With the NFL draft coming up in just over a month and everybody talking about guys like Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater, it’s easy to forget that there are dozens of other solid teams in the NCAA division I with solid players with good NFL potential. While most scouts for NFL caliber talent would probably prefer the simplicity of looking only in the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac-12 (arguably the four most consistently strong conferences), each year brings in successful draft picks from lesser known schools in less prominent conferences. Examples of former NFL players from the MAC include Jason Taylor, one of the best defensive ends of all time, who went to Akron, and Antonio Gates who attended Kent State. Looking to the Mountain West Conference, one of their most successful alumni is Brian Urlacher, who played for the New Mexico State Lobos. Basically, within NCAA Div I, a good scout can spot talent anywhere, even in schools that are seldom in Bowl games and rarely have winning seasons.
What is less common than a Division I player from a lesser known school being drafted is a player from NCAA division II being drafted, as Division II is often overlooked. This is due to a number of reason but the major two are that Division II generally has a lower skill level all around and a lack of large scale exposure beyond their own region. Rarer still than being drafted, is a Division II players actually making it on to the main roster of an NFL team rather than being kept on the practice squad. But it isn't news to anyone that just because a player was brilliant in college and was drafted in the first round, doesn’t mean that he will be successful in the NFL.
In some cases an ego gets in the way, in other cases he just isn’t a good fit for his new surroundings or can’t function within his new playbook. Conversely, there are many examples of guys drafted in the sixth or seventh rounds or even going undrafted, who have gone on to achieve great success in the NFL. Here is a list of ten successful NFL players who competed in NCAA Division II in college. These are ten of the best but by no means the only, so gently toss all opinions on list membership or ordering in the comments section.
Criteria for list membership includes number of starting seasons, overall stats and of course Super Bowl rings and Pro Bowl selections. Honorable mentions go to Delanie Walker, Todd Herremans, Reed Doughty, and John Kuhn; who are all solid NFL players from Division II but did not make the list.
10 Roberto Garza – Texas A&M - Kingsville
Garza came into the league in 2001 after being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons. Having been born to parents who were of Mexicanb descent, he was once told by a Marine recruiter that Mexicans don’t play in the NFL. I guess they do though, because Garza played four years for the Falcons before signing with the Bears. After his first season in Chicago, he was signed to a six year deal and continued to play there. He remains a member of the Bears to this day and was the cover athlete for the Spanish version of Madden ’09.
9 Danny Woodhead – Chadron State
Woodhead was an undrafted free agent who was signed by the New York Jets back in 2008. Prior to that he had torn Division II apart while at Chadron State; setting at the time records for both individual season and all-time and being considered the best player in the division twice. His all-time rushing record has since been broken. He was not invited to the combine, but performed shockingly well during his pro day, recording two forty yard times under 4.4.
8 Danieal Manning – Abilene Christian
7 Brandon Carr – Grand Valley State
6 Brent Grimes – Shippensburg
5 Jacoby Jones – Lane
4 Nate Washington – Tiffin
3 Vincent Jackson – Northern Colorado
After four record setting years at Northern Colorado as a wide receiver and returner, Jackson was selected in the second round by the Chargers back in 2005. His first two years in the league were not particularly productive, but inn 2007 started to become more steady and reliable. Since 2008 he has only recorded one season with less than 1000 receiving yards and less than 7 touchdowns, which was 2010, most of which was lost due to a contract dispute between Jackson and the Chargers. Since his signing to the Buccaneers in 2012 (five years and $55.5 million) he has posted two very solid seasons with 1384 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012 and 1224 yards and seven TD’s in 2013. In 2009, 2011 and 2012 he has been selected to the Pro Bowl.
2 Adam Vinatieri – South Dakota
1 Jahri Evans – Bloomsburg
While in college at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, he was recognized as one of Division II’s best blockers and most reliable offensive lineman in the run game. In 2006, he was selected in the fourth round by New Orleans where he has stayed since, building a name for himself as one of the best guards in the league. Since 2009, he has been selected to the Pro Bowl every year, making it five consecutive appearances. He was also a Super Bowl winner with the Saints back in the 2009/2010 season and after that season he was re-signed by the Saints to a seven-year, $56.7 million contract, making him the highest paid guard in the NFL at the time.
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