CFB 24/7  

 

10 college football legends who never played a down in NFL

Charlie Ward was a Heisman-winning quarterback who opted to play in the NBA instead of the NFL.

Baylor center Isaiah Austin's NBA career is over before it has begun, as he has been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder that will keep him from playing pro ball.

While Austin wasn't considered a potential lottery pick in Thursday night's NBA draft, he was considered a potential first-rounder because of his size (he's a 7-footer) and athleticism.

There have been a handful of college football stars who didn't play in the NFL for health reasons; there also have been numerous stars who didn't play in the NFL for other reasons.

Here are 10 great college football players who, for one reason or another, never played a down in the NFL.

10. RB Jay Berwanger, Chicago

Buzz: He was the first Heisman winner, in 1935, but bypassed the NFL. He was the first overall pick in the 1936 draft, by Philadelphia. The Eagles didn't think they could pay him what he wanted, so they traded his draft rights to Chicago. But Berwanger and the Bears couldn't agree on a salary, and he went into private business.


14 for '14 series:
CFB 24/7 counts down the 14 college football players or coaches to watch in varying categories in 2014.

» Top small-school prospects
» Impact freshmen in college football
» Top rivalries in college football
» Top personalities in college football
» Best uniforms in college football
» Best stadiums in college football
» Biggest hitters in college football
» Hot coordinators in college football
» Best recruiters in college football
» Hot-seat coaches in college football
» Best coaches in college football
» Best names in college football
» Heaviest players in college football
» Smallest players in college football
» Top celebrity college football fans
» Top Heisman Trophy candidates
» Most explosive athletes in college football
» Most versatile players in college football
» Most freakish athletes in college football
» Scariest players in college football
» Fastest players in college football
» Toughest players in college football
» Smartest players in college football
» Most physical players in college football
» College football players with best intangibles

9. QB Joe Roth, California

Buzz: Roth, at 6-foot-4, a prototypical pocket passer with a strong arm, played junior college ball before signing with Cal. He began the '75 season as a backup but became the starter and helped the Golden Bears to a share of the Pac-8 title. Roth was touted as a potential All-American in 1976 and finished ninth in the Heisman voting. After the season, it was revealed he had played part of the season with cancer. He died in February 1977; he was 21.

8. NT Jim Stillwagon, Ohio State

Buzz: He was one of the most decorated interior linemen in college history. He was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes and was a consensus All-American as a junior and senior. He also won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award as a senior in 1970. At 6-0 and 239 pounds, he was considered too small for the NFL and was a fifth-round pick in the 1971 draft by the Green Bay Packers. He decided to play in the CFL instead and was a three-time CFL All-Star during his five-year career north of the border.

7. RB Dick Kazmaier, Princeton

Buzz: He starred for the Tigers for three seasons (1949-51) and won the Heisman as a senior, when he accounted for 22 TDs in nine games; he is the last Heisman winner from the Ivy League. He also played quarterback at Princeton, and led the nation in total offense (1,827 yards) as a senior. He was a 15th-round pick by the Chicago Bears in the 1953 draft, but decided to earn an MBA at Harvard instead. He also served three years in the Navy.

6. RB Nile Kinnick, Iowa

Buzz: Kinnick, who was a three-sport athlete at Iowa, won the Heisman as a senior in 1939, when he had a hand in 107 of the 130 points Iowa scored that season. He still owns six school records. His Heisman speech is one of the most famous in history. Near the end of that speech, he said, "I thank God I was warring on the gridirons of the Midwest and not on the battlefields of Europe. I can speak confidently and positively that the players of this country would much more, much rather, struggle and fight to win the Heisman award than the Croix de Guerre." He was a second-round pick in the 1940 draft, by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but chose to attend law school at Iowa. After one year of law school, he joined the Naval Air Reserve -- he reported for induction three days before Pearl Harbor was attacked -- and died on a training flight in 1943. Iowa named its football stadium after Kinnick in 1972.

5. RB Johnny Bright, Drake

Buzz: He signed with Michigan State out of high school but transferred to Drake, where he started for three seasons. He led the nation in total offense in 1949 as a sophomore and as a junior in 1950, when he set an NCAA single-season record with 2,400 yards. He suffered a broken jaw in what was seen as a racial incident (Bright was black) in a 1951 game at Oklahoma State and that limited his effectiveness in the second half of the season. Still, he finished his college career with 284 points and 5,983 yards of total offense in 25 career games. He was fifth in the Heisman balloting in 1951 and was a first-round pick (No. 5 overall) by Philadelphia in the 1952 draft. He played in the CFL instead and retired as the CFL's leading career rusher.

NFL Media analyst Bucky Brooks digs deep into the game tape to evaluate college football's most talented players.

» Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
» Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
» Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
» Leonard Williams, DL, USC
» Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
» Wisconsin's Gordon vs. Georgia's Gurley

4. QB Charlie Ward, Florida State

Buzz: Ward was a two-year starter for the Seminoles and led them to their first national title in 1993, when he became the first FSU player to win the Heisman. He threw for 3,032 yards and 27 TDs and also ran for 339 yards and four scores in '93. Ward was a spread quarterback before teams knew they ran the spread. He also was just 6-0 and there were questions about his arm strength. In addition, he also starred in basketball at FSU, and he wasn't shy about letting it be known that he had NBA aspirations. He wasn't taken in the 1994 NFL Draft, and ended up playing 12 seasons in the NBA as a point guard.

3. RB Felix "Doc" Blanchard, Army

Buzz: He was the first junior to win the Heisman, in 1945. Teammate Glenn Davis won it in 1946. The duo was known as "Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside" for their running abilities, with Blanchard's forays between the tackles earning him the "Mr. Inside" moniker. Despite being known as an inside runner, Blanchard ran 100 yards in 10.0 seconds. He had a big game in a 1944 rout of Notre Dame, leading Irish coach Edward McKeever to say, "I've just seen Superman in the flesh. He wears number 35 and goes by the name of Blanchard." Blanchard ran for 1,908 yards and 38 TDs in three seasons at Army. He chose a career in the armed services, rising to the rank of Colonel in the Air Force, over a possible NFL career.

2. QB Tommie Frazier, Nebraska

Buzz: He never won the Heisman, but he was the best option/wishbone quarterback in college history. Given that there's not much call for option quarterbacks in the NFL, it's understandable that he never played in the league. But don't let that diminish what he did with the Huskers. In addition to running the option with unparalleled skill (the only one close was Oklahoma's Jack Mildren in the 1970s), he was a winner: He led Nebraska to consecutive national titles (1994 and '95) and also started when the Huskers played for the national title in 1993 against Ward and FSU. His background as an option quarterback as well as health issues led to him going undrafted in 1996; he did play in one game in the CFL that fall.

1. RB Ernie Davis, Syracuse

Buzz: He won the Heisman in 1961, the first black player to do so. He set all sorts of school records at Syracuse, breaking Jim Brown's school career records in rushing (2,386 yards), total offense (3,414), scoring (220 points) and touchdowns (35). He was the No. 1 pick in the 1962 draft by the Washington Redskins, and his rights quickly were traded to the Cleveland Browns, who signed him to a three-year, $200,000 deal. But Davis was diagnosed with leukemia in the summer of 1962 and never played an NFL game; he died in May 1963 at the age of 23. He is one of 14 Heisman winners who never played in the NFL.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop

NFL News
CONTENT
15