before his final collegiate season, when he snagged 45 balls. At 6’4″ 230, Odoms helped revolutionize the tight end position from a blocker who could catch to a catcher who could block. He certainly didn’t become what Kellen Winslow eventually was, but Odoms did make four Pro Bowls.
Second Team: Kellen Winslow Jr.
Honorable Mention: Kellen Winslow Sr.
C DAVE RIMINGTON – Nebraska, 1983, #25 to Cincinnati
The greatest center in college football history. Two-time All-America, history’s only two-time Outland Trophy winner (given to the best interior lineman in the country, offensive or defensive), the only center to ever win Big 8 Player of the Year honors, and the best center in college football today is given the Dave Rimington Trophy. ‘Nuff said.
G JOHN HANNAH – Alabama, 1973, #4 to New England
John Hannah almost quit football because playing for the Patriots felt like a demotion from playing for Alabama. Good thing he didn’t.
“Best offensive lineman of All Time.”
– Sports Illustrated cover, 1981
G BILL FRALIC – Pitt, 1985, #2 to Atlanta
He might be best remembered for competing in the 20-man, NFL vs. WWF battle royal at Wrestlemania 2. But Fralic also owns the distinction of being the highest-drafted guard in NFL history (tied with Leonard Davis). Forget Jonathon Cooper, Fralic went #2 in 1985 and eventually played in four Pro Bowls.
Second Team: Leonard Davis and Gary Zimmerman
T ORLANDO PACE – Ohio St., 1997, #1 to St. Louis
Pace is the lineman who inspired the term “the pancake block.” Ohio State began distributing pancake magnets around campus to promote the rarest of Heisman candidates — an offensive lineman! Pace actually finished fourth in the voting in 1996. The Rams took the left tackle with the first overall pick in the ’97 draft, and he went on to appear in five Pro Bowls.
T TONY MANDARICH – Michigan St., 1989, #2 to Green Bay
Oh, steroids. Tony Mandarich would have been a very good offensive lineman without chemical enhancement. With them, he was AMAZING! His famous Sports Illustrated cover, the one that named him “The Incredible Bulk,” was introducing to the world the future of offensive linemen, more machine than man. Mandarich was a chiseled 6’7″, 330 pounds with 4.6 speed. He was labeled the greatest offensive lineman prospect of all time, and the Packers bought in. In the great draft class of ’89, Green Bay took him over Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders and Derrick Thomas.
Second Team: Dean Steinkuhler and Tony Boselli
Honorable Mention: Jonathon Ogden