football Edit

Pro Hogs: Ranking Arkansas' best professional football players

Where does Jason Peters rank among Arkansas' best professional football players?
Where does Jason Peters rank among Arkansas' best professional football players? (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

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Arkansas has seen several of its players leave Fayetteville and enjoy success at the next level.

HawgBeat is taking a look at former Razorbacks who have been the best professionals in their respective sports.

Our series begins with football…

10. Fred Williams

This is a name a majority of Arkansas fans probably won’t recognize. That’s because most weren’t alive when he played for the Razorbacks - much less old enough to remember it. Those who do are at least approaching 80 years old.

Williams was a three-year letterman at Arkansas, playing his final two seasons during the abysmal Otis Douglas era in the early 1950s. Although he didn’t early All-SWC accolades, he was invited to the 1952 Senior Bowl and was eventually voted onto the Razorbacks’ All-Century Team in 1994.

A fifth-round pick by the Chicago Bears, Williams was a Pro Bowler each of his first two seasons and against in 1958 and 1959. He helped the Bears win the NFL title in 1963 before playing his final two years with the Redskins.

9. Barry Foster

You could make a case for a handful of running backs to be featured on this list. Gary Anderson was a Pro Bowler for the Chargers as a returner in 1986 and had a 1,000-yard season a couple years later. Darren McFadden’s career was marred by injuries, but he still had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons. Peyton Hillis had the one incredible year with the Browns that landed him on the cover of Madden.

Instead, we gave the nod to Foster because he was actually considered among the best players in the NFL at his position at one point. He was a first-team All-Pro selection in 1992, when he finished second in the league with 1,690 rushing yards - only 23 yards behind Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and just ahead of Hall of Famers Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders. Foster was a Pro Bowler the following season, as well.

Among former Razorbacks, his 3,943 career rushing yards and 26 career rushing touchdowns rank second behind only McFadden - despite playing in 41 fewer games.

8. Joe Ferguson

A strong-armed quarterback from the same Louisiana high school as Terry Bradshaw, Ferguson was a highly touted recruit for then-coach Frank Broyles. He had a successful career that included first-team All-SWC honors and being named SWC Offensive Player of the Year in 1971.

In the pros, Ferguson played in parts of 17 seasons, including 12 seasons as the Bills’ starting quarterback. Although he was just 79-92 as a starter, completed only 52.4 percent of his passes and had more interceptions (209) than touchdowns (196), he had a successful NFL career.

His 29,817 passing yards and 196 touchdown passes still rank in the top 50 all-time and were in the top 15 at the time of his retirement. He led the league in those categories in 1977 and 1975, respectively, and also led 20 comebacks and 24 game-winning drives, according to sports-reference.

No other Arkansas quarterback has even come close to putting up numbers similar to Ferguson. In fact, he’s started more than 100 more games than the next closes quarterback and he has 5,697 more yards and 45 more touchdowns than all other former Razorbacks combined.

7. Jim Benton

In an era when passing the ball was still relatively uncommon, Benton was truly ahead of his time. Officially listed as an “end,” he was essentially a receiver and was a two-time first-team All-SWC selection. As a senior in 1937, he caught 48 passes for 814 yards - which stood as UA records for 34 years. Those numbers also helped him be named the SWC’s Most Outstanding Player by the Houston Post and become one of Arkansas’ earliest All-Americans, as he earned first-team honors from one organization and was tabbed to the AP’s third team.

The Cleveland Rams took Benton will the first pick of the second round - 11th overall - in the 1938 NFL Draft and he continued to put up unheard-of numbers. In nine seasons, he was a first-team All-Pro twice and a second-teamer another two times. At various points in his career, Benton led the league in receiving touchdowns (7 in 1939), receiving yards (1,067 in 1945, 981 in 1946) and receptions (63 in 1946).

When he retired, Benton’s 288 career receptions for 4,801 yards and 45 touchdowns each ranked second in NFL history, behind only fellow Arkansas native Don Hutson. He won a pair of NFL titles - with the Bears in 1943 and with the Rams in 1945.

6. Wayne Martin

Martin was a consensus first-team All-American for the Razorbacks in 1988. He still holds the UA record with 25.5 career sacks and is tied for fourth with 37 career tackles for loss. Included in his sack total was a single-game record five against Ole Miss during his All-America campaign.

That led to Martin being the 19th overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft and he spent his entire 11-year career with New Orleans. He posted four straight seasons with double-digit sacks, beginning with his Pro Bowl season in 1994. He had 10 sacks that year, but actually had four seasons with more than that - highlighted by 15.5 in 1992. A member of the Saints’ Hall of Fame, Martin finished his career with 82.5 sacks, the most by any former Arkansas player.

5. R.C. Thielemann

Perhaps Frank Ragnow will eventually replace him, but Thielemann was the Razorbacks’ best interior offensive lineman in the NFL. A four-year letterman for the Razorbacks in the mid-1970s, he was a two-time first-team All-SWC selection as a guard and center.

The Falcons took Thielemann in the second round of the 1977 NFL Draft and he quickly became their starting right guard. After making the Pro Bowl in his fifth season, he was a first-team All-Pro selection in 1982. He flipped to left guard the following season and made it to his third straight Pro Bowl. Following an eight-year stint in Atlanta, Thielemann played four years for the Redskins, helping them win Super Bowl XXII as their starting right guard.

4. Jason Peters

The only person on this list who wasn’t a member of Arkansas’ All-Century Team, Peters played for the Razorbacks after that squad was voted on prior to the 1994 season. Interestingly, he was actually a standout tight end in Fayetteville, playing a key role in Arkansas’ two seven overtime wins and earning second-team All-SEC honors from the coaches in 2003.

Peters skipped his senior season, but went undrafted and was signed by the Bills. He began his career as a tight end, but quickly moved to the offensive line. After just a couple of seasons, Peters became a starter and was a Pro Bowl left tackle by his fourth season. He was eventually traded to the Eagles and he’s made nine total Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro twice.

Despite being 38 years old and battling numerous injuries the last few years, Peters is a free agent and is wanting to play somewhere in 2020. Most experts agree that he is already at least a borderline Hall of Famer, if not a likely candidate to make it to Canton.

3. Steve Atwater

Considered by many as the best defensive back in UA history, Atwater was a two-team first-team All-SWC selection as a safety with the Razorbacks. He was a team captain in 1988, plus his 14 career interceptions broke Gary Adams’ 20-year-old record and are still the most in school history.

That led to Atwater becoming the 20th overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft and it proved to be a great pick for the Broncos. He was one of the most feared safeties in the league during the 1990s, earning a spot on the All-Decade Team. He made eight Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro twice.

Atwater also helped Denver win back-to-back Pro Bowls and was inducted into its Ring of Honor. After several times as a finalist, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, joining the next two players in Canton.

2. Dan Hampton

One of two All-American defensive tackles anchoring Arkansas’ defensive line in 1978, Hampton was a first-team pick by the AFCA and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Year in the SWC by the Houston Post. He made 18 tackles for loss that season, which is tied for sixth on the UA single-season chart, and helped the Razorbacks dominate Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

Hampton became the highest selected Arkansas player in 25 years when the Bears took him with the fourth overall pick in the 1979 NFL Draft. In the four decades since, that has been matched just once - by McFadden in 2008. During his 12-year career, Hampton was a four-time Pro Bowler and earned first-team All-Pro honors in 1984, when he racked up 11.5 sacks.

What cemented Hampton’s legacy, though, was that he was a member of Chicago’s legendary 1985 defense that helped it win Super Bowl XX in dominating fashion over the Patriots. He was named to the All-Decade Team for the 1980s and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

1. Lance Alworth

One of Broyles’ first superstars at Arkansas, Alworth was a first-team All-SWC performer each of his last two seasons and was even named a first-team All-American by the FWAA as a senior in 1961. However, he did it as a running back. He was good enough to be included in the first class of inductees for the UA Sports Hall of Honor in 1988 and to be selected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Although he was the eighth overall pick in the 1962 NFL Draft, Alworth decided to sign with the AFL. He was traded to the Chargers after the Raiders took him ninth in the AFL Draft and was moved to flanker, where he became one of the earliest superstar wide receivers in professional football.

Alworth was named the MVP of the league by the UPI in 1963. He led the league in one of the three main receiving categories five times in a six-year stretch during the 1960s and was a seven-time AFL All-Star, including being named first-team All-AFL six times. Alworth ended his career with the Cowboys, catching a touchdown in a Super Bowl VI victory. The Sporting News ranked him 31st on its list of the 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999 and was named to the NFL’s 100th Anniversary All-Time Team. His No. 19 has been retired by the Chargers and he became the first AFL player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1978.

Despite playing about 50 years ago, Alworth’s numbers are still impressive. He caught 542 passes for 10,266 yards and 85 touchdowns. He actually still holds a few records, including most 200-yard receiving games (five, tied by Calvin Johnson) and most consecutive seasons with 13-plus touchdown receptions (three, tied by Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens).