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The top 10 NFL players in Wildcats history

Mike Luke Avatar
May 1, 2022

With the NFL Draft taking place and Arizona likely to get shut out of the event, let’s take a look at the 10 best NFL players to come out of the University of Arizona.

1. Rob Gronkowski: Arguably the best tight end in NFL history, Gronkowski is the only former UA football player who is a lock to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Due to injuries, Gronkowski didn’t dominate at the college level but at the professional level he was the perfect blend of blocking and receiving. His overall talent was never better exemplified than retiring for a season then coming back and catching two touchdown passes as the Tampa Bays Buccaneers won their second Super Bowl. Gronkowski’s NFL future remains up in the air but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he is back for the 2022 season. There has never been a more complete NFL tight end.

2. Lance Briggs: Briggs is the second best NFL player in Arizona history by any individual measure. From NFL honors to stats, Briggs was one of the best middle linebackers in the league for a decade with the Chicago Bears. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, especially scouts, as he showcased physicality, size, quickness and instincts during his time at Arizona. It wouldn’t be a shock if at some point he is voted into the hall of fame as there are certainly players with lesser qualifications who have been inducted in recent years.

3. Tedy Bruschi: Some might make the case for Bruschi at two instead of Briggs, but Bruschi was never an all-pro type with the Patriots; he was just a key cog on three Super Bowl teams. If this was strictly a college award, Bruschi would be an easy choice at the top as he left Arizona as the NCAA’s all-time sack leader. As a pro, Bruschi was very good but never great.

4. Glenn Parker: A true late bloomer who didn’t play organized football until junior college, Parker arrived at Arizona short on experience but long on potential. Fast forward 15 years and the former Bill, Chief and Giant was the only offensive lineman in NFL history to start in five Super Bowls. This accomplishment isn’t discussed enough in Wildcat circles.

5. Chris McAlister: One of the handful of best defensive players to ever come through Arizona, McAlister was big, fast and physical and was an easy choice for the Baltimore Ravens with the 10th pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. He went on to become a First-Team All-Pro for the 2001 NFL Champion Baltimore Ravens. Injuries cut short a possible hall of fame career, but there is no doubt, McAlister is one of the best NFL players ever to come out of Arizona.

6. Darryl Lewis: “D-Lew” left Arizona as the Jim Thorpe Award winner, awarded to the nation’s best defensive back, before being drafted in the second round by the then-Houston Oilers. Despite his smaller stature, Lewis went on to achieve a Pro Bowl appearance and compiled 32 interceptions during his 10 year NFL career.

7. Vance Johnson: The diminutive local prospect from Cholla High School struggled during much of his Arizona career to find a position that fully utilized his skills, but once in the pros he settled in nicely as a wide receiver with the Broncos, catching for more than 5,600 yards, highlighted by a five-catch, 121-yard, touchdown performance in Super Bowl XXI. Johnson has achieved national fame in recent years as a motivational speaker.

8. John Fina: Another local later bloomer from Salpointe High School, Fina came to Arizona as a skinny tight end and left as a first-round NFL Draft offensive tackle selection who would go on to start three Super Bowls for the Buffalo Bills. Fina’s philanthropic ways combined with returning to Tucson after his post-playing days only added to his legacy.

9. Antonio Pierce: Pierce is known as much for being the Arizona State defensive coordinator that torpedoed ASU football as he was for being a quality professional. But the junior college transfer linebacker left Arizona and went on to a nine-year NFL career where he compiled 94 career starts, highlighted by a 2006 Pro Bowl appearance as a member of the New York Giants.

10. Edwin Mulitalo: Mulitalo’s NFL career mirrored his college playing days: underappreciated except by those who mattered. A starting guard for the 1998 Arizona 12-1 team, Mulitalo went on to start 128 games during a 10-year NFL career, including starting in the 2001 Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens.

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