Congratulations to the Cincinnati Bengals for drafting University of Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd in this past month’s NFL Draft. It’s not often that the Bengals make a good move; the last one was in 1980, when they drafted the franchise’s only Hall of Famer, Anthony Munoz. So every 36 years the Bengals don’t bungle. All Cincinnati has to look forward to now is the 2052 NFL Draft. (That’s also the year that Donald Trump’s son Barron runs against Hillary Clinton’s granddaughter Charlotte in the presidential election.) The Bengals are so hapless that the word “Bengal” is now a verb. To Bengal means to prematurely celebrate a victory, then make a series of stupid moves to ensure that you lose.
But the Bengals can at least celebrate until training camp starts. Tyler Boyd, the former Clairton Bear, was certainly one of the best players in recent Pitt football history. The Pitt Panthers have served as a reliable pipeline to the NFL for years, and Boyd is just the latest. In fact, there are 18 ex-Panthers on NFL rosters or practice squads right now. So, in celebration, here are the top eight Pitt players currently in the league. I based my rankings on accomplishments in the league to date, and not how good the player is right now. The number indicates the year each was drafted.
8) K’Waun Williams (2014): The Cleveland Browns defensive back is in football purgatory in the Mistake by the Lake, but is making the best of it. In two seasons, he has established himself as a competent player, which in Cleveland means really good. He’s already outlasted Johnny Manziel’s tenure there.
7) T.J. Clemmings (2015): Clemmings was drafted in the fourth round last season by Minnesota. He’s already tied a franchise rookie record by starting all 16 games in his first season. The 309-pound tackle could probably eat a medium order of fries at the Dirty O all by himself. But not a large order — nobody can do that.
6) Aaron Donald (2014): The Los Angeles Ram is No. 6 and climbing rapidly. He’s already been to the Pro Bowl twice in as many seasons. Donald has compiled 117 tackles and 20 sacks along with accolades too numerous to list. By next year, the Penn Hills representative will probably be No. 3 on this list.
5) Jabaal Sheard (2011): He’s ahead of Donald only statistically. Sheard went from the Browns to the Patriots. That is the equivalent of playing guitar for Ugly Kid Joe, then signing on with Metallica. He’s accumulated 227 tackles and 31 sacks in his career, plus his new team is teaching him espionage techniques.
4) Andy Lee (2004): If Lee likes to punt, he’s on the right team. Cleveland routinely leads the league in punts, and also despair. Lee has kicked his way to three Pro Bowls and even once had an 82-yard punt. He is 13th all-time in punting yards and will move into the top 10 this season.
3) LeSean McCoy (2009): Shady’s been to four Pro Bowls, led the NFL in rushing and became the Philadelphia Eagles’ all-time leading rusher after just six seasons there. If he gets 1,000 yards this season, he will pass backs like Larry Czonka and Herschel Walker on the all-time rushing list. Then he can focus on breaking some records on his current team, the Buffalo Bills, held by O.J. Simpson — rushing records, not arrest records.
2) Darrelle Revis (2007): Only Darrelle and Gilligan have been special enough to have the word “Island” placed after their names. The Aliquippa Quip has seven Pro Bowls, 430 tackles, 28 interceptions and a Super Bowl on his Canton-bound resume. He has been one of the few things New York Jet fans have ever had a reason to be excited about.
1) Larry Fitzgerald (2004): The greatest Pitt player in the past 30 years. He has nine Pro Bowls, 98 touchdowns and 13,366 receiving yards. He’s so good that he helped the Arizona Cardinals get to the Super Bowl, a once-unthinkable task. They should just retire his number while he’s playing, because he’s the best player in that organization’s history. He is 11th all-time in receptions, and if he catches 60 passes this year, he will tie Terrell Owens for sixth in NFL history. His 98 touchdowns are also 11th all-time; 13 more and he will be sixth on that list as well.
So when you go see the Pitt Panthers this fall, don’t just think of it as watching a college football game — think of it as an NFL futures game. I’m definitely going because the seats are cheap now, and when they get to the pros, I won’t be able to afford to see them live.