Certain college football programs are known for producing top football talent. For example, Penn State was once considered Linebacker U, since the school sent so many LBs to the NFL; the University of Miami used to be known as the place to find elite running backs; and Alabama and USC feed so many players to the NFL, the two schools are practically synonymous with “first-round picks.”
But after combing through the active NFL rosters, we realized that plenty of other schools send waves of top talent to the league. Here’s a look at the five most surprising football talent factories in the country.
Notables Purdue Players in the NFL
- Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
- Shaun Phillips, LB, San Diego Chargers
- Cliff Avril, DE, Detroit Lions
- Dustin Keller, TE, New York Jets
- Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Washington Redskins
- Anthony Spencer, LB, Dallas Cowboys
- Ray Edwards, DE, Atlanta Falcons
Although rarely counted as a B1G powerhouse, Purdue benefits from sending Drew Brees to the NFL, since he practically puts the Boilermakers on the list by himself. (Watch Drew Brees’ Real Workout.) There’s also plenty of support on the other side of the ball. Shaun Phillips, Cliff Avril, Ryan Kerrigan, Anthony Spencer and Ray Edwards are all game-changing linemen and linebackers, and Dustin Keller has grown into Mark Sanchez’s favorite target for the Jets.
Notables Cal Players in the NFL
- Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
- Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
- DeSean Jackson, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
- Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Philadelphia Eagles
- Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
- Alex Mack, C, Cleveland Browns
- Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit Lions
The Bears have sent lots of phenomenal athletes to the NFL in recent years, starting with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. It’s easy to forget that Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson and Nnamdi Asomugha all played their college ball at Cal. You could make a legitimate case that Cal could field the best NFL team using players that went to school at Berkeley. Can you imagine Rodgers throwing to Tony Gonzalez off play-action to Beast Mode?
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Notables Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the NFL
- Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
- Jason McCourty, DB, New England Patriots
- Devin McCourty, DB, Tennessee Titans
- Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans
- Mohammed Sanu, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
- Brian Leonard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
- Anthony Davis, OL, San Francisco 49ers
Rutgers hasn’t always had a successful football program, but thanks to Greg Schiano, the Scarlet Knights have recently shipped some top-flight players to the pros. Ray Rice may be the best running back in football, and the McCourty twins are excellent young corners in the AFC. Kenny Britt is considered the #1 option in Tennessee, and Mohammed Sanu has played well for the Bengals, even throwing a TD pass off a trick play earlier this year. And don’t forget Anthony Davis, a bookend on the line for the Niners.
Notables Pitt Panthers in the NFL
- Darelle Revis, CB, New York Jets
- Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
- LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
- Dan Marino, QB, Miami Dolphins
- Andy Lee, P, San Francisco 49ers
- Jabaal Sheard, DE, Cleveland Browns
- Clint Sessions, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Larod Stephens-Howling, RB, Arizona Cardinals
- Henry Hynoski, FB, New York Giants
Revis Island started at Pitt, but the Panthers have produced other elite pro players, like Larry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoy. The legendary Dan Marino is probably the most famous NFL player to come out of the school, but other productive pros populate many NFL rosters. Jabaal Sheard has been a nice surprise for the Cleveland Browns, Andy Lee is a weapon as a punter in SF, and one of the only starting fullbacks in all of football, Henry Hynoski, suits up for the New York Giants.
Notable Missouri Tigers in the NFL
- Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
- Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Chase Daniel, QB, New Orleans Saints
- Aldon Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers
- Brad Smith, WR, Buffalo Bills
- Justin Smith, DT, San Francisco 49ers
- Sean Witherspoon, LB, Atlanta Falcons
- Ziggy Hood, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers
Now adjusting to the challenge of playing an SEC schedule, Missouri has been a route to the NFL for a number of years. Justin Smith started his career with the Bengals in 2001, and he’s now a centerpiece of the dominant defense in San Francisco. More recently, guys like Aldon Smith, Sean Witherspoon and Ziggy Hood have become key players for their respective teams, and Blaine Gabbert has improved substantially since his rookie year. Even Chase Daniel has proven himself a capable backup.
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