Since 2000, there have been several dominant college football teams. Nick Saban’s recent Alabama teams and Pete Carroll’s USC teams immediately come to mind. In recent years, the SEC has looked less like a collegiate football conference and more like a farm system for the NFL, as former SEC players have begun to pervade NFL rosters. However, before the SEC’s ascension, and before those dominant USC teams of the mid 2000s, the Miami Hurricanes were the cream of the crop in college football. Year after year, the Hurricanes fielded teams full of future NFL stars. Inarguably, the best University of Miami team came in 2001, when they finished the season 12-0, and eviscerated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the BCS National Championship game.
Although allegations that boosters provided players with considerable sums of money and other benefits have mired the team’s legacy (is it still college football without these improprieties?), the team’s dominance and level of talent cannot be overstated. Thirty-eight players from the Canes’ 2001 roster were drafted by NFL teams, including seventeen first round selections and five top 10 selections. Had Willis McGahee not suffered a brutal knee injury in his final collegiate game, he would have been a top 10 selection as well. What is most impressive is the depth that this team had at certain positions. Sean Taylor was a freshman backup at safety, Kellen Winslow was a freshman backup at tight end, and Willis McGahee and Frank Gore were freshmen backups at running back. In further support of the 2001 Canes’ claim as the greatest collegiate football team ever assembled, the team scored 512 points and allowed only 117 points over the course of the season, and six players were named All-Americans.
This list celebrates the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, as it ranks the top 10 NFL players from that squad. The problem in making this list is trying to narrow it down to 10 players, and subsequently, trying to rank those top 10! Collectively, the players from this team have earned 41 trips to the Pro Bowl. The salaries from each player’s most recent season—including any bonuses accumulated over that season—have been listed.
10 Willis McGahee - 2013 salary: $940,000
After he suffered a devastating knee injury in the final game of his collegiate career, experts thought Willis McGahee’s NFL career was done. However, McGahee recovered, though he undoubtedly lost a good deal of his speed and agility, and he went on to rush for over 1,000 yards in his rookie season as a member of the Buffalo Bills. A two-time selection to the Pro Bowl, McGahee looks to be on his way out of the NFL, but he has had an impressive career, especially given the aforementioned knee injury. He has 8,474 rushing yards and 65 rushing touchdowns thus far in his career.
9 Clinton Portis - 2011 salary: $1,865,100
The starting running back on the 2001 Canes’ roster, Clinton Portis burst onto the NFL scene with 1,508 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns in his rookie season. Although he made only 2 Pro Bowls, he remains the youngest player to have rushed for 6,000 yards in a career. He retired in 2011, finishing his career with 9,923 rush yards, 75 rushing touchdowns, and 247 receptions. If he had stayed in Denver, there is no telling what his stats could have amounted to.
8 Jeremy Shockey - 2011 salary: $3,812,500
Although Shockey might be remembered by some for his crass attitude on and off the field, he was a dominant tight end in his playing days. His most impressive season was his rookie campaign, when he caught 74 passes for 894 yards and two touchdowns. He was also a formidable pass blocker, blocking for the likes of Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber early in his career. He had an endearing throwback style of play at tight end, especially as he played long enough to see it morph into more of a finesse position. Shockey finished his career with 547 receptions for 6,147 yards.
7 Bryant McKinnie - 2013 salary: $1,000,000
Now a member of the Miami Dolphins, Bryant McKinnie has had a successful career at left tackle, a position that is important to teams’ pass and rush games. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2009, but like any good tackle, his value is measured by the success of those around him. His Minnesota teams from the early part of his career had high-powered pass offenses, as they featured the likes of Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper. In the latter half of his time in Minnesota, McKinnie blocked for Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson, and in 2009, the team lost in the Conference finals to the New Orleans Saints, the eventual Super Bowl champions.
6 Jonathan Vilma - 2013 salary: $3,832,500
Unfortunately for Jonathan Vilma, he was involved in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal, and was suspended for several games in the 2012 season. As a linebacker, Vilma probably did not need an incentive to hit the opposing teams’ players with an inordinate amount of force. This past season, after undergoing knee surgery, he was activated for only one game. However, before his recent run of bad luck, Vilma was one of the NFL’s best middle linebackers, anchoring the Saints’ defense in 2009, when they won the Super Bowl.
5 Vince Wilfork - 2013 salary: $10,600,000
Vince Wilfork has been a valuable interior lineman in New England for many seasons, and the franchise pays him handsomely as a result. Indeed, though, as a defensive tackle, his value is hard to quantify; fans and experts alike routinely praise his ability to clog running lanes and disrupt opposing teams’ pass games. So far in his career, he has 16 sacks and 330 solo tackles. He has also been named to 5 Pro Bowls.
4 Antrel Rolle - 2013 salary: $9,250,000
Since entering the NFL, Antrel Rolle has been a dominant defensive back, spending most of his time at free safety. One of the 2001 Canes’ first round draft picks, Rolle won a Super Bowl with the New York Giants in the 2011 season. He had a career high 86 tackles that season. So far in his career, Rolle has 607 solo tackles and 23 interceptions, and he has been named to three Pro Bowls.
3 Frank Gore - 2013 salary: $6,450,000
Amazingly, Frank Gore has had both his knees reconstructed, a fact that never ceases to amaze his fans. In his 2001 campaign with the Canes’, he averaged an unbelievable 9.1 yards per carry on 62 carries. Since entering the league, Gore has been nothing short of phenomenal. In 2013, he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing for the seventh time in his career, and he scored 9 touchdowns. Thus far in his career, Gore has 9,967 rush yards and 60 rushing touchdowns. He has also been named to the Pro Bowl five times.
2 Andre Johnson - 2013 salary: $10,727,918
At 32 years of age, having played 11 years in the league, Andre Johnson remains one of the most dominant wide receivers in the game. He is set to make over $15 million next season, a testament to his consistency and dominance over the years. The seven-time Pro Bowler’s best season came in 2009, when he caught 115 passes for 1,575 yards and 8 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Johnson and his fans, he has suffered through many sub-par seasons in Houston. If Houston makes Johnny Manziel its next franchise quarterback, Johnny Football will at least have one of the most reliable wide receivers to play pitch and catch with.
1 Ed Reed - 2013 salary: $940,000
Although he is in twilight of his career, Ed Reed is one of the most decorated defensive players in football history. In his 2001 campaign with the Canes, he won the Jim Thorpe Award, which recognizes the top defensive back in the nation, and Football News named him the National Defensive Player of the Year. In the NFL, he has been part of the most dominant defenses in league history, as he has played alongside the likes of Terrell Suggs, Chris McAlister, and Ray Lewis. In 2004, Reed was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Thus far in his career, he has 64 interceptions, and has returned 7 of those interceptions for touchdowns.
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