We take a look back at one of college football's best classes.
By Jake Veyhl
Scan the list of the 2001 NFL Draft first-round selections below and you’ll probably recognize quite a few of the biggest names from college football. There are future Hall of Famers, franchise staples who are still with the organizations that drafted them and guys who have bounced around the league. And of course, there are a few busts.
The quarterback position is easily the most important, and most difficult, position on the football field. Do the necessary skills needed to succeed change from high school to college football to the NFL? Of course, the need for accuracy, efficiency and touch increases exponentially from Friday night to Sunday afternoon.
Vontaze Burfict leads one of the Pac-12's best defenses at Arizona State.
They're the teams within the team - those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context.
Whether it's the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball - these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature.
The two-year starter at left tackle for The U, McKinnie was one of the most dominant blockers in college football history. Helping Miami to a National Championship in 2001, McKinnie did not allow a sack during the his entire career in Coral Gables. The two-time All-American won the 2001 Outland Trophy as the nation’s best lineman and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. He was also named the CNN/SI Player of the Year. He was the seventh overall pick by the Vikings in the 2002 NFL Draft.
This Sun Devil was virtually impossible to stop from getting the quarterback. Suggs set a school record with 44 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. He also set a school record with 65.5 tackles for a loss and finished his career with 163 total tackles. As a junior, Suggs set the NCAA single-season sack record with 24 quarterback stops. He won the Hendricks, Nagurski and Lombardi Awards in 2002 and was selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens.
This elite recruit was an elite performer all over the secondary in Knoxville. As a freshman All-American, Berry set a Tennessee interception return yards mark with 222 yards on five interceptions and led all freshman in the SEC with 86 tackles. He was the SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year. As a sophomore, Berry broke his own record with 265 interception return yards on a nation-leading seven picks. He was used some on offense and special teams as well in 2008 and was a Finalist for the Thorpe, Lott and Bednarik defensive awards. He was a unanimous first-team All-America pick and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. As a senior he became a two-time consensus All-American and took home the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He finished with 241 tackles, three sacks and 14 interceptions in only three years. Berry was selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.
There is little doubt that Bradford is the best quarterback ever to suit up for the Sooners. He owns all three yardage records: single game (468), single-season (4,720) and career (8,403). He owns the single-season (50) and career (88) passing touchdown records. He posted the two most efficient seasons in OU passing history in both completion percentage (69.5 percent in 2007, 67.9 percent in 2008) and quarterback rating (180.84 in 2008, 176.53 in 2007). He became only the second underclassman (albeit a redshirt) to even win the Heisman Trophy and led his team to the national championship game against Florida. He also set an NCAA freshman record for touchdown passes with 36. Oh yeah, and he did all this in only two seasons — both of which ended in a Big 12 Championship. Bradford threw only 69 passes his junior season after sustaining an injury that ended his college career. He declared for the NFL Draft and was taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2010.
After redshirting, Crabtree burst onto the scene with the best single season a freshman player had ever had in college football history. He set freshman receiving records with 134 receptions for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns — all of which were school and conference records as well. He became the first freshman ever to win the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver, and was a first-team All-American. After 97 catches, 1,165 yards and 19 more touchdowns as a sophomore, Crabtree became the first player ever to win the Biletnikoff Award twice. He also became a two-time consensus All-American. However, his most famous accomplishment might have come on national TV against the hated Longhorns. With Texas Tech down by one point with eight seconds left in the game, Crabtree caught a pass over two Texas defenders, tip-toed down the sideline and into the endzone for the upset win over the No. 1-ranked Longhorns. After playing only two seasons in Lubbock, Crabtree was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the 10th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
One the best tacklers in the history of college football, Willis was a two-time All-American, two-time All-SEC pick and won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2006. Willis was recognized that year as the nation’s best linebacker when he won the Butkus Award. He also claimed the Jack Lambert Award that season. He led the SEC in tackles per game two seasons in a row: 12.8 in 2005 and 11.4 in 2006. He finished with 355 total career tackles and was drafted with the 11th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Willis was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Pollack is the most decorated defensive player ever to put on the Red and Black. His 14-sack 2002 season set a school record for sacks in a single season; he is also No. 3 with his 12.5-sack 2004 campaign. His 36.0 career sacks are the career benchmark for any Bulldog. He is one of only two three-time All-Americans in school history. On his mantle sit two Ted Hendricks Awards for the nation’s top defensive end (2002, 2004), the Lombardi Award given to the nation’s top lineman (2004), the Bednarik Award given to the nation’s top defensive player (2004) and the Lott Trophy given to the nation’s top impact defensive player (2004). The 2004 SEC Player of the Year started 44 of his 50 career games, finishing with 283 tackles, 58 tackles for a loss, four INTs and 18 passes broken up. Pollack was drafted with the 17th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Three games into his sophomore season, Long earned his starting spot for good and never looked back. As a second-team All-Big Ten pick, he helped Michigan to the conference championship and Rose Bowl berth. Long battled injuries as a sophomore but flourished again as a junior, helping Michigan to a 11-0 start. The All-Big Ten selection was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and earned consensus All-American honors. After playing in his second Rose Bowl as a junior, Long returned to Michigan and claimed his second straight Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year award and all-league honor. He was a unanimous All-American and a finalist for the Outland and Lombardi awards. Long was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins.
Arguably the most talented Wisconsin Badger of all time, Thomas appeared in 48 games, starting 39 of them (including one at DE against Auburn in the 2003 Music City Bowl). The two-time first-team All-American was the school’s first winner of the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top lineman. He was also a two-time finalist for the Lombardi Award. Thomas was the cornerstone of what was arguably the best overall offense in school history in 2005, a season that culminated in the upset demolition of the Auburn Tigers in the 2006 Capital One Bowl. The 24-10 win was head coach Barry Alvarez’s final game on the Wisconsin sideline. Thomas played some on the depleted defensive line in that game as well, helping the Badgers to out-gain the SEC power 548 to 236 total yards. As a senior, Thomas led the Badgers to a 12-1 record and a return trip to the Capital One Bowl — yet again beating another SEC power. UW won 17-14 over Darren McFadden, Peyton Hillis, Felix Jones and Arkansas.
The most decorated running back in NCAA history, Ron Dayne is currently the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher with 7,125 yards (6,397 without bowl games). As a freshman, Dayne set an NCAA freshman rushing record with 1,863 yards, although with the bowl game his 2,109 yards made him only the 10th player in history to top 2,000. He claimed Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Copper Bowl MVP honors as a freshman. He rushed for 1,457 yards and 15 TDs in 1997, becoming the first sophomore in history to be a finalist for the Doak Walker. He rushed for 1,525 yards and 15 TDs as a junior. His junior season finished with a Big Ten title and shocking Rose Bowl upset win over previously No. 1-ranked UCLA. As a senior, Dayne again topped the 2,000-yard mark (2,034) and scored 21 TDs en route to the Badgers' second straight Big Ten title. He was only the fourth player in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards in four seasons. He became the Big Ten’s first player ever to lead the league in rushing three different years. He earned two Rose Bowl MVPs and owns every major BCS Bowl rushing record — attempts (34, 2000 Rose Bowl), rushing yards (246, 1999 Rose Bowl) and rushing TDs (4, 1999 Rose Bowl). The consensus All-American won the 1999 Doak Walker, 1999 Maxwell, 1999 Big Ten Player of the Year and the 1999 Heisman Trophy. Dayne finished his career with 1,220 attempts for 7,125 yards and 71 TDs. He left Wisconsin with 48 school records and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2009.
This dynamic dual-threat passed up a six-figure salary and potential MLB career with the Angels organization to play at WVU. He began his first college season as the co-starter, but in the seventh game, an injury to Adam Bednarik gave the reins to White for good. He finished unbeaten that season en route to the Big East crown and the school’s first-ever BCS bowl bid (and win) over Georgia. White was a Freshman All-American. After another stellar season in 2006, White led the Mounties to a second straight bowl win over Georgia Tech and claimed Big East Player of the Year honors. As a junior, White took WVU back to a BCS bowl and won Fiesta Bowl MVP after his stirring performance in a win over Oklahoma in head coach Bill Stewart’s first game. White finished sixth in the Heisman voting in 2007. After a Meineke Car Car Bowl victory in 2008, White became the first quarterback in NCAA history to start and win four bowl games. White finished as the NCAA all-time leading rusher among QBs with 4,480 yards. He is the single-game (424, 2006) and career total offense leader at WVU with 10,529 yards. He is second all-time in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns (47). He finished with 6,049 passing yards and 56 TDs on 64.8% passing. His 34-8 record as a starter is unmatched in WVU history.
A three-time consensus All-American, Reed was a cornerstone defender for the 2001 National Championship Miami team. He led the nation in interceptions that year with nine — returning three of the them for touchdowns. Reed was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, a semifinalist for the Nagurski Trophy and was Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Reed holds the school record for career INTs with 21, career INT return yards with 389 and interceptions returned for a touchdown with five. Reed was also a Big East Champion on the Track and Field team excelling at the javelin. He was the 24th overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
As a freshman, Peppers burst onto the scene by leading North Carolina in tackles for a loss (10) and sacks (6). He earned freshman All-America honors. As a first-team All-ACC pick and second-team All-American, Peppers only got better as a sophomore, leading the nation in sacks with 15 and setting a school record with 24 tackles for a loss. After a third year of production, Peppers ended his Carolina career with 53 tackles for a loss and 30.5 sacks — both good for second all-time in UNC history. The 2001 consensus All-America defensive end also walked on to the Tar Heels’ basketball team and was a key reserve on the 1999-2000 Final Four team. The Bednarik and Lombardi Award winner was drafted by the Carolina Panthers with the second overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft and immediately won the Rookie of the Year award.
Few redshirt freshmen — or any freshmen for that matter — have ever made an impact on a football field like Vick did in 1999. Whether he was flicking the ball 65 yards with ease or making speedy defensive backs look they were running in sand, Vick was and is unquestionably one of the greatest physical specimens ever to step onto a football field. His 180.4 QB-rating set an NCAA freshman efficiency record, as the talented dual-threat led the Hokies to an unlikely National Championship appearance. Vick finished third in the Heisman voting that season and nearly led Tech on an improbable comeback in the title game. Vick battled injuries during his sophomore season and finished his career with 3,279 passing yards, 21 TDs, 1,216 rushing yards and 17 TDs on the ground. Vick was the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons — who traded up to select the dynamic passer.
After he hung around Minnesota Vikings’ practices as a child because his father was a sportswriter, it should come as no shock at just how gifted physically and mentally Fitzgerald is on the football field. In only two seasons of play at Pitt, Larry-Fitz was a unanimous All-American in 2003 while claiming the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. He finished second in the Heisman voting to Jason White as only a redshirt sophomore. He was given the Walter Camp Award as the nation’s top player that year as well. He finished his career — which lasted only 26 games — with 161 receptions, 2,677 yards and a Pitt-record 34 touchdowns. He became the first Panther to record back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons and broke Antonio Bryant’s school record with 14 100-yard games. Fitz also holds an NCAA record with a touchdown catch in 18 straight games. He was selected with the third overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
Newton originally signed with Florida but left school after multiple off-the-field incidents led to an indefinite suspension. Newton transferred to Blinn Junior College in Brenham, Texas, where he won a NJCAA National championship before signing with the Auburn Tigers in 2010. In his first game as a Tiger, Newton accounted for five scores and topped 350 yards of total offense en route to SEC Player of the Week honors. The rest is history. His late-game heroics against Mississippi State, Clemson, South Carolina, Kentucky, LSU and Alabama earned Newton the 2010 Heisman Trophy, and provided more magic in the BCS National Championship game victory over Oregon. Newton led the SEC in rushing at 105.21 yards per game as well as QB efficiency (182.05). He finished his one-year Auburn career with 2,854 passing yards, 30 TDs, 7 INTs, 1,473 rush yards and 20 rush TDs.
LT was an unheralded recruit when he arrived at TCU in 1997 from Waco’s University High. After two solid seasons — 538 yards and six TDs as a freshman, 717 yards and eight TDs as a sophomore — Tomlinson exploded onto the national scene. His 269 yards against Arkansas State and 300 yards against San Jose State merely set the stage for his NCAA record-breaking 406 yards against UTEP. He carried the ball 43 times and set a school record with six touchdowns against the Miners. His 1,850 yards led the nation in rushing in 1999, but Tomlinson upped the ante as a senior when he posted the Frogs’ first 2,000-yard season. His 2,158 yards were not only a school and conference record, but also led the nation in rushing and placed as the fourth-best rushing season in NCAA history (at the time). He owns every major rushing record at TCU, while his 5,263 yards rank sixth all-time in NCAA history. As a senior, Tomlinson was a Heisman finalist and claimed the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the nation. He finished his TCU career with 907 carries — at a 5.8 yards per attempt clip — and 54 rushing TDs. As the fifth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Chargers, LT went on to become arguably the greatest NFL running back ever to play the game.
McFadden is very simply the most decorated player in school history, and he holds virtually all school rushing records. His 4,590 career rushing yards are tops in Arkansas history and are second in SEC history to Herschel Walker's 5,259 yards. His 325 carries in 2007 are a school mark as are his 785 career carries. He a school and SEC record with 321 yards rushing against South Carolina in 2007. He owns the top two rushing totals in school history (1,830 and 1,647). His 41 rushing TDs are second-best in Hog history. His 22 100-yard efforts are a school record as well. His 5,881 all-purpose yards are a school record. After Texas' Ricky Williams, McFadden became only the second player in NCAA history to claim two Doak Walker Awards (2006, 2007), and the explosive back finished second in the Heisman voting two years in a row. The two-time consensus All-American would have shattered SEC rushing records had he returned for his final season, but instead McFadden was drafted by the Raiders with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Other Arkansas Content:
2011 Athlon Sports Arkansas Team Preview
2011 SEC Predictions
2011 All-SEC Team
7. Matt Leinart, QB, USC
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Leinart became USC's first junior to the win the Heisman Trophy when he did so in 2004 while leading the Trojans to their — and his — second National Championship in a row. He completed 65.3% of his passes for 3,322 yards and 33 touchdowns with only six INTs that season. The three-time All-American was 37-2 as the starter and ranks second all-time on USC's career completions, passing yards and total offense charts. His 99 passing touchdowns are not only a school record but also a Pac-12 record. He owns 16 school records and led his team to three straight national title games.
With his trademark dreadlocks, a rare combination of strength and speed and a flair for the dramatic, Williams left an indelible mark on the University of Texas. As a freshman fullback, he broke Earl Campbell’s freshman school rushing record with 990 yards, claiming Southwest Conference Freshman of the Year honors. He helped Texas to one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history when the Horns beat Nebraska in the inaugural Big 12 title game as well. Williams earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year honors and claimed the Doak Walker Trophy as the nation’s top running back after his 1,893-yard, 25-TD junior season. As a senior, Williams ran his way to a Heisman Trophy and became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher with 6,279 yards (since broken by Ron Dayne). Williams set 21 NCAA records and received the greatest percentage of first-place votes cast in Heisman history. He also became the first two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award in NCAA history. He won the Walter Camp and Maxwell Awards in 1998 as well. The two-time consensus All-American is currently second all-time in NCAA history with 452 points scored and owns 38 Texas school records.
Suh was arguably the most dominant defensive lineman of the last twenty seasons in all of college football; there are fewer awards that he didn't win than those he earned. He earned freshman all-league honors as a redshirt freshman. As a junior, Suh became the first defensive tackle to lead the team in tackles (76) since 1973. He also led the team in tackles for a loss (19.0), posted 7.5 sacks and returned two INTs for touchdowns. He also caught a TD while moonlighting as a fullback. In 2009, Suh made 85 stops, 12 sacks, 24 tackles for a loss, three blocked kicks and had one very huge interception against Mizzou. Suh dominated awards night that season, earning the Nagurski Trophy for top defensive player in the nation, the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman, the Lombardi for the top lineman or linebacker and Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player. The unanimous All-American was a Heisman finalist in 2009, finishing fourth. Suh was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions and took home NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
It didn't take long for Peterson to establish himself as a star. He set an NCAA freshman rushing record with 1,925 yards and led the nation with 339 carries in 2004. Peterson helped lead the Sooners to the National Title game and finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Despite missing four games as a sophomore, A.D. still managed to top the 1,200-yard mark. As a junior, Peterson injured his collarbone in a flukey dive into the end zone after a 53-yard touchdown run. Even though he missed big chunks of time over his final two seasons, Peterson still managed to rush for the third-highest total in school history with 4,045 yards. He "fell" to the Minnesota Vikings at the seventh overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Bush was one of the most electrifying players ever to step on a college football field. He earned the 2005 Heisman Trophy with 1,740 yards rushing and a Pac-10-record 2,890 all-purpose yards — including a conference-record 513 yards in a memorable performance against Fresno State. He finsihed his career with 3,169 yards rushing, good for seventh-best in school history. He won two Pac-10 Player of the Year awards and the 2005 Doak Walker as well. He finished with 6,617 career all-purpose yards. He was a key member of back-to-back National Championship teams in 2003 and 2004 before falling just short of a three-peat against Texas in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
This is completely subjective, but in my limited viewing experience (since 1993), VY is the greatest player I have ever seen on a college gridiron. Young was 30-2 as a starter at Texas, became the first player in NCAA history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same year, won the Davey O’Brien Award, was a Heisman Finalist and put on, according to Pete Carroll, “the best performance I’ve ever seen by one player” in the 2005 National Championship win over USC. Young left after his redshirt junior season holding school records for career completion percentage (61.8%), single-game efficiency (85.7%), rushing yards by a QB (3,127), total offense for a career (9,167) and single-game total offense (506). The Big 12 Freshman of the Year (2003) and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year (2005) is one of only four players in history to claim two Rose Bowl MVP trophies. Many believe that had voting for the Heisman taken place after the bowls, Young would have easily beaten out Reggie Bush for the coveted trophy.
Tebow's cult following began with his recruitment process and grew during his freshman season, when he played his jump-passing back-up role perfectly and enjoyed being a part of an SEC and National Championship in 2006. In his first season as the starter, Tebow shattered all expectations with 3,286 yards passing, 895 yards rushing and 55 total touchdowns (32 pass, 23 rush). Tebow was a consensus All-American, Davey O’Brien winner and became the first underclassmen to win the Heisman Trophy. As a junior, he led the Gators back to the SEC and National Championship, breaking Emmitt Smith’s rushing touchdown record along the way. He finished with 2,747 yards passing, 30 TDs and only four INTs to go with his 673 rushing yards and 12 more rushing trips to paydirt. As a senior, the legend led the Gators to an unbeaten regular season before falling just short of a third SEC and BCS national title berth at the hands of the Crimson Tide. Tebow rushed for an SEC-record 57 TDs over his career. In 985 passing attempts, he threw only 15 career interceptions. Tebow ended his career with a 176.0 QB rating, 9,286 yards and 88 passing TDs to go with 692 carries for 2,947 yards and 57 TDs on the ground.