NFL DRAFT History Class: From FCS To Best Of The Best - PART 2

By George Somerville

If you read episode 1 of this new draft history series, you will know that I am focusing on the rise of those players who played their college ball in FCS – but once drafted rose to the very top of the National Football League. As they say, the cream always rises to the top!

So, if y’all are ready, draft history class is in session!

In the first edition of History Class 2022, I focused on a group of players who are considered amongst the very best to play the game – Doug Williams, Jerry Rice, Walter Payton and Randy Moss.

This week’s draft history class is no less exceptional. Again, you may be surprised to find out that they did not play Division I college ball, but boy what an impact they had on the game of football. So without further ado, let’s uncover the second batch of FCS’ers:

Terrell Owens - Tennessee Chattanooga

Image credit: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press

First up in this draft history class is Terrell Owens. Now, there is no question that T.O. is a polarising figure. The noise around his Hall of Fame eventual induction is testament to just how divided the football world is on T.O. But for all the reasons that some say Terrell Owens shouldn’t be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there can be no doubt – NO DOUBT – on his footballing ability and the legacy he leaves on the game.

Last week I wrote about the greatest and next to greatest wide receivers to play the game  – Jerry Rice and Randy Moss. Well, T.O. holds that #3 spot all on his own.

Owens went to school at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and participated in basketball, football and track at College. While football won out, Terrell Owens played basketball in the NCAA tournament and ran track in the National Championship final.

However it was Owens’ football talents which had NFL Scouts sit up and take notice.  In his three years while in Tennessee, Owens amassed 144 receptions for 2,320 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. He held these stats as school records until  2007, when they were broken by Alonso Nix. 

Owens was selected by the San Francisco 49ers with the 89th pick in the third round of the 1995 NFL Draft. This was particularly special for Owens, who grew up watching Jerry Rice on TV – to then find himself in Northern California on the same roster as his hero.

However, the irony should not be not lost that Owens’ big break in the NFL came as a result of Rice tearing his ACL in 1997.

This signalled the  start of Terrell Owens’ NFL career, which would leave a legacy of 1,078 catches for 15,934 yards, 14.8 yards per catch and 153 TDs.

Owens played eight seasons in San Francisco, setting a then-record for catches in a single game with 20 receptions against Chicago Bears in 2000. He had a remarkable three-year stretch from 2000-02, during which he caught 290 passes for 4,163 yards and 42 TDs. Today, Owens remains second in the 49ers’ record book in receptions (592), yards (8,572), and TDs (81).

T.O.’s career took him to Philadelphia to play with the Eagles, then stints with the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals. Terrell Owens recorded 60 or more catches in all but three of his 16 seasons and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark nine times over an 11-year span, with eight seasons with double-digit TD receptions.

Owens was named All-Pro five times (2000-02, 2004, 2007) and selected to six Pro Bowls. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of 2000s. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. 


Adam Vinatieri - South Dakota State

Image credit: Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

Now what if I said an alumni of South Dakota State went on to win four Super Bowls? yes, FOUR….

Adam Vinatieri will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. No doubt. I also have no doubt that Vinatieri will go down in the record books as the greatest kicker the game has seen.

But, I am going to be honest here. Full disclosure – Vinatieri had a good collegiate career at South Dakota State, but more on that in a bit. The BUT here is that Vinatieri wasn’t a product of the NFL Draft. Which to be honest is not unusual for a kicker, but the irony is not lost on me that the theme of this series is the history of the draft. However, let’s throw caution to the wind in the name of bringing you the best of the best. And ‘The Iceman’ definitely fits the brief.

Let’s get back to South Dakota State. Unlike the other players who feature in this series, Vinatieri had mixed fortunes while playing with the Jackrabbits in Rapid City, SD.

In both high school and college, Vinatieri played quarterback as well as punter and kicker. He was also an accomplished soccer player and ran track for the Jackrabbits.

However, it was punter that was considered his core position, and where he was given his scholarship.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the young Vinatieri. His collegiate career got off to a great start when in 1992 he was named first team All-NCC as a punter and second team as a kicker. In the subsequent two years Vinatieri earned all-conference honours as a punter. However, in his senior year he struggled with a much below average 4-of-13 field goal tries.

After a brief sojourn with the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe, Vinatieri signed with the New England Patriots, where he went on to spend 10 seasons – winning 3 Super Bowls. Vinatieri made a winning contribution in all three, but became the first player in NFL history to be the deciding factor in two Super Bowls.

While this might have signalled the pinnacle and perhaps for some the end of their NFL careers, it turns out Vinatieri was just warming up. With the Patriots electing not to franchise tag Vinatieri, he took the opportunity to see what else was on offer and jumped at the chance to join the Colts in Indianapolis. Adam Vinateri called Indianapolis home for fourteen years and retired as a Colt in 2020.

I don’t exaggerate by saying that Vinatieri’s list of honors, records and achievements are too long to list here.

However, the one stat that jumps out is that Adam Vinatieri retired as the NFL’s all time leading points scorer, and his 365 games were the second most played of all time behind Morten Anderson. 

Put your money on Adam Vinatieri being a first ballot Hall of Famer. It’s a lock.


Michael Strahan - Texas Southern

Image credit: Texas Southern University archives

These days Michael Strahan is a TV star and red carpet celebrity, but before this he was a Super Bowl-winning defensive end with the New York Giants. And before that, Michael Strahan played college football at Texas Southern University.

Strahan had a stand out college career. As a junior, Strahan led the South Western Athletic Conference in quarterback sacks with 14.5, and his 41.5 career sacks remains a Texas Southern record. 

In his senior year, he recorded 68 tackles, with a school-record 19 quarterback sacks and 32 tackles for a loss – totaling 142 yards. Strahan was named SWAC’s Player of the Year for the second consecutive season. 

Michael Strahan was selected with the 40th pick in the 1993 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. While injury would get Strahan’s NFL career off to a slow start, the 6’4″, 225lb lineman from Houston would make up for lost time with the Giants and would eventually be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 2001 Strahan, entered the new NFL record books after recording 22.5 sacks, and led the league with a career-high seven forced fumbles. That season Strahan was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. 

Michael Strahan played in two Super Bowls with the Giants; first in Super Bowl XXXV when the Big Blue lost to Baltimore, then in Super Bowl XLII when the Giants defeated Tom Brady’s New England Patriots – in what was one of the most thrilling finishes in NFL history. 

Michael Strahan played in seven Pro Bowls, holds two NFL sack record titles, and seven Giants records. Strahan was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.

He’s not just a pretty face.


Tony Romo - Eastern Illinois

Image credit:Eastern Illinois University/ Getty Images

I’ll stick my neck out and say that these days Tony Romo is universally loved as a colour analyst when covering NFL games alongside his colleague Jim Nantz on CBS. But as a player, Tony Romo was a divisive character. Maybe it was because he was the quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys ,or maybe it was because no-one seemed able to wipe the Californian smile off his face.

Despite being born in San Diego, Tony Romo spent his childhood growing up in Wisconsin where he played High School football. When It was time to go to college, Romo chose Eastern Illinois based in Charleston, Illinois which is equidistant between Indianapolis and St Louis.

By Romo’s sophomore year he was ensconced as starting quarterback and lighting up the Ohio Valley Conference with the Panthers. Tony Romo finished his career holding school and conference records with 85 touchdown passes, and second in school and third in conference history with 8,212 passing yards. He was also second in school history with 584 completions and 941 attempts.

Romo became the first player in Eastern Illinois and Ohio Valley Conference history to win the Walter Payton Award – given annually to the top Division I-AA football player. 

Additionally, he earned consensus All-America honours, was selected All-Ohio Valley Conference and was named OVC Player of the Year for three straight years.

In 2009 Eastern Illinois University retired Romo’s No. 17 jersey and inducted him into EIU’s Hall of Fame – he was the first Eastern Illinois player to have his number retired, and was inducted in to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2021.

A Dallas Cowboy


Tony Romo was undrafted in the 2003 draft, but was subsequently picked up by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent. Then-assistant head coach of the Cowboys, Sean Payton, had expressed interest in Romo, as well as Washington where Mike Shanahan had been keen to bring Romo on board.

However, it was the Cowboys who took the chance on him – but it wasn’t until the 2006 season when Romo made it into the Cowboys starting line up, replacing Drew Bledsoe. That season the Cowboys made it  to the playoffs before being defeated by Seattle. On the back of these performances, Romo was invited to the Pro Bowl at the end of the season.

The Tony Romo era had started in Dallas and would remain so over a 14 year career in the NFL.

While Romo would not bring the prize that Jerry Jones wanted back to the Star, his NFL career can be considered a great success. Tony Romo retired from the game in 2017, having racked up 34,183 passing yards and 248 passing touchdowns. He played in four Pro Bowls and holds three NFL records : Most consecutive road games with at least one touchdown (41, between 2009 & 2016): Highest QB rating in the fourth quarter, and most games in a season with a passer rating of at least 135.0 (6).

Despite not winning a Super Bowl, Tony Romo will go down as one of the Cowboy’s greatest leaders. With a great sports broadcasting career and blossoming golf career Romo may well be remembered differently by newer generations. But great quarterback he certainly was.

Mock Draft

george somerville

College football writer