In the state of Texas, football is by far the reigning sport when it comes to sheer popularity. While there are many high school and college teams that draw a superior number of fans in attendance to every game, the University of Texas may just have the biggest following in the state. It's no small accomplishment, and over the years we've seen plenty of great Longhorn players, who have been able to make it into the NFL ranks, with varying degrees of success. Some have been notable contributors at the next level, and some have faded into obscurity relatively quickly.
In the league currently, there are dozens of former Longhorns donning an NFL uniform. These players rank from some of the sport's best, to peripheral players and failed experiments whose time is undoubtedly running short. Texas has the reputation as a historically great NCAA program for a reason, but as with any other school, that doesn't mean that its players are guaranteed any kind of success in the NFL. Let's see which former Longhorns are tearing up the league right now, and which ones are destined for failure, if not already there.
Ranked below are the 8 best and 7 worst former Texas Longhorns currently in the NFL.
15 Michael Griffin (Best)
Throughout his near decade-long career, Griffin has always been underrated by the mainstream NFL fanbase. He's been one of the most consistent safeties in the league over that time, and has completely lived up to his 1st-round selection by the Titans, in the 2007 draft. He's been a durable, productive player, who is one of the best defensive backs in recent history for the Longhorns.
Now on the Panthers, Griffin may not be in the prime of his career anymore, but he is still an effective player. There's little reason to think that he can't continue to play for a few more NFL seasons before calling it quits. He's simply a great talent who has lived up to the hype since his rookie year.
14 Marquise Goodwin (Worst)
Goodwin was a former 3rd round pick by the Bills, and many had expected him to be a productive NFL wide receiver after a year or two of development. That didn't turn out to be the case, and right now Goodwin is looking for a chance to turn his career around, after being signed by the 49ers in free agency. Whether he can do so or not, is up in the air.
What's an objective fact though, is that Goodwin has been underwhelming in his four previous seasons in Buffalo. He fell behind on the depth chart, relinquishing the top duties to the likes of Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. All things considered, he's just been a mediocre talent, after initially considered to be a player with some upside to his game.
13 Brian Robison (Best)
A testament to the value of perseverance in an NFL career, Robison has played the entirety of his of his 10-year career with the Vikings, after being drafted by them in the 4th round of the 2007 draft. Despite the first four seasons in which he was never a starter and only saw limited snaps, he eventually worked his way up to a full-time starter role, and is now one of the best pass rushers on a dominant defense.
Though on the downturn of his career, he could very well have a couple more seasons of solid productivity. The benefit of not playing much in the beginning of his career means that Robison doesn't have as much mileage on his body that other players of a similar age might. Either way, he figures to be an important part of the Minnesota defense this season.
12 Keenan Robinson (Worst)
The jury is still out on whether or not Robinson can hold up as a productive NFL linebacker, but his time with the Redskins hasn't solidified him as a surefire player. He was a spot starter after being a 4th-round pick in the 2012 draft, and it wasn't enough for Washington to consider keeping him during this offseason. He signed a new contract with the Giants, in hopes to find a more consistent role.
It's fair to say that Robinson was a better player as a Longhorn, and the best years of his career will likely go down in a Texas uniform. Initially a 4th-round pick may have seemed a little bit low, but now if anything it seems too high, since he hasn't been able to show the consistency necessary for a quality NFL player.
11 Justin Tucker (Best)
Most kickers are a dime-a-dozen when push comes to shove, but Tucker finds a way to stand out above the rest. The former Longhorn has been one of, if not the single best kicker in the NFL over the last several years, and given the length that careers for the position tend to last, he may have upwards of a decade more of football left in him.
The job of an NFL kicker is sometimes overlooked, and there's no question that Tucker makes the Ravens a better team week in and week out. He's proven that he can be counted on in the clutch, and since so many games come down to one score, he can be viewed as one of their most valuable players. There's no question that he'll be a fixture in Baltimore for years to come.
10 Malcolm Brown (Worst)
Brown had four really solid seasons at Texas, and although he wasn't drafted, he seemed like a prime candidate for an overlooked success as an undrafted free agent. It's certainly been done before at the running back position, and it didn't seem out of reach. Unfortunately, in his two NFL seasons, Brown has only made a a marginal impact at best, barely getting on the field.
All in all, there's little chance that he ever becomes a lead, or even secondary running back in the pros. He has a roster spot on the Rams for now, but that could quickly be up in the air if anyone can beat him out in training camp. His roster spot likely isn't guaranteed, and worst case scenario he could be out of the league all together in short order.
9 Kenny Vaccaro (Best)
It may seem odd to say, but Vaccaro is probably one of the more underrated safeties in the league, and there's a good chance that he takes a step forward during the next season. He's hindered by other bad players on the Saints defense, but in a vacuum, Vaccaro is still a really good young player. He was taken by New Orleans as a 1st-round selection, and lived up to it all things considered.
He was a prolific player at Texas, and there's no surprise that he as taken with such a high draft pick. He still has a ways to go before reaching his ceiling, but overall his career is off to a good start, and he should be one of the most important pieces of a hopefully-improving Saints defense going forward.
8 Fozzy Whitaker (Worst)
After playing only one year as a Longhorn, Whitaker quickly departed for the NFL at a young age, and it probably hurt his development as he wasn't even selected in the draft, and had to begin his career as an undrafted free agent. While he's found somewhat of a niche on the Panthers roster after bouncing around the league for a bit, his play leaves a lot to be desired.
Indeed, there's a reason why Whitaker has maxed out as a change-of-pace running back only. There's a decent chance that he may not even be on the roster this season. He just isn't able to handle the workload of an NFL runner, and a few more years at Texas may have done him good, and not rushed him into a role he wasn't ready for.
7 Jordan Hicks (Best)
There may not be another linebacker in the league on as quick of an ascent as Hicks is for the Eagles, and there's a good chance that he has a true breakout season in 2017. He's proficient at all facets of playing the linebacker position, and he'll be an important part of the Philadelphia defense for a long time. He had a fully healthy season in 2016 after an injury-plagued rookie year, and he showed why he was selected in the first place.
His solid performance as a Longhorn landed him as a 3rd-round pick, and Hicks has lived up to it in full, and will likely surpass it soon. The pick may have been ridiculed by some at the time, but he's one of the best young linebackers in the league, and has the potential to be a great one.
6 Adrian Phillips (Worst)
Phillips has found a spot as a depth player on the Chargers, after going undrafted out of Texas. He was productive as a Longhorn, however, and you could have made the argument that his production warranted an NFL team to spend some kind of a draft pick on him. He wasn't flashy, but a solid player with a knack for a big play every once in a while.
Despite this, he just hasn't proved that he deserves starting time at the NFL level. Whether or not the Chargers keep him around as a backup or situational player remains to be seen, but the opportunity for him to show that he's an upper-tier player has likely passed him by. It's hard to rag on him too much, but there's a reason that Phillips has only started in a handful of games after three years in the league on the same team.
5 Jamaal Charles (Best)
One of the best running backs of his generation, Charles was simply a force for the Chiefs out of the backfield for years. As a 3rd-round pick, he's shattered all expectations anyone had for him coming out of Texas, and has proven his worth time and time again. He was a production monster for a long time, and easily one of the best players of his era.
Currently, he's a free agent, but it's expected that he will be signed to some roster before the start of the 2017 season. He can still be productive in theory, but injuries have hampered him for the last couple of seasons, so his future is still up in the air. Nobody would complain about having a former All-Pro running back on their roster, however.
4 Aaron Williams (Worst)
It's all about the lack of value with Williams, as his NFL career reads more like a mid-round pick, than somebody who was thought to be a major contributor when he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Bills. He's spent time as a starter in the defensive backfield, but he wasn't able to sustain that role, and was dropped to backup duty in short order.
He's still on the Buffalo roster, but his time there may be wearing thin, with a new head coach and staff coming into he fold for this year. He's still a useful player, but given that there were such high expectations on him coming out of Texas, he hasn't fulfilled all of them in the slightest. Consider him to be playing for his career at this point, with no guarantees on the table whatsoever.
3 Earl Thomas (Best)
At this point, if anybody has to be explained to why Thomas is one of the best defensive players of his era, they simply haven't been paying attention. A cornerstone of the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" defense, Thomas is a juggernaut of a safety, and has proven that he is an integral part of a team that is always in playoff contention, with a Super Bowl victory to their credit.
While a major injury last season put his future into question, Thomas is still a high quality player, and will be the starter in 2017. How much time he has left exactly is up in the air, but if any player can come back from a disadvantaged situation, it would be him. Don't expect Seattle to move on from him in the near future. A rare 1st-round pick that has actually exceeded expectation in every way.
2 Colt McCoy (Worst)
Another one of the quarterbacks in the dreaded vicious cycle of the Browns rotation under center, it didn't take long for everyone to realize that McCoy was not capable of being an effective NFL starter. Despite great production as a Longhorn, and lofty expectations when he entered the league, he was quickly relegated to backup duty by his third season in Cleveland.
Now a backup to Kirk Cousins on the Redskins, McCoy is just collecting more paychecks until retirement. There's very little chance he ever sees an NFL field as a consensus starter under center ever again. It's not the worst job in the world, but he probably wishes that he would have had more success early on in his career. He's definitely a failed player in the NFL ranks.
1 Derrick Johnson (Best)
When it comes to the short list of underrated NFL players, Johnson's name has to be included every single time. He's going into his 13th year with the Chiefs, and he's been a pillar of stability and production nearly the entire way through. He's been one of the best linebackers in the league, and proven why he was a 1st round selection, way back in the 2005 draft.
The only knock on him is that he's had a few serious injuries, but he's persevered through them, and come back just as well every time. Johnson is the kind of player that the NFL is built upon, and his consistency, toughness and football IQ is almost unparalleled when it comes to players in the league right now. Not only one of the best Longhorns of the modern era, but one of the best NFL players. That's a rare one-two punch that is hardly ever duplicated.
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