Would you have imagined Florida State as the college that people love to hate? Well, when you remember that the school has student-athletes with a plethora of legal issues - sexual assault cases, breaking and entering, etc - the displeasure with the school in Tallahassee makes sense. Unfortunately for those same student-athletes (other than their moral crimes), not all of them wind up making it big at the NFL... Well, they will make it to the NFL, but they won't achieve the success that they thought they would.
We're talking to you, Christian Ponder.
At the same time, plenty of Florida State alums - Deion Sanders, Derrick Brooks, even an offensive player here and there - have enjoyed strong careers at the NFL level, so what gives? Is it landing in the wrong - or right - environment and situation? Is it playing against better competition? Today, let us take a look at some of the best football players in Florida State history who, once they made it to the NFL, either dominated the competition or were shortly out of the league.
The one major thing to take into account with this is that while young players like Jameis Winston and Kelvin Benjamin are starting their careers off successfully, the only active players on this list will be ones who are either free agents or are third-string players (ie, EJ Manuel). Putting Winston or Xavier Rhodes here would have been a bit too easy, so let's take the trip to Florida and get to talking about ex-Seminoles.
17 Best: Fred Biletnikoff
We start this list off with the legendary wide receiver of the Oakland Raiders himself, Fred Biletnikoff - the man who the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the best receiver on Division I each year, is named after. Obviously. How many other Biletnikoffs do you think are out there? Both a Pro Football and College Football Hall of Famer, Biletnikoff was a second round pick of the Raiders at the 1965 AFL Draft AND a third round pick of the Detroit Lions in that year's NFL Draft, he decided to go to the Black Hole.
A four-time Pro Bowler, Biletnikoff was the Super Bowl MVP at Super Bowl XI, led the league in catches in 1971, and was a two-time AFL All-Star before the 1970 merger. He remains revered among Seminole fans for his time in Tallahassee, including helping Florida State to their first victory against rival Florida Gators in 1964.
16 Worst: Karlos Williams
One of the more recent entries on this list, Williams was seen as a steal when the Buffalo Bills snagged him in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Rushing for 517 yards on 5.6 yards per touch with seven touchdowns as a rookie, the Bills looked to have struck gold... Before the Florida State product was cut in August 2016 for showing up to training camp out of shape and being suspended for violating the league's drug policy.
After Williams landed with Pittsburgh later in the season, he quickly impressed the team with strong showings in practice, but soon landed another suspension - and this time, it was for ten games, meaning that the next suspension would be for at least a year. Now a free agent, Williams would need a miracle to be back at the NFL at this point.
15 Best: Derrick Brooks
A two-time All-American with the Seminoles, Brooks was Mr. Tampa in his 14-year career with the Buccaneers from 1995 to 2008. He was selected 28th overall in a draft that also saw Warren Sapp land in the stadium with a giant pirate ship - well, once Raymond James Stadium opened up in 1998, that is. Brooks shone with the Buccaneers, making it to 11 Pro Bowls and nine All-Pro teams in addition to a Super Bowl ring in 2003, the same season he won his lone Defensive Player of the Year Award.
While Brooks and the Buccaneers did not have the greatest exit in 2009 when the linebacker was cut by Mark Dominik and the new regime, the 2014 Hall of Famer has remained popular in the Tampa Bay area and is now a co-owner of Arena Football League's Tampa Storm. Who knows? Maybe we will get to see Brooks step onto the field one last time soon.
14 Worst: Alonzo Jackson
A second round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2003, Alonzo Jackson came into the league with a chip on his shoulder after falling out of the first round and nearly falling into the third round despite 13 sacks in his senior year with the Seminoles. Those who were wary of Jackson, who transitioned from defensive end to outside linebacker in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense, were on the money as the Americus High School (Georgia) product lasted only two years with the Steelers before being cut in 2005.
Jackson would then spend time with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles before finishing his career in 2007 with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Interestingly, he failed to record a sack in a regular season game with any team, but had one in the Giants' 0-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2006 playoffs.
13 Best: Walter Jones, Jr
Is it possible that former first round offensive tackle Walter Jones, Jr. could be the greatest player in Seattle Seahawks history - despite this being a franchise who has had Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Steve Tasker, and Richard Sherman? Well, when you play in nine Pro Bowls and made it into six All-Pro teams (four of which were the the first team), and was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, there's not much to really dispute; as of right now, and this could easily change with what Russell Wilson is doing in the Pacific Northwest, Walter Jones is the greatest player in Seattle Seahawks history.
Joining Brooks as a member of the 2014 NFL Hall of Fame class, Jones kept his quarterbacks upright and helped Shaun Alexander to the cover of Madden NFL '07. That's certainly something worth putting on your resume - although in his own defense, Alexander nearly rushed for 2,000 yards the prior season thanks to an offensive line spearheaded by Jones. Madden NFL 07 was certainly a fun game, as long as you avoided it on the Xbox 360...
12 Worst: Derrick Gibson
Here's a name that I'm sure many of you forgot about and, let's be honest, there's a reason for that. A first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2001 (and now, I ask all Raiders fans to look away: Gibson was picked 28th overall. From picks 30 to 48, the Raiders missed out on Reggie Wayne, Todd Heap, Drew Brees, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Alge Crumpler, Chad John...Ochocin...Hachi Go, Kris Jenkens, Aaron Schobel, and Matt Light), Gibson spent his entire six-year career in the Black Hole, though never really became the legendary safety that the Raiders expected him to be.
When his playing career ended, Gibson took a coaching job with Florida powerhouse Miami Central, helping form an open line with Florida State for his players who were interested in playing Division I. At least he's been able to remain in football!
11 Best: Warrick Dunn
One of the Falcons' minority owners, Warrick De'Mon Dunn (that has to be the best middle name on this list) was always one of those really good, but not great running backs during his 12 year career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons. Rushing for 10,967 total yards and making three Pro Bowls, the 1997 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year also enjoyed a successful career with the Seminoles, being named to three straight All-ACC first-teams from 1994-96 and winning a national championship in 1993. Dunn also ran track and field at Florida State, competing as a sprinter for all four years he was in Tallahassee.
By no means was Dunn ever Walter Payton or Barry Sanders, but the Pro Bowl running back could be dangerous when he was healthy and all was going well. Oh, and Dunn was a pretty good guy too, winning the Man of the Year Award named after Payton in 2004.
10 Worst: Eric Shelton
Carolina fans do not want to hear this name if they even remember it and it's not only because Shelton, a second-round pick in 2006, ran for only 23 yards on eight carries in his lone season with the Panthers. It's also because Shelton was the face of a high profile lawsuit against the NFL where he wanted a large chunk of money as compensation for injuries - and trust us when we say we're talking a lot of money.
The Associated Press reported in 2010 that, "the complaint filed on behalf of Eric Shelton in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Monday asks that he receive $18,670 a month -- nearly $225,000 a year -- in pension benefits, instead of the $9,167 a month -- about $110,000 annually -- that he was awarded by the plan in August after going through an appeals process. ... The complaint says that the 'helmet-to-helmet blow' ... caused a permanent and disabling narrowing of his spinal column and that Shelton has 'migraine headaches, transient paralysis ... and other neurological and related disorders and has been unable to work.'"
Talk about a rough turn of events...we hope that Shelton has managed to get better nearly a decade after his final training camp in 2008 with the Washington Redskins.
9 Best: Lavernues Coles
Some New York Jets fans may be disappointed to see Coles land on this list as having a 'successful' NFL career because he never really blossomed into the elite option that Gang Green expected him to, but let's be honest: how many Jets draft picks with high expectations end up reaching that level? In his own right, Coles was a dangerous wideout in his prime for the Jets and Washington Redskins, making a Pro Bowl appearance in 2003 and catching 82 or more passes four times from 2002 to 2006.
A victim of childhood molestation, Coles persevered through and has been open about his journey, telling Ebony Magazine the following in 2012:
"The main thing that kept me focused was having kids of my own. Your perceptions change once you're the parent. It's why I became friends with Tyler (Perry). He talked to me about not allowing it to keep me from experiencing the life I ought to live. Talking about it with someone who had lived through it gave me a new perspective."
We at The Sportster commend Coles for the hardships he has valiantly fought through.
7 Worst: E.J. Manuel
Permission to stop laughing yet? I know that sounds rough, but really, E.J. Manuel struggling the way he has since being a first-round pick in 2013 had to be expected. At the time, people were asking why the Bills would go for Manuel over Ryan Nassib or Geno Smith (2013 was a really weird year for the NFL Draft, let's leave it at that) and, four seasons in, all of that confusion was justified as Manuel really didn't do much with the Bills.
Aside from a rookie season where there slight flashes of potential early, Manuel has been a bust and now will likely compete for the backup job in Oakland with former fourth-rounder Connor Cook. It may sound like we're being too harsh on Manuel, but come on - we all saw this coming once he landed in Buffalo.
6 Best: Anquan Boldin
And unlike Manuel, Anquan Boldin was not a bust with the team who drafted him out of Florida State; in fact, the Pahokee High School product - who actually named their stadium after him - has been one of the top wide receivers of the 2000s and may have a Hall of Fame resume. Now a 36 year old free agent, Boldin made three Pro Bowls during his time with the Arizona Cardinals from 2003-09, having four of his seven 1,000 yard receiving seasons in the dessert.
After being traded to Baltimore after the 2009 season, Boldin was instrumental in helping the Ravens to three straight postseason appearances, including their Super Bowl run in 2012. With the Seminoles, Boldin won a national championship in 1999, giving him a college ring in addition to his Super Bowl ring. Not too bad for a former second-round pick!
5 Worst: Christian Ponder
Like Manuel, Christian Ponder was headed for being a bust as soon as the Minnesota Vikings made him a first-round pick in 2011, though their choice of Ponder in the first-round when they had so many other positions to fill - not to mention the presence of both Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick as potential quarterbacks for later - still makes no sense. Why not take Tyron Smith to help protect the quarterback? How about adding Nick Fairley, who at the time seemed like a guaranteed star?
Instead, the Vikings went with a quarterback who predictably flopped. With the exception of his sophomore season where Ponder helped lead the Vikings to the playoffs by simply handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson, the Florida State alum was mediocre, throwing for a dismal 38-36 TD-INT ratio before being released after the 2014 season. If only the Vikings had taken Smith...
4 Best: Darnell Dockett
Had I suggested that Dockett would be on this list ten years ago, Cardinal fans would have laughed in my face after three slow, relatively unproductive seasons to start his career. Come 2007, though, Dockett was a Pro Bowl linebacker and by 2009, he was a second-team All-Pro linebacker. From 2007 to 2010, Dockett had at least 3.5 sacks per year and only missed one game in that time, though the downfall of his career began right around the time Arizona began to win games again.
Dockett also generated national attention after the 2010 NFC Championship Game (which he did not play in) when he tweeted, "If I'm on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room! #FACT" after the Bears lost to the rival Green Bay Packers. Why were people so angry? Who knows?
3 Worst: Greg Allen
In all honesty, there's not much really to say about former Florida State and Cleveland Browns running back Greg Allen because his career in the pros was so short. How short, you ask? Try nine carries for 35 yards and no touchdowns in nine total games for the Browns and Buccaneers from 1985 to 1986. How could this happen to one of the best running backs in Seminoles history?
When reminiscing about Allen's career with the Seminoles, Tomahawk Nation's Curt Weiler wrote, "Allen is a rare breed of Florida State player who earned some sort of postseason national honor in each of his four seasons in Tallahassee." Holding most of the Seminoles rushing records that were recently broken by new *insert team where Cook lands up in the draft* running back Dalvin Cook, Allen's legacy in Tallahassee shouldn't be vanishing anytime soon.
2 Best: Deion Sanders
On a less depressing note, let's talk about Prime Time, shall we? The multi-sport star who is the only athlete in history to play in both a World Series and a Super Bowl, Sanders' resume of accomplishments speaks for itself: eight Pro Bowls, eight All-Pro teams, two Super Bowl rings, winning the 1994 Defensive Player of the Year - and in baseball, leading the National League in triples in 1992 while also hitting .533 in that year's World Series.
On the gridiron, Sanders was a deadly dual-threat who could make plays on offense one drive and dominate on defense the other, making him a pop culture legend in the process. Nearly a decade and a half after playing his final snap, people are still playing around with what-ifs about if Sanders played offense with the San Francisco 49ers! As expected, Sanders was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011 and is still being his Prime Time self on the NFL Network.