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Penn State’s Best NFL Draft Class Ever – 1987 or 2003? Ranking the All-time Top 10

by on April 30, 2015 11:00 PM

As far as Penn State’s all-time NFL Draft classes go, which is more impressive:

First-round quality or overall draft quantity?

For sheer first-round dominance, there’s the Class of 2003.

The 2003 group featured four first-round picks – Jimmy Kennedy (St. Louis), Michael Haynes (Chicago), Bryant Johnson (Arizona) and Larry Johnson (Kansas City). Then the NFL added some PSU spice in the second round, with picks Bryan Scott (Atlanta) and Anthony Adams (San Francisco).

Those six players were drafted faster than other group of six in PSU draft hostory. Adams was the last to go, when the 49ers made him the No. 57 overall selection in the 2003 draft.

That quartet represents the most Nittany Lions ever taken in the first round in one year, surpassing the 1995 record of three (Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins and Kyle Brady -- who went in the first nine picks of the draft). Based on the NFL’s assessment, that 2003 group underachieved. Over their final three seasons at Penn State, the Nittany Lions were a mediocre 19-17.

On the flipside there was Penn State’s Class of 1987, a fifth-year senior laden group that featured first-rounders Shane Conlan and D.J. Dozier, plus 11 more players for an overall school-record 13 Nittany Lions selected in a single draft.

The baker’s dozen is a record likely to be never broken, since the draft went 13 rounds back then and lasts just seven rounds these days, albeit spread out over three nights and days.

The 1987 class of Nittany Lions was not only prodigious on the NFL draft board, but on the field as well. Over their final two seasons, Penn State had a 22-1 record, beating both Notre Dame and Alabama home and on the road, and twice playing for the national championship -- losing to Oklahoma and defeating Miami (Fla.). Fairly close was the 1995-96; they were 21-3 over their last two seasons at Penn State and featured 15 drafted players, five in the first round.


Overall, Penn State has produced 36 first-round NFL Draft selections, from quarterback Richie Lucas in 1960 (Washington Redskins) to defensive tackle Jared Odrick in 2010 (Miami Dolphins). Entering the 2015 draft, a total of 335 Penn State football players have been drafted by the NFL in the past 45 years. (This does not include free agents.)

The first round doesn’t guarantee success. Overall draft No. 1 picks Ki-Jana Carter (1995) and Courtney Brown (2000) had less-than-stellar NFL careers, Carter in large part due to a string if serious injuries beginning with a torn ligament suffered in his third preseason game as a pro.

Eight of Penn State’s first-round draft picks went on to be named first-team All-Pro by the NFL; in all, PSU has had 12 All-Pro selections. Being named an All-Pro is the highest individual honor an NFL player can get. Each year, only 25 players are so selected – 11 on offense, 11 on defense, a punter, a kicker and a return specialist.

The eight Penn Staters who went in the first round and then were named All-Pro were Green Bay linebacker Dave Robinson (1967, ’69), San Francisco tight end Ted Kwalick (1972), Cincinnati defensive tackle Mike Reid (1972), Pittsburgh running back Franco Harris (1977), Pittsburgh linebacker Jack Ham (1974-79), Houston guard Mike Munchak (1987, ’91); Pittsburgh center Jeff Hartings (2004) and Larry Johnson, at running back, in 2006. Robinson, Ham, Harris and Munchak are in the NFL Hall of Fame.

More and more, since the NFL went to seven rounds, getting drafted means less and less. Of Penn State’s last five All-Pro selections, dating back to 2004, three of the five were not even drafted coming out of college. Nonetheless, Detroit kick returner Eddie Drummond (2004), Chicago place-kicker Robbie Gould (2006) and Miami defensive end Cameron Wake (2012) have each earned first-team All-Pro status. Hartings, a first-round selection by Detroit in 1996, and San Francisco linebacker Navorro Bowman, a third-round pick in 2010 and a three-time All-Pro (2011-13), are the other two.

Of the 335 Penn State players drafted, 43 came in just four talent-laden classes – 1987 (13), 1974 (10), 1982 (10) and 1996 (10). The most impressive run of talent came in 1982-84, when the Nittany Lions had 30 players drafted and five of them in the first round.

An interesting tidbit: Four Penn Staters who work on the University Park campus were once selected in the NFL Draft. They are: Doug Allen, professor of practice in labor and employment relations (2nd round, Buffalo, 1974); Bob White, director of Beaver Stadium clubs and suites (6, San Francisco, 1987); Terry Smith, assistant football coach (11, Washington, 1992); and Wally Richardson, Football Letterman’s Club director (7, Baltimore, 1997).


So, which is the best Penn State NFL Draft class of all-time? You decide. Here is my Top 10, listed chronologically.

Not included: The 2000 draft group, when Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington went 1-2, but David Macklin and Brandon Short were the only two other Penn State players drafted. And quite telling is that the Class of 2003 is the last group that even qualifies for the Top Ten. Penn State has had only four first-round selections over the past 10 years and an average of just three picks per year over the past four seasons.

1970 DRAFT -- Eight selected overall, one in the first round: Mike Reid (1, Cincinnati), Charlie Pittman (3, St. Louis), Dennis Onkotz (3, N.Y. Jets), Steve Smear (4, Baltimore), John Ebersole (4, N.Y. Jets), Don Abbey (7, Dallas), Paul Johnson (8, Washington) and Jim Kates (12, Washington).

1974 DRAFT -- Ten selected overall, two in the first round: Ed O’Neil (1, Detroit), John Cappelletti (1, L.A. Rams), Doug Allen (2, Buffalo), Charlie Getty (2, Kansas City), Mark Markovich (2, San Diego), Gary Hayman (5, Buffalo), Randy Crowder (6, Miami), Phil LaPorta (9, New Orleans), Chuck Herd (10, Cincinnati) and Tom Hull (12, San Francisco), who is the father of 2015 draft candidate and former Penn State linebacker Mike Hull.

1982 DRAFT -- Ten selected overall, two in the first round: Mike Munchak (1, Houston), Sean Farrell (1, Tampa Bay), Leo Wisniewski (2, Baltimore), Jim Romano (2, Oakland), Paul Lankford (3, Miami), Vyto Kab (4, Philadelphia), Mike Meade (5, Green Bay), Chet Parlavecchio (6, Green Bay), Matt Bradley (9, Houston) and Rich D’Amico (10, Oakland).

1983 DRAFT -- Nine selected overall, two in the first round: Curt Warner (1, Seattle) Todd Blackledge (1, Kansas City), Walker Lee Ashley (3, Minnesota), Mike McCloskey (4, Houston), Bill Contz (5, Cleveland), Gregg Garrity (6, Pittsburgh), Pete Speros (8, Seattle), Dave Laube (10, Detroit) and Ralph Giacamarro (10, Atlanta).

1984 DRAFT -- Eight selected overall, one in the first round: Kenny Jackson (1, Philadelphia), Scott Radecic (2, Kansas City), Jon Williams (3, New England), Mark Robinson (4, Kansas City), Ron Heller (4, Tampa Bay), Harry Hamilton (7, N.Y. Jets), Kevin Baugh (8, Houston) and George Reynolds (9, L.A. Rams).

1987 DRAFT -- Thirteen selected overall, two in the first round: Shane Conlan (1, Buffalo), D.J. Dozier (1, Minnesota), Tim Manoa (3, Cleveland), Steve Smith (3, L.A. Raiders), Don Graham (4, Tampa Bay), John Bruno (5, St. Louis), Chris Conlin (5, Miami), Tim Johnson (6, Pittsburgh), Bob White (6, San Francisco), Dan Morgan (8, Denver), Bob Ontko (9, Indianapolis), Side Lewis (10, N.Y. Jets) and Brian Siverling (11, Detroit).

1992 DRAFT -- Nine selected overall, none in the first round: Mark D’Onofrio (2, Green Bay), Tony Sacca (2, Phoenix), Paul Siever (3, Washington), Keith Goganious (3, Buffalo), Darren Perry (8, Pittsburgh), Sam Gash (8, New England), Andre Powell (8, Miami), Leonard Humphries (8, Buffalo) and Terry Smith (11, Washington).

1995 DRAFT – Five selected overall, three in the first round: Ki-Jana Carter (1, Cincinnati), Kerry Collins (1, Carolina), Kyle Brady (1, N.Y. Jets), Phil Yeboah-Kodie (5, Denver) and Brian Gelzheiser (6, Indianapolis).

1996 DRAFT -- Ten selected overall, two in the first round: Jeff Hartings (1, Detroit), Andre Johnson (1, Washington), Bobby Engram (2, Chicago), Terry Killens (3, Houston), Jon Witman (3, Pittsburgh), Brian Milne (4, Indianapolis), Keith Conlin (6, Indianapolis), Stephen Pitts (6, San Francisco), Marco Rivera (6, Green Bay) and Mike Archie (7, Houston).

2003 DRAFT – Six selected overall, four in the first round: Jimmy Kennedy ((1, St. Louis), Michael Haynes (1, Chicago), Bryant Johnson (1, Arizona), Larry Johnson (1, Kansas City), Bryan Scott (2, Atlanta) and Anthony Adams (2, San Francisco).


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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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