NFL Draft Best Picks of All-Time From Every ACC School

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NFL Draft Best Picks of All-Time From Every ACC School

College Football Features

NFL Draft Best Picks of All-Time From Every ACC School

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Who are the best NFL Draft picks from every ACC program? Which players turned into the greatest stars at the next level?


The ACC takes a backseat to no one when it comes to NFL draft bragging rights from its current programs.

The bulk players might not be there like it is from the SEC and the Big Ten, but you want high-end talent?

From Dan Marino to Jim Brown, and from Lawrence Taylor to Derrick Brooks to Aaron Donald, there’s a lot for the ACC to chirp about.

This isn’t a list of the top pro players to come from the ACC schools – these are the best draft picks.

Players who had great careers for teams other than the ones that drafted them don’t get enough credit, or aren’t on the list at all.

The goal for any draft pick is to get a player who performs at a high level for a long period of time, so longevity matters over one short burst of greatness.

2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, Analysis
QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OTsOGs & Cs | DEs & Edge | DTs
LBs | Ss | CBs | 50 Greatest Value Draft Picks Ever
NFL Draft by college over last 5 years: 1-130 rankings

Boston College Best NFL Draft Picks

QB Matt Ryan
2008, 1st round, 3rd pick overall, Atlanta

Silver: LB Luke Kuechly, 2012, 1st round, 9th pick overall, Carolina
Bronze: C Tom Nalen, 1994, 7th round, 218th pick overall, Denver

Denver hit the jackpot getting a 14-year center who started 188 times. Tom Nalen went to five Pro Bowls and was named to two All-Pro teams as the anchor of a few Super Bowl champions.

Matt Ryan took his career to a whole other level, earning the 2016 MVP as an All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler, coming within a collapse of being a Super Bowl winner, too.

Luke Kuechly doesn’t have the longevity of Ryan, but the five-time All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowl star, and 2013 NFL Defensive MVP put together a whale of career.

DE Larry Eisenhauer belongs on the list somewhere with three All-Pro teams as a Boston Patriot, and DT Fred Smerlas deserved consideration.

Clemson Best NFL Draft Picks

S Brian Dawkins
1996, 2nd round, 61st pick overall, Philadelphia

Silver: DT Michael Dean Perry, 1988, 2nd round, 50th pick overall, Cleveland
Bronze: WR DeAndre Hopkins, 2013, 1st round, 27th pick overall

Clemson is about to have a whole lot more big-time players to choose from, but at the moment, it doesn’t have as many star prospects as you might think. There are plenty of very good pros, but not enough elite ones.

Deshaun Watson appeared to be on track to easily be No. 1 on this list, but … yeah. That. The Houston Texan career didn’t exactly end well.

Brian Dawkins put together a special Hall of Fame career as one of the leaders of the Philadelphia defense for over a decade, named to four All-Pro teams with six Pro Bowl trips for the Eagles.

Michael Dean had a far better NFL career than William – he was the better of the two Perrys – with six Pro Bowl appearances and two All-Pro teams made in his nine year career.

Here’s the problem – now DeAndre Hopkins is an Arizona Cardinal so his history as a Houston Texan stops at three All-Pro seasons and four Pro Bowl runs in seven years.

Duke Best NFL Draft Picks

LB Mike Curtis
1965, 1st round, 14th pick overall, Baltimore

Silver: OG Ed Newman, 1973, 6th round, 156th overall, Miami
Bronze: C Bill Bryan, 1977, 4th round, 101st overall, Denver

The tone-setter for several championship-level defenses, Mike Curtis spent 11 years in Baltimore as one of the best all-around linebackers of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Ed Newman was a star guard who kicked in just after Miami’s historic 1972 season. It took a while to get the starting job, but he played 12 years for the Dolphins and went to four Pro Bowls and closed out his career with an All-Pro nod.

Sonny Jurgensen would easily make this list for what he did for Washington, but he was drafted by Philadelphia. The red-haired quarterback wasn’t bad for the Eagles, but he wasn’t special outside of one big season.

Florida State Best NFL Draft Picks

LB Derrick Brooks
1995, 1st round, 28th pick overall, Tampa Bay

Silver: OT Walter Jones, 1997, 1st round, 6th pick overall, Seattle
Bronze: CB Deion Sanders, 1989, 1st round, 5th pick overall, Atlanta

It might not be quite the group of superstar talents you’d expect, but Florida State’s drafted players up top are as good as any in the history of the NFL.

Derrick Brooks is a Hall of Famer, playing 14 years for Tampa Bay as one of the leaders of several epic defenses and a Super Bowl champion. A five-time All-Pro and 11-time Pro Bowl performer, he wasn’t all that bad for the 28th pick.

Deion Sanders would probably be No. 1 in terms of careers, but he only spent five years at Atlanta – that was enough to get him into the FSU top three. He picked off 24 passes for the Falcons – and 25 in his other eight years – going to three Pro Bowls and being named to three All-Pro teams for the team that drafted him.

Walter Jones is also in the Hall of Fame, earning four All-Pro honors in his 12-year Seattle career.

Georgia Tech Best NFL Draft Picks

WR Calvin Johnson 
2007, 1st round, 2nd pick overall, Detroit

Silver: LB Pat Swilling, 1986, 3rd round, 50th pick overall, New Orleans
Bronze: OG Billy Shaw, 1961, 2nd round, 11th pick overall, Buffalo

Shaw was a nine-year mainstay at guard for the Bills throughout the 1960s with five-time All-Pro years of recognition and eight Pro Bowl appearances in his Hall of Fame career.

Pat Swilling isn’t in the Hall of Fame, but the two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler did most of his best work with New Orleans, highlighted by being named the 1991 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was good, but he wasn’t Megatron.

Calvin Johnson was well worth the second overall pick, going to six Pro Bowls and being named three All-Pro teams. He finished his nine-year career with 731 catches for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns.

Louisville Best NFL Draft Picks

QB Lamar Jackson
2018, 1st round, 32nd pick overall, Baltimore

Silver: LB Tom Jackson, 1973, 4th round, 88th pick overall, Denver
Bronze: S Sam Madison, 1997, 2nd round, 44th pick overall, Miami

Johnny Unitas is obviously the best pro to come from Louisville – but he was drafted by Pittsburgh and didn’t do anything until going to Baltimore.

Tom Jackson was one of the leaders and stars of Denver’s Orange Crush defense of the 1970s. The 1977 All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler was the ultimate leader. Sam Madison was the nine-year rock of the Miami secondary, and Bruce Armstrong started 212 games for the Patriots.

One MVP season and two Pro Bowls from Lamar Jackson – and all he continues to do – is amazing enough, but for Baltimore to nail the pick and get a star quarterback at the 32 is amazing.

Miami Best NFL Draft Picks

LB Ray Lewis
1996, 1st round, 26th pick overall, Baltimore

Silver: S Ed Reed, 2002, 1st round, 24th pick overall, Baltimore
Bronze: DT Warren Sapp, 1995, 1st round, 12th pick overall, Tampa Bay

It’s the best list of any college football program to choose from – USC is up there, though.

Who doesn’t make the cut? Some of the most productive runners in NFL history – Edgerrin James and Frank Gore. Amazing receiver talents – Michael Irvin, Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne.

Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde, Cortez Kennedy, Vince Wilfork, Bernie Kosar, and on and on, and on, and on.

Ten-time All-Pro Jim Otto, by the way, wasn’t drafted.

Ray Lewis was a ten-time All-Pro and 13-time Pro Bowl star with two Super Bowl championships. If he’s not the greatest linebacker of all-time, he’s close.

Ed Reed belongs in the team photo of the greatest safeties ever – he went to nine Pro Bowls and was a five-time All Pro. Hall of Famer Warren Sapp is among the all-time defensive tackle greats as the anchor of a Super Bowl winner, getting put on four All-Pro teams with seven Pro Bowls.

North Carolina Best NFL Draft Picks

LB Lawrence Taylor
1981, 1st round, 2nd pick overall, New York Giants

Silver: DE Julius Peppers, 1st round, 2nd pick overall, Carolina
Bronze: LB Chris Hanburger, 18th round, 245th pick overall, Washington

The North Carolina top three are as good as almost any other college’s trio.

Lawrence Taylor alone makes this group special. Arguably the greatest defensive player of all-time, the Hall of Famer is the gold standard of pass rushers on the way to ten Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro teams.

Peppers might have gone from great to Hall of Fame special because of his longevity with Chicago and Green Bay, but he was outstanding for Carolina, too.

Hanburger turned out to be okay for an 18th round pick – the four-time All-Pro played 14 years for Washington on the way to Canton.

North Carolina State Best NFL Draft Picks

QB Philip Rivers
2004, 1st round, 4th pick overall, New York Giants*

Silver: WR Torry Holt, 1999, 1st round, 6th pick overall, St. Louis Rams
Bronze: QB Roman Gabriel, 1962, 1st round, 2nd pick overall, Los Angeles Rams

Just like Eli Manning for Ole Miss, Phil Rivers gets credit for being “drafted”  by the Chargers because of the draft day trade. Rivers is a first ballot Hall of Famer, but Roman Gabriel isn’t in despite putting up huge numbers in his 16-year career. In his 11 years with Los Angeles, Gabriel threw for over 22,000 yards and was a 1969 All-Pro.

Torry Holt is an all-timer after making 869 catches for 12,660 yards and 74 touchdowns for the Greatest Show On Turf Rams, going to seven Pro Bowls and being named a 2003 All-Pro.

Pitt Best NFL Draft Picks

QB Dan Marino
1983, 1st round, 27th pick overall, Miami

Silver: DT Aaron Donald, 2014, 1st round, 13th pick overall, St. Louis
Bronze: RB Tony Dorsett, 1977, 1st round, 1st pick overall, Dallas

You had better come nasty if you want anything to do with the list of the three best NFL Draft picks from Pitt.

If you’re not in the Hall of Fame – or will be – move along.

Darrelle Revis would’ve been an interesting call a few years ago, but he didn’t make the cut.

Curtis Martin has a bust in Canton, and Rickey Jackson and Mike Ditka do, too. They weren’t even close.

How good do you have to be to make the Pitt top three? Larry Fitzgerald – who leads all Pitt players in Pro Bowls with 11 – Mark May, Bill Fralic, Jimbo Covert and Russ Grimm aren’t there, and Hall of Fame star Chris Doleman couldn’t get there even with 96.5 sacks with Minnesota.

Tony Dorsett could be Pitt’s greatest draft pick – he has a Super Bowl ring and was the second-leading rusher of all-time when he retired –  but Dan Marino is a no-brainer No. 1 … maybe.

Aaron Donald has been named to seven All-Pro teams, eight Pro Bowls and has a Super Bowl ring in his eight seasons as possibly the greatest defensive tackle of all-time – or close to it.

Syracuse Best NFL Draft Picks

RB Jim Brown
1957, 1st round, 6th pick overall, Cleveland

Silver: WR Marvin Harrison, 1999, 1st round, 19th pick overall, Indianapolis
Bronze: C Jim Ringo, 1953, 7th round, 79th pick overall, Green Bay

Jim Brown might be the greatest player in NFL history. That’s a nice place to start, earning eight All-Pro nods in his nine years before exiting as the league’s all-time leading rusher.

Jim Ringo is a Hall of Famer, being named to six All-Pro teams as the anchor of the Green Bay line, and Marvin Harrison was one of the most productive receivers of all-time with 14,580 yards.

Donovan McNabb, Art Monk, Dwight Freeney, Larry Czonka, Floyd Little, and Walt Sweeney are just a few of the other Syracuse greats who’d make the cut for just about anyone else.

Virginia Best NFL Draft Picks

CB Ronde Barber
1997, 3rd round, 66th pick overall, Tampa Bay

Silver: WR Herman Moore, 1991, 1st round, 10th pick overall, Detroit
Bronze: RB Tiki Barber, 1997, 2nd round, 36th pick overall, New York Giants

Henry Jordan would be No. 1 without a problem, but the Hall of Fame defensive tackle did all of his big things for Green Bay – he only played two years for the team that drafted him, Cleveland.

Ronde Barber is a fringe Hall of Fame candidate, playing 16 years for the Buccaneers going to five Pro Bowls and being named to three All-Pro teams, finishing his career with 1,028 tackles. Brother Tiki’s career wasn’t far behind, getting better as he went on finishing with 10,449 yards in his ten-year run.

Herman Moore had a massive career for Detroit, catching 670 passes for 9,174 yards and 62 scores with three All-Pro teams on the resumé.

Virginia Tech Best NFL Draft Picks

DE Bruce Smith
1985, 1st round, 1st pick overall, Buffalo

Silver: QB Michael Vick, 2001, 1st round, 1st pick overall, Atlanta
Bronze: OT Duane Brown, 2008, 1st round, 26h pick overall, Houston

As crazy as it might seem now, Bruce Smith was considered a potential bust after his rookie season. And then came a 15 sack season, followed up by an avalanche of production in a Hall of Fame career as one of the most dominant pass rushers of all-time. He finished up with 171 sacks for Buffalo and was named to eight All-Pro teams.

Forget about all the drama, Michael Vick was fantastic for Atlanta in his six years. Duane Brown was a starter for Houston from jump, getting better and better leading up to a 2012 All-Pro season and going to three Pro Bowls as a tackle.

Wake Forest Best NFL Draft Picks

LB Bill George
1951, 2nd round, 23rd pick overall, Chicago

Silver: C Tony Mayberry, 1990, 4th round, 108th pick overall, Tampa Bay
Bronze: OG Billy Ard, 1981, 8th round, 221st pick overall, New York Giants

Bill George turned in a great Hall of Fame career but in different positions, starting out mostly as a guard and working later as a middle linebacker. He was named All-Pro eight times. After him, there wasn’t much to choose from.

QB Norm Snead only played a few years for Washington – otherwise the 16-year pro would be an easy No. 2.

Center Tony Mayberry was a three-time Pro Bowler as the ten-year mainstay of the Tampa Bay line, while Billy Ard turned into a steady starter for the New York Giant lines of the 1980s.

2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, Analysis
QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OTsOGs & Cs | DEs & Edge | DTs
LBs | Ss | CBs | 50 Greatest Value Draft Picks Ever
NFL Draft by college over last 5 years: 1-130 rankings

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