Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Kansas’ most successful NFL players (1-15)

Former Kansas standout Gale Sayers had five terrific seasons with the Chicago Bears before knee injuries cut short his career.
Former Kansas standout Gale Sayers had five terrific seasons with the Chicago Bears before knee injuries cut short his career. File photo

On Tuesday, we went through the top 15 NFL players, in our opinion, to come out of Kansas State.

Today, we’re doing the same for Kansas.

While there’s no doubt K-State has far-surpassed Kansas as a football program, there’s also no doubt that the list of outstanding NFL players who played at Kansas is a more impressive one than the Wildcats can offer.

For now, at least.

This list is about star power, and KU has some when it comes to producing NFL talent. So let’s get started, from 15 to 1.

15. Bobby Douglass – Douglass, a quarterback, played 10 seasons in the NFL with the Bears, Chargers, Saints and Packers. He’s best known as a tough runner who became a favorite of Bears fans during his time in Chicago from 1969 into the early-1970s. Douglass completed only 43 percent of his pass attempts during his career, but rushed for 2,654 yards and 22 touchdowns. The El Dorado native loved to put his head down and fight for more yardage as a runner.

14. Aqib Talib – Talib, currently a cornerback with the Denver Broncos, is in the midst of an outstanding NFL career. It started with Tampa Bay, then New England and now the Broncos, where he has helped beef up the team’s defense. Talib already has 25 career interceptions and has returned five for touchdowns. He was selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl.

13. Ron Jessie – An 11-year NFL player, Jessie caught 265 passes for 4,278 yards and 26 touchdowns with the Lions, Rams and Bills. He has also had two career kick returns for touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl in 1976.

12. Broderick Thompson – An offensive lineman from Birmingham, Ala., Thompson played in 152 games (135 starts) during his 12-year NFL career with the Cowboys, Chargers, Eagles and Broncos.

11. Larry Brown – Brown played tackle and tight end during his 14-year career, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a part of four Super Bowl champions and a mainstay on the Steelers’ offensive line after being selected in the fifth round of the 1971 draft. Brown had 48 career catches as a tight end for 636 yards and played in 167 games.

10. John Zook – Zook, from Larned, made the Pro Bowl in 1973 with the Atlanta Falcons, where he spent most of his 11-year career before finishing with the Rams. A defensive end, Zook played in 144 games and made 107 starts.

9. Mike McCormack – McCormack started his NFL career as a defensive lineman, but switched to the offensive line for Cleveland coach Paul Brown, who would refer to McCormack as the greatest offensive lineman he coached. McCormack helped open holes for legendary running back Jim Brown in Cleveland. McCormack played 10 years in the NFL, nine of them with the Browns, and was a six-time Pro Bowler.

8. Curtis McClinton – McClinton, who went to North, is one of the finest athletes to come out of Wichita. He played eight seasons in the NFL, one with the Dallas Texans and seven with the Kansas City Chiefs after the franchise moved after the 1962 season. McClinton, a fullback/tight end, rushed for 3,124 yards and 18 touchdowns during his career and had 1,945 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. He was a Pro Bowler in 1962, 1966 and 1967.

7. Delvin Williams – Williams was the third-leading rusher in the NFL in 1976 with the San Francisco 49ers, gaining 1,203 yards. Two seasons later, he finished fourth among league rushers for Miami with 1,258 yards and made the Pro Bowl. Williams played eight seasons in the NFL and rushed for 5,598 yards.

6. LeRoy Irvin – Irvin was one of the finest defensive backs in the NFL for much of his 11-season career (1980-90) and made two Pro Bowls (1985, 1986). He spent 10 of those 11 seasons with the Rams before finishing his career in Detroit and had with 35 interceptions in 159 games.

5. Dana Stubblefield – Stubblefield was an outstanding nose tackle with the San Francisco 49ers, where he played in three Pro Bowls (1994, 1995, 1997). He played 11 seasons in the NFL and had 352 tackles. Mostly, though, Stubblefield was a run stuffer and used his mammoth frame to fill holes in the interior of the line.

4. Nolan Cromwell – As a quarterback at Kansas, Cromwell was dynamic – as a rusher. He ran for 1,124 yards in 1975, the 10th most yards in KU history. Cromwell, from Ransom, was a safety in the NFL and one of the best in the league from 1977-87 with the Los Angeles Rams. He had 37 career interceptions and played in four Pro Bowls.

3. John Hadl – A Lawrence native, Hadl was KU’s starter in 1960-61. He was at his best, though, in the NFL, first with the Chargers and then with the Rams, Packers and Oilers. Hadl’s 33,503 career passing yards rank No. 26 in NFL history and his 244 touchdowns are No. 17. On the down side, Hadl’s 268 interceptions are the third most in NFL history. He led the league in passing yards three times and guided the Rams to a 12-2 record in 1973. Hadl was 82-76-9 as a starter.

2. John Riggins – The wild-and-crazy Centraila native remains one of the most colorful players in NFL history and one of the best running backs in history with 11,352 rushing yards, 16th most of all-time. Riggins was the MVP of Super Bowl XVII when he rushed for 166 yards on 38 carries, the fourth time in a row he gained 100 yards or more in a playoff game. Washington beat Miami, 27-17, in that Super Bowl. Riggins’ NFL career spanned 15 seasons with the Redskins and Jets.

1. Gale Sayers – Nicknamed “The Kansas Comet,” Sayers was a tremendous running back at Kansas, where he rushed for 2,675 yards in three seasons and averaged 6.5 yards per carry. He was just as good in five seasons with the Chicago Bears, twice leading the NFL in rushing and finishing second, third and fifth the other years. Sayers, born in Wichita and raised in Omaha, had 4,866 rushing yards and 1,313 receiving yards after five seasons. But a couple of knee injuries cut short his career and he was able to play in only four games in his final two seasons.

Honorable mention – Jim Bailey, Terry Beeson, Gilbert Brown, Mike Butler, Billy Campfield, Tom Dinkel, Paul Fairchild, Galen Fiss, Don Goode, Chris Harris, Justin Hartwig, Mike Johnson, Kurt Knoff, Kwame Lassiter, Steve Lawson, Elvis Patterson, Dave Scott, Steve Towle, Alvin Watson, Frank Wattelet.

So, what do you think? This is a pretty good list, huh? Anybody left off? Let’s debate.