Seattle Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas reacts after a broken pass play in the endzone against the San Diego Chargers in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)


Our fifth annual Ranking the NFL Longhorns project: Thomas leads the list

Posted January 8th, 2016


Ten former Texas Longhorns will appear in the NFL playoffs, including one defensive leader determined to get his team back to the Super Bowl and another defensive stopper desperate to snap his franchise’s 22-year run of postseason futility.

Free safety Earl Thomas and his Seattle Seahawks are on a roll heading into their wild-card game Sunday at Minnesota. They are the first team since Cleveland (1953-57) to lead the league in scoring defense in four or more consecutive seasons and allowed only 55 points over the final five games.

“I can’t tell you the exact moment it clicked, but it’s been building,” Thomas said Thursday in a video news conference. “We’ve been dominant on the road, which is especially good because that’s where we’ll be these playoffs. When we’re on the road, it’s just us. No distractions. No wives, no babies, just us.”


Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, an 11-year pro, aims to get the Chiefs their first playoff victory since they beat the Houston Oilers 28-20 in a 1993 divisional round game. They’ve lost eight straight since. Coincidentally, the Houston Texans are Saturday’s opponent.

“For as many times as we’ve been to the postseason, we’re long overdue,” Johnson told reporters.


Thomas and Johnson, both 2015 Pro Bowl players, stand tall at No. 1 and No. 2 in the American-Statesman’s fifth annual Ranking The NFL Longhorns project. Thomas, the 14th overall selection in the 2010 draft, is a five-time Pro Bowler. He repeated as No. 1 on our list. Johnson, the 15th pick of the 2005 draft, is a four-time Pro Bowler.

Johnson and the Chiefs only wish they could take another former Longhorn to Houston. Jamaal Charles, the NFL’s all-time leader in yards per carry (5.5), missed most of the season with a torn Achilles’ tendon and fell from No. 2 to No. 12 on our list. Last year it was Johnson who missed all but one game with a torn ACL.

Five Arizona Cardinals are Texas exes, including two starters. Indestructible center Lyle Sendlein calls the signals for the Cards’ line and has started 122 games over the last eight years.

Texas’ NFL rookie class did rather well, considering low expectations. Defending Super Bowl champ New England is thrilled with defensive tackle Malcom Brown. Linebacker Jordan Hicks only played half a season before getting hurt, but he was a revelation in Philadelphia. Cornerback Quandre Diggs was used in every game by Detroit. A few others saw action, too.

In all, 30 Texas exes appeared in games this season, similar to the past few years but way down from the 44 who played in 2011, the first year we began tracking.

Longhorns in the NFL

The Statesman's rankings of the former Texas Longhorns in the NFL for 2015.
RankPvs. YearNamePos.TeamAgeDescription
1Earl ThomasSSeattle26Repeatedly voted as one of NFL’s elite safeties, 5-time Pro Bowler finished with 5 interceptions, 64 tackles, 9 passes defensed and a forced fumble.
227Derrick JohnsonILBKansas City33Leader of 3rd-ranked scoring defense and Chiefs’ top tackler with 116. Also had 8 passes defensed, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions.
320Brian OrakpoOLBTennessee29First-year Titan had nice bounceback season with team-leading 7 sacks, 51 tackles, 5 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble.
44Michael GriffinSTennessee31Bowie High grad and 9-year Titans vet back-stopped No. 12 total defense with 101 tackles. Also 3 passes defended, 1 INT and 1 sack.
5RMalcom BrownDTNew England21Rookie started 12 games, played in all 16, and helped Patriots’ No. 9 total and rush defense with 48 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 fumble recoveries.
625Lamarr HoustonOLBChicago28Finished strong after injury-plagued 2014, leading 14th-ranked Bears total defense with 8 sacks. Added 42 tackles despite only 2 starts.
710Lyle SendleinCArizona31Cardinals long-time rock on offensive line started 15 games for NFL’s top-ranked total offense and No. 2 scoring offense.
816Roy MillerDTJacksonville28Turned in arguably his best of 7 seasons with career-high 4 sacks, along with 40 tackles and 1 forced fumble for No. 15 run defense.
915Bryan RobisonDLMinnesota32Versatile 9th-year starter was solid for No. 5 scoring defense, with 34 tackles, 5 sacks, 3 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble.
10RJordan HicksILBPhiladelphia23Huge impact in 8 games before injury. 50 tackles, 3 fumble recoveries, 3 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 sack and 1 TD.
1111Kenny VaccaroSNew Orleans24Piled up nice numbers for league’s worst defense. Accounted for 104 tackles (2nd on team), 5 passes deflected, 3 sacks and 1 forced fumble.
122Jamal CharlesRBKansas City29Got heckuva lot done in 5 games before season-ending injury: 364 yards rushing, 5.1 average, 5 total TDs and 21 catches for 177 yards.
139Henry MeltonDTTampa Bay 29Part of Bucs rotation, 6-year pro made 30 tackles with 2 sacks, 2 passes defensed and 1 forced fumble for 10th-ranked total defense.
148Justin TuckerKBaltimore26His lowest FG percentage (82.5) a bi-product of trying so many long ones (4 of 10 from 50 yards or more). Was 29 of 30 inside 50.
1514Phil DawsonKSan Francisco40Even at 40, he’s got leg. Nailed 24 of 27 for 88.9 percent and had a couple blocked. Made all three 50-plus yarders.
165Keenan RobinsonILBWashington26Fourth on team in tackles with 63 over 12 games and 8 starts for No. 17 scoring defense. Had 3 passes defensed and 1 interception.
17RQuandre DiggsSDetroit22Promising debut season. Played in every game, even started 4. Had 38 tackles, 6 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.
187Alex OkaforOLBArizona24Dropped from 8 sacks in 2014 to 2 sacks this year. Made 13 starts and posted 31 tackles, and 1 pass defensed. Had nagging calf injury.
1919Sam AchoOLBChicago27Played 15 games, started 7, produced 39 tackles, 1 forced fumble and 1 pass defensed for Bears’ 14th-ranked total defense.
2022Fozzy WhitakerRBCarolina26Utility man for Panthers. Ran 25 times for 108 yards, 1 TD. Caught 12 balls for 64 yards. Mainstay on special teams
2130Adrian PhillipsCBSan Diego23Played in 9 games, started 2, with 19 tackles and made his 1st career interception, picking off Broncos’ Brock Osweiler.
22-Tony HillsOTNew Orleans31Played in 6 straight games in reserve role down stretch, 8 in all, and drew praise from coach Sean Payton for pass blocking.
233Aaron WilliamsSSBuffalo25Former McNeil Maverick missed most of year with neck injury, but he had 15 tackles 3 passed defensed and 1 interception in 3 starts.
2412Cory ReddingDEArizona35Not only provided depth, but 13-year veteran returned fumble for touchdown and had interception. Had 5 tackles in 12 games.
2513Tarell BrownCBNew England31Started 2 games, played in 3, before foot injury ended 9-year vet’s campaign. Made 15 tackles. Hasn’t played every game since 2012
2626Jackson JeffcoatOLBWashington25Career has yet to take off. Injuries are partly at fault. Played in 6 games with 4 tackles, 1 forced fumble before going on IR.
2717Colt McCoyQBWashington29Didn’t throw single pass until season finale, completing 7 of 11 for 128 yards and 1 TD (no picks) against Cowboys.
28RGeoff SwaimTEDallas22Long-shot rookie appeared in 4 games and started against Patriots. Caught 1 pass for 0 yards vs. Eagles to get feet wet.
29RMalcolm BrownRBSt. Louis22Finally got a look in week 17, running 4 times for 17 yards, including 13-yarder, and caught pass for minus-2 yards.
3028Marquise GodwinWRBuffalo25Had 2 catches for 24 yards before trip to IR (rib injury). Well, there’s always Rio Summer Olympics for this sprinter.
3121Emmanuel AchoILBPhiladelphia25Re-signed by Eagles to practice squad late in year. In 2014 Pro Football Focus named him All-NFL first team for special teams.
3229Carrington ByndomCBArizona23Cut by Carolina after playing 3 games in 2014 and picked up by Chargers, then cut and signed by Cards for practice squad.
33-Jaxon ShipleyWRArizona23Made it as far as Cardinals practice squad. Did have 56-yard kickoff return and 21-yard catch vs. Chiefs in preseason game.
34-John ChilesWRChicago27Never made it to active roster. But did you know he caught 44 balls for 725 yards, 8 TDs with Toronto Argonauts from 2013-14?
35RMykkele ThompsonSN.Y. Giants22Fifth-round pick caught eyes of coaches in summer camp until rupturing Achilles tendon in preseason opener.
36-Chris WhaleyDTDallas25Talk about hard luck. Missed rookie season with torn ACL. Missed year 2 with torn Achilles tendon.