10 highest-graded current NFL players who played college hoops
With the NCAA tournament tipping off, Chase Howell takes a look at NFL players who once hoped to reach the big dance.
10 highest-graded current NFL players who played college hoops
With the biggest day of the college basketball season upon us, the last thing most fans are thinking about is football. Today’s questions don’t revolve around, “Which free-agent offensive guard can my team pick up for insurance purposes,” but rather, “Who is Stony Brook, and why do I have a feeling they’re about to bust my bracket?”
For those of you less interested in hoops hysteria — looking at you, Neil Hornsby — let’s take a look at college basketball’s most eventful few days through the lens of the NFL.
Below is a list of current NFL players who once chased the dream 64 schools are now after — 10 professional football players who played college hoops, ranked by their 2015 PFF grade.
1. Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers (83.2 overall grade in 2015)
College: Northern Colorado
Basketball career highlights: As a walk-on forward, Jackson notched a career-high 18 points against Rutgers in 2004, and nabbed 11 rebounds against Denver earlier that same season. He received NCAA Division-I All-Independent second-team honors that season, as well.
2015 NFL season: Jackson’s 2015 NFL season was cut short in late December due to an MCL injury, after already missing time due to another knee injury earlier in the year. Despite his troubles staying on the field, Jackson graded positively in each game he was active, with the exception of a slightly negative grade against Carolina in Week 4. His 33 receptions, as well as his trio of touchdowns and missed tackles forced, earned him the 23rd-highest grade among NFL wide receivers in 2015.
2. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers (82.5)
Colleges: Eastern Michigan, Kent State
Basketball career highlights: The first of many NFL tight ends our list, Gates transferred to Kent State after one season with Eastern Michigan. A forward for the Golden Flashes, he averaged 16.0 points per game during the 2001-2002 season, and 20.6 the following year. He finished second in the MAC in field goals both of those seasons (225 and 231, respectively), helping Kent State to the Elite Eight in 2002.
2015 NFL season: The former MAC star and top free-agent tight end of the 2016 offseason recently inked an extension with the Chargers. His catch-rate from the slot was second-best only to Kansas City’s Travis Kelce last season, while his yards per route run of 1.79 was seventh-best—not bad for a player who will turn 36 in June.
3. Quinten Rollins, CB, Packers (82.1)
College: Miami (Ohio)
Basketball career highlights: Rollins played guard for the RedHawks each of his four years in Oxford, Ohio, averaging 6.3 points per game over his career. During the 2013-2014 season, he led the MAC in steals (73), as well as steals per game (2.4).
2015 NFL season: Rollins’ NFL career took off in his first year with Green Bay, delivering on his second-round draft status. He graded positively in nine of his 14 games in 2015, with a pair of picks coming in Week 5 against the Rams — just his fifth professional game. By Week 13, he earned a starting spot for the Packers, finishing the season with a 58.1 passer rating against him. Rollins’ overall grade of 82.1 finished as 20th-best among CBs in 2015.
4. Jimmy Graham, TE, Seattle (78.9)
College: Miami (Fla.)
Basketball career highlights: Graham averaged six points per game during the 2007-2008 season for the Hurricanes, as well as 1.2 blocks. The Canes went to the big dance twice with the future Saints and Seahawks TE on the roster.
2015 NFL season: The second tight end on this list, Graham’s 2015 season with the Seahawks didn’t provide the same level of production fans had become accustomed to in New Orleans, but his overall grade for the year still finished as a net positive. In fact, Graham finished with the seventh-best receiving grade among tight ends (one spot behind Gates), despite suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 12.
5. Julius Peppers, OLB, Packers (73.2)
College: North Carolina
Basketball career highlights: Peppers played two seasons for the Tar Heels, averaging 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game as a forward.
2015 NFL season: Nearly 14 years removed from his days in Chapel Hill, Peppers had an up-and-down 2015 for Green Bay. While he posted nine positively-graded games (his best performance coming in Week 1 against the Bears), eight negatively-graded games marred his season. He finished with 11 sacks (tied with Von Miller for fourth-most among 3-4 OLBs), eight QB hits, and 35 QB hurries. More impressively, his pass-rushing productivity finished at 15th-best at the position.
6. Martellus Bennett, TE, Patriots (72.0)
College: Texas A&M
Basketball career highlights: In two seasons with the Aggies’ basketball team, Bennett averaged 1.7 points per game as a forward. In 2007, Texas A&M advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16, losing to Memphis.
2015 NFL season: A newsmaker as of last night, Bennett is now a member of the New England Patriots’ roster, likely to play opposite of Rob Gronkowski in two-tight end sets. Bill Belichick is likely hoping Bennett’s 2015 negative season grade was just a blip, however, as he finished the year with the 21st-highest overall grade among tight ends. He recorded two fumbles and four dropped passes, along with three touchdowns and 8.3 yards per reception (60th-best among TEs).
7. Connor Barwin, OLB, Eagles (70.9)
Basketball career highlights: In 34 games over the span of two seasons for the Bearcats, Barwin averaged 1.3 points per game, as well as 1.8 rebounds.
2015 NFL season: Hoping to improve upon his career-best 2014 season, Barwin’s play unfortunately took a step back in 2015, finishing the year as PFF’s 69th-ranked edge defender. The high note of the former Bearcat’s season came in Week 10 against the Dolphins, when he notched a sack and three QB hurries on his way to his season-high game grade.
8. Darren Fells, TE, Cardinals (65.9)
College: UC Irvine
Basketball career highlights: Darren Fells played four years for UC Irvine, averaging 10.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game over the course of his career.
2015 NFL season: The 2015 season was not friendly to the former Anteater, as Fells took a major step backwards from his positive 2014 campaign. While his receiving grade did rank among the top 25 at the position, he finished the year as one of the league’s worst run-blocking tight ends (68th out of 73 qualifying tight ends). His 14.8 yards per reception was second only to Rob Gronkoswki, however, and he did notch three receiving touchdowns.
9. Julius Thomas, TE, Jaguars (63.4)
College: Portland State
Basketball career highlights: Thomas led the Big Sky Conference in two-point field goal percentage during his senior season, and is currently 20th on the NCAA’s all-time list in that regard. He also played a large role in the school’s first two NCAA tournament berths.
2015 NFL season: Julius Thomas’ four-year career on the hardwood for Portland State gets him on this list, though he finished the 2015 season as PFF’s 48th-ranked tight end, in terms of overall grade. Just a year removed from his Denver days, Thomas’ high point came in Week 15 this past season against Atlanta, against whom he notched 79 receiving yards. On the year, he hauled in five touchdowns, but earned a negative receiving grade overall.
10. Jerrod Johnson, QB, Ravens (Grade not available)
College: Texas A&M
Basketball career highlights: Johnson played just one season of basketball in College Station, seeing time in just three games.
2015 NFL season: Rounding out this list is backup QB Jerrod Johnson, who was recently signed by Baltimore to a reserve/future contract. Johnson has floated around the league, spending time with the Eagles, Steelers, Seahawks, and Bears, although he’s yet to take the field in an NFL game.
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Chase Howell | General Editor
Chase is a General Editor at PFF, focusing on the site’s NFL content strategy. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider, and The Cincinnati Enquirer.