Over the years, more than 200 players have come through Syracuse before heading to the NFL. Hopefully there’s many more under Dino Babers that have futures in the league as well, but here we look at the five who have made the biggest impression on the league.
Number 5. Donovan McNabb
Appropriately, this ranking matches his famous jersey number. McNabb hit the ground in his second year at Syracuse and was well worth the wait. His debut season saw him named the unanimous rookie of the year with a breaking 96-yard pass. During his four years, McNabb appeared in every game finishing his college career with over 8,000 passing yards and three Big East offensive player of the year awards. He was the number two pick in the 1999 draft and spent a decade with the Eagles. In Philly he made six Pro Bowl appearances. McNabb led the Eagles to the postseason 8 times, finishing with 37,000 yards and 234 touchdowns. The only thing stopping him from being higher on the list is his only Super Bowl appearance. He is like a horse that was always high in the Kentucky Derby odds, but never actually won the race.
Number 4. Dwight Freeney
What do you look for in a defensive end? Usually size. Freeney didn’t have that, but he was the best pass rusher the school ever produced. The Colts took him #11 in 2002 and his speed and dynamic moves off the edge made him a star. Across an 11-year career with the Colts, Freeney racked up an impressive 107.5 sacks. In 2004, he led the NFL with 16.0 sacks. That was one of his seven Pro Bowl seasons and one of three first-team All-Pro nods. Throughout his career, he made three Super Bowl appearances and claimed victory in XLI.
Number 3. Marvin Harrison
The wideout left Syracuse with his name firmly in the history books. He ranks second ever in receiving touchdowns, and his 2,718 yards is tops all time on The Hill. He spent his entire career with the Colts. In 1999 he posted 1,663 receiving yards, and the next season he grabbed an NFL-high 102 receptions. In 2002 he set an NFL record for catches in a season with 143, and he added 1,722 yards. Incredible numbers on the most devastating offense in the league. He is one of the best wide receivers in NFL history, and was named to the NFL 100 team.
Number 2. Art Monk
Monk was with the Orange in the late seventies and, even now, he’s still ranked amongst the school legends. Washington took him in the first round in 1980 and he immediately made an impact. He set a team rookie record with 58 receptions and made the all-rookie team. In 1984, as he became a crucial piece of Joe Gibbs’ terrific offense, he won the team’s MVP award. He posted 106 receptions, which stood as the NFL record for eight years. By 1986 he became the first Washington player to break the 1,000 yard and 70 plus reception marks across three consecutive campaigns. Three Super Bowl triumphs (1983, 88 and 92) mark Monk’s success, and he finished with 940 receptions, 12,721 yards and 68 touchdowns along 15 years. His place in the Hall of Fame is well deserved.
Number 1. Jim Brown
By many accounts, he’s the greatest player in NFL history. He could have taken his career in many directions after being a standout performer in multiple sports. He’s the best all-around athlete ever to wear the Orange. Brown spent nine years in the NFL – all in Cleveland – and dominated the league every year. He led the league in rushing his rookie year. He was so dominant that he retired with every significant rushing record in league history despite playing less than a decade. He has a career average of 104.3 yards per game. He’s the only runner to break the 100 point mark. He tallied eight first-team all-pro awards and three NFL MVP honors. The list of Syracuse NFL talent is deep, so much so an NFL Hall of Famer like John Mackey gets left off. But it shows what type of football factory SU has been.