CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 16 North Carolina DE Julius Peppers
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 16 North Carolina DE Julius Peppers
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
For the Top 20 Players since CFN started, the rules are simple. Who made the biggest impact, who were the most important, and who were ones who generated the most buzz – for good and bad?
This isn’t necessarily a list of the most talented players – that’s what the NFL Draft is for. Who were the defining players of the last 20 years?
Also, nothing before 1998 counts.
Julius Peppers, DE North Carolina (1999-2001)
Over the last 20 years of college football, there were few more obvious future NFL superstars than Julius Peppers.
More than good enough to have pushed for an NBA career as a power forward, he was bigger, faster, and more athletic than a defensive end should be.
Myles Garrett might look like the prototype NFL defensive end, and Jadeveon Clowney, Mario Williams, David Pollack and Demarcus Ware were all special prospects who turned in great college careers, but in terms of everything the pro scouts could’ve ever wanted in an end, Peppers was it.
North Carolina Football
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, they couldn’t take advantage of having a star like Peppers on the outside and another top NFL draft pick, Ryan Sims, in the interior.
It was supposed to be when North Carolina was going to take off as a football power. Mack Brown had set the wheels in motion before leaving for Texas, and Carl Torbush was bringing in the talent. Coming off a 20-3 run at the end of the Brown era, UNC was a hot place to go.
Along with the defensive linemen, the Tar Heels landed Ronald Curry, the nation’s No. 1 star quarterback prospect, and a next-level hoops prodigy, too. But he had injury issues, the Tar Heels struggled under Torbush, and Peppers had to shine on a team that went 9-13 in his first two seasons, and then a pedestrian 8-5 under John Bunting in 2001.
But Peppers did his part.
The Total Package Defensive End
Peppers wasn’t just a turn-it-loose guy in the backfield – he could do it all.
After sitting out his first season, Peppers started out okay in 1999 with 50 tackles to go along with six sacks and ten tackles for loss for a struggling 3-8 team. And then it all kicked in.
Unstoppable, he went from being a good prospect to an All-American, destroying backfields with 15 sacks, 24 tackles for loss and 64 tackles for an improved team.
Teams started to figure out that they had to work their entire blocking schemes around the guy who kept making big things happen on the outside, but it didn’t matter. Along with all the tackles, Peppers came up with 24 quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles, Sims made six sacks and 11 hurries.
Peppers followed it up with 63 tackles with 9.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2001, and that was it. He was done with basketball, was fully focused on being a football star, and it all worked out perfectly. He left a year early, getting picked by Carolina as the No. 2 pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. Who went No. 1? Houston took Fresno State QB David Carr.
North Carolina was a lot of hype and potential, and a whole lot of fizzle for a long while in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but it wasn’t hard to figure out that Peppers was something special.
Lawrence Taylor will always be known as North Carolina’s greatest pass rusher, but Peppers closed out his career as every bit the force in all phases with 177 tackles, 30.5 sacks, and 53 tackles for loss.
Along with his work as a key part of the UNC hoops puzzle, Peppers won the Bednarik and and Lombardi awards in 2001, earned All-ACC and All-America honors in 2000 and 2001.
He didn’t turn out to be too bad an NFL talent, either.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo credits: University of North Carolina