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August 16, 2009

Georgia's Greatest NFLer?

Last week I mentioned that Fran Tarkenton (photo--NFL.com) was likely Georgia's greatest player ever in the NFL. "How is it not Champ Bailey?" a reader emailed. "He is Georgia's best ever in the NFL and he still has several years before he retires." Well, he may have a few seasons before he calls it quits, I thought, and Champ certainly has had an extraordinary professional career, but is he Georgia's greatest NFLer ever?
I did some research and scanned over the 238 Bulldog players who have played in the NFL, 38 of which are still active (ranks 20th and 6th, respectively, of all colleges) and came up with my top 15 greatest NFLers from Georgia.
Taken in consideration was time spent in the NFL only (no USFL, XFL, the NBDL, etc.) and the rankings are based on a player's collective career--not necessarily how good he was at his "peak." For instance, you might be surprised Terrell Davis is ranked as low as he is. Although TD's first four years in the league are as good as any running back ever, he only played in 17 total games in three seasons following his great, four-year run to start his career. Mo Lewis, on the other hand, started at linebacker for the Jets for 13 consecutive seasons, went to three Pro Bowls, twice earned first-team All-Pro recognition, but is one you might not think would appear in these rankings despite his long, steady, productive career. Let me add the rankings only recognize the individual and does not consider any team accomplishments (i.e., playoff/Super Bowl appearances/victories).
*Denotes Still Active

1. FRAN TARKENTON (1961-78- Minnesota, NY Giants): Tarkenton held the NFL records for most passing yards and touchdowns, among others, until the mid-90s. His nine Pro-Bowl appearances are the most of former Georgia players and he is only one of two Bulldogs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his final season of '78 at 38 years old, Tarkenton had career highs for pass attempts, completions, and yards.

2. *CHAMP BAILEY (1999-present: Washington, Denver)- Champ has had an even better NFL career than I thought... He has gone to the Pro Bowl in eight of his 10 seasons, missing only his rookie year and in 2008 when he suffered an injury. Bailey's 43 interceptions ranked third among active players; 10 of those came in 2006, leading the league...In six seasons he has earned some sort of All-Pro recognition.

3. JAKE SCOTT (1970-78: Miami and Washington)- Scott is a peculiar and mysterious individual who abruptly left Georgia following his junior year because of, reportedly, any number of reasons. He also departed from the NFL early after only nine seasons, intercepting seven passes in his final campaign...49 career interceptions and a punt-return average of more than 10 yards per return...Five Pro-Bowl appearances.

By the way, if you get a chance, read this excellent article on Scott. Written a few years ago leading up to his honorary appearance at the 2006 Georgia-Georgia Tech game, this must-read reveals insight about Scott's distinct and unusual life on and off the football field.

4. LEN HAUSS (1964-77: Washington)- Hauss is likely Georgia's greatest NFLer that many have never heard of... Only a ninth-round selection in 1964, Hauss started immediately for Washington and for the next 14 seasons, anchored a great Redskin offensive line...Five Pro Bowls and seven-time 1st or 2nd-team all-conference.

5. HERSCHEL WALKER (1986-97: Dallas, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and NY Giants)- I've said for some time that just as much as it can be argued Herschel is one of the greatest college football players of all time, it can be suggested he was one of the most undervalued players ever in the NFL. Herschel currently ranks eighth all time in the NFL with 18,168 career all-purpose yards. This total excludes his three seasons in the USFL where he was the league's best player in its three-year existence.

6. CHARLEY TRIPPI (1947-55: Chicago Cardinals)- One of the league's best players during the 1940s and 50s, Trippi, along with Tarkenton, are the only Bulldogs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. During career, for at least one season, Trippi led the Cardinals in rushing, passing, receiving, kick returns, punt returns, and/or punting...Tied for 11th in NFL history in career rushing average (5.1) among non-quarterbacks.

7. BILL STANFILL (1969-76: Miami)- In only eight seasons in the NFL, Stanfill was a five-time Pro Bowler and four times earned all-conference recognition.

8. *HINES WARD (1998-Present: Pittsburgh)- The Steelers' steady, possession receiver for more than a decade, Ward has caught 69 or more receptions every season since 2001...Four-time Pro Bowler and has been recognized as AP 2nd-team All-NFL in three seasons...Ranks 22nd all time in career receptions entering the 2009 season.

9. MO LEWIS (1991-2003: NY Jets)- In 13 seasons as Jets starting linebacker, Lewis recorded 1,012 tackles, 221 assists, 52.5 sacks, 26 forced fumbles, and 14 interceptions (four returned for TDs)...Three Pro-Bowl appearances and was an Associated Press 1st-team All-Pro in 1998.

10. *RICHARD SEYMOUR (2001-Present: New England)- Seymour has started along the Patriots' defensive line since the beginning of the team's successful run in 2001. Seymour, Champ Bailey, and Terrell Davis are the only three Bulldogs to earn AP 1st-team All-Pro in three or more seasons...Five-time Pro Bowler.

11. RAY DONALDSON (1980-96: Colts, Seattle, Dallas)- Besides Tarkenton and kicker John Kasay's 18 seasons in the NFL, Donaldson's 17 is the most of any Georgia alum...15 seasons as a starting center...Six-time Pro-Bowler and five seasons earning some sort of All-Pro recognition.

12. TERRELL DAVIS (1995-2001: Denver)- Only a sixth-round pick in '95, Davis averaged more than 1,600 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns during his first four seasons. Injuries slowed his next three years and ultimately forced Davis into early retirement following 2001. Despite his shortened career, Davis is considered by many a borderline Hall of Famer.

13. GARRISON HEARST (1993-98, 2001-04: Cardinals, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Denver)- Despite seeing significant playing time in just seven seasons because of injuries, Hearst amassed nearly 8,000 rushing yards during his NFL career...A two-time AP Comeback Player of the Year...Made Pro Bowl two times and was recognized as 1st-team all-conference in 1998.

14. JIMMY ORR (1958-70: Pittsburgh, Baltimore)- The 291st pick of the 1957 draft, Orr had more than 900 receiving yards as a rookie...Would become one of the best receivers during his time...Ranks fourth in NFL history in career yards per touch (19.4).

15. GUY McINTYRE (1984-96: San Francisco, Green Bay, Philadelphia)- Starting in only seven games his first four years in the league, McIntyre became a full-time starter at offensive guard in 1988 and from 1989-1993 made the Pro Bowl in all five seasons...First-team all-conference 1990-1992...Of 13 teams McIntyre played on, all but one (1991 49ers, who went 10-6 but missed the postseason) made the playoffs.

Hon. Mention: *JOHN KASAY (1991-Present: Seattle, Carolina)- Kasay edges Kevin Butler as the greatest NFL kicker who played at Georgia...18-season career and counting, including every game for Carolina since franchise's beginning in 1995. Kasay currently ranks 7th in NFL history in career field goals made, 11th in points scored, and 17th in field-goal accuracy.

Besides Butler, other ex-Bulldogs who just missed the list: Mike "Moonpie" Wilson, Randall Godfrey, Rodney Hampton, Bobby Walston, and Marcus Stroud.

In his email, the reader also mentioned that the biggest NFL bust who played at Georgia "was no doubt Johnathan Sullivan or Matt Stinchcomb." He has a good argument but no Bulldog should ever be identified as a "bust." I'd allege the biggest NFL "disappointment," let's say, who played at Georgia was probably Lindsay Scott or Bernard Williams... but that's maybe another post for another day.


Anonymous said...

2 other notables.......

Mack Stong - 15 years with Seattle
Terry Hoage - 13 year career

Anonymous said...

Another interesting note about Mo Lewis is that he is indirectly responsible for the Patriots dynasty.

Lewis is the guy who nearly killed Drew Bledsoe on a hit in 2001, puncturing Bledsoe's lung, and forcing the Patriots to bring in an unkown from Michigan to play QB.