Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

01 Jul 2011

Simply Saturday

This is a really great feature at ESPN.com, a countdown of their top 50 players who were superstars in college football but never made it big in the NFL. There are players who had a few mediocre years, players who washed out entirely, and players who never even tried to make it as a pro. Sure, a few of the picks are option quarterbacks like J.C. Watts, but most of them are either players who struggled with injury or players whose games should have translated to the NFL, and just didn't. Number One is Archie Griffin.

There is one big omission, as far as I can tell, and that's Terry Baker. Baker was the 1962 Heisman Trophy winner at Oregon State and the number one overall pick in the 1963 draft by the Rams. The Rams could never figure out how to use Baker as a dual-threat quarterback, and he ended up playing mostly running back for three years with just 58 career carries.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 01 Jul 2011

21 comments, Last at 05 Jul 2011, 4:58pm by spenczar


by Theo :: Sat, 07/02/2011 - 4:39am

Damn interesting read. I didn't know many of the players, which makes it perhaps more interesting. I get the wrong video's sometimes though...
A lot of QBs on this list just scream:
"watch out for over hyped happy feet and questionable accuracy QB!!"

by pfalk122588 :: Sat, 07/02/2011 - 10:01am

I don't think the Katzenmoyer one is very fair, its not his fault he got a neck injury.

by dbostedo :: Sat, 07/02/2011 - 12:08pm

From the intro :

"Because of injuries, military commitments and other career decisions, many of the sport's legends never made an impact in the NFL."

It doesn't matter why they didn't make it big in the NFL, it only matters that they didn't.

by Aaron Brook's Good Twin (not verified) :: Sat, 07/02/2011 - 7:47pm

But because catastrophic injuries tend to be random events, there's also nothing to learn from a list of promising college players who didn't pan out because they got hit by a truck or something like that.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 11:56am

I see your point...but making it in the NFL is also a pretty random event. Tom Brady goes from okay college career to Hall of Fame NFL careeer while guys like Matt Leinart and Brady Quinn have great college careers, look like they should thrive in the NFL, but don't. What is there to learn from that, other than it's darn hard to predict who's going to pan out and who isn't?

by spenczar :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 4:58pm

Even if there is "nothing to learn," that doesn't matter much. I think you are missing the point of the article - it's just as much about nostalgia, I think.

by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 07/02/2011 - 6:39pm

A little disappointing. It would be nice to know why they failed in the NFL, or if they were just products of playing systems geared to them in college.

by Dennis :: Sat, 07/02/2011 - 7:21pm

I found it interesting that there were so many Nebraska players on the list. Obviously part of it is that they were option QBs.

The other thing I found interesting was Tony Rice being on the list, and ranked so high. I never thought he was that good, and if he played for a team not named Notre Dame, he never would've gotten the hype he had.

by Shattenjager :: Sun, 07/03/2011 - 3:21am

I had the same thought--that there seemed to be a ton of Nebraska players.

I counted them up to see if that was actually true and Nebraska ties with Notre Dame for the most on the list (six). Two of the Nebraska players were quarterbacks. Oklahoma and Florida State are next with four each, then Auburn with three.

by Duke :: Sat, 07/02/2011 - 11:00pm

A fun read.

I didn't think it was possible to talk about Brian Bosworth without mentioning Bo Jackson.

by Raiderjoe :: Sun, 07/03/2011 - 6:53am

Johnny Rodgers anothehr Nwbrasks player who should be on lsit

by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Sun, 07/03/2011 - 12:11pm

Fun list. The problem with going 50 deep is giving enough detail to each player, and sometimes those details are critical to understanding how some players couldn't adjust to the NFL. It was great to include Corey Moore, but he was drafted by the Bills in 2000, not the Dolphins. Part of the reason he washed out with the Bills is that he was shot in the leg in June 2001 and then didn't return phone calls from the team when they tried to find out how he was doing.

From that same draft, I recall that Peter Warrick had a slower 40 time than both Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington, which was a pretty good indication that he would have trouble succeeding as an NFL receiver

by Shattenjager :: Sun, 07/03/2011 - 3:51pm

NFL Draft Scout has Warrick at 4.58, Courtney Brown at 4.78, and LaVar Arrington at 4.53. However, it does not explain where it got those numbers and none of the three participated in the combine, so I'm not sure how reliable it is.

by fmtemike :: Mon, 07/04/2011 - 4:03pm

Very similar to Terry Baker: Sandy Stephens from Minnesota.
Dick Kazmeirer, Cosmo Iacavzzi other single wing tailbacks to make zero impact. Joe Bellino, Heisman at Navy--fair for the Prov. Steamroller of the ACFL. Ed Marinaro of Cornell.
What about Johnny Lujack? Injury and George Halas stopped his career cold. Jerry Rhome of Tulsa?

You could also find lots of guys who were college stars and went on to Canada--starring there--but never made an NFL impact, like Tom Clements or Bernie Faloney...

by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 2:51pm

Greg Cook? He's the guy who was the best quarterback Bill Walsh ever saw.

by Sophandros :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 8:43am

Whenever I come across a draft busts thread, I mention Terry Baker, and the response is always, "who?"

Shows the lack of historical perspective in today's society. If it didn't happen in the last week or so, most people don't acknowledge it...

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by dbostedo :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 9:13am

"Shows the lack of historical perspective in today's society. If it didn't happen in the last week or so, most people don't acknowledge it..."

Really? Doesn't it just show that it happened in 1962 which is a long time ago? (I.e. that was well before I was born, and he didn't become a star - and I'm not a Heisman buff - so why should I have heard of him?

by Sophandros :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 2:09pm

Because if you're going to enter into a conversation about worst #1 overall picks of all time (and these happen just about every year around draft time), you should at least look up the all time #1 overall picks and see what they did.

Sports talk radio and sports message boards are the killing fields of intellectual discourse.

by dbostedo :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 4:41pm

Well that makes sense. Agreed that if you're going to argue about draft busts, you should be aware of all the big ones.

But you said it "Shows the lack of historical perspective in today's society." I took this to mean (and I think the other posters did to) that you thought not knowing about Terry Baker is a good example of larger issues with lack of historical knowledge in society. Or at least a lack of historical knowledge among football fans.

I see that you were only talking with regard to the aforementioned "draft bust" threads. Sorry that was a bit unclear.

by Aaron Brooks' Good Twin (not verified) :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 12:46pm

He played 50 years ago in an era of zero TV coverage for a school with no tradition in a conference three times zones behind most of the nation. Frankly, it would be more of a surprise if he was well-known.

by sundown (not verified) :: Tue, 07/05/2011 - 1:03pm

"Shows the lack of historical perspective in today's society. If it didn't happen in the last week or so, most people don't acknowledge it..."

Because in 1962 if you'd mentioned some athlete that had flamed out in the '20s or '30s everyone would have immediately been familiar with the guy? Nope, they'd have been just as clueless as people are today.