A couple weeks ago, I posted an article that listed the best Ducks to ever grace the NFL on the offensive side of the ball. Now, it’s time to honor the best defensive Ducks in Oregon history. To reiterate, this is a list of the Ducks with the best NFL career, not college. More than anything, this list serves as a rebuttal on behalf of loyal Duck fans who are sick of hearing how “Oregon players do not transition to the NFL.” We will start with the defensive line and work our way up to the secondary. Keep in mind that some of the players on this list played during a time when tackles and sacks were not recorded statistics.
Defensive Ends (3-4)
Left End: George Martin: Selected 262nd overall by the New York Giants in the 1975 draft, George Martin had a storybook career in the NFL. Martin spent his entire 13-year career with the Giants. He was the team captain of the 1986 Super Bowl team that defeated John Elway and the Denver Broncos and had a sack for a safety on Elway. Martin also held the league’s record for touchdowns scored in the defensive line position (not counting special teams or offensive touchdowns) before Miami’s Jason Taylor broke it in 2006.
Martin was inducted into the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame in 2004 and finished his career with 46 sacks and 15 fumble recoveries. Outside the football field, Martin is currently a renowned philanthropist. He was awarded the NFL Whizzer White Man of the Year Award – which is awarded to the NFL player who contributes the most to his community — in 1987. Martin also took part in a 3,000 mile walk (No, that’s not a typo) from New York to San Diego in order to raise money for the families of those lost in the September 11 attacks. He reportedly raised more than $2 million dollars on his own.
Right End: Igor Olshansky: This was a tough one to choose — it was between Olshansky and Jeff Stover. The San Diego Chargers in the 2004 draft with the 35th pick selected Olshansky, earning him the honor of being the first Soviet-born NFL player. Olshansky spent five years with the Chargers, accumulating 11 sacks and 264 tackles.
His career took a downturn when he signed a contract with the Dallas Cowboys in 2009; he was released in 2010. He then spent his final year in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins in 2011, managing only seven tackles the entire season. Despite ending his career on a low note, Olshansky’s time with San Diego was enough to earn him the right end spot over the likes of Ron Snidow and Matt Brock.
Haloti Ngata: This one was obvious. The Baltimore Ravens, with the 12th pick of the 2006 draft, selected Ngata. Since then, Ngata has had a franchise career. In his nine-year career, Ngata has accumulated 445 total tackles, 25.5 sacks, and 5 interceptions. Ngata also has five pro-bowl nominations and a Super Bowl ring. Ngata was recently traded to the Detroit Lions on March 10 and will be given the difficult task of replacing Ndamukong Suh.
Michael Walter: Selected 50th overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1983 draft, Michael Walter had a slow start to his career. The Cowboys attempted to convert Walter into an outside linebacker, but he did not have the speed to cover NFL receivers. He was waived by the Cowboys but soon found a new home in San Francisco with the 49ers. He was moved back to the inside linebacker position, where he flourished as a tackler, leading the team in tackles from 1987 to 1989. Walter spent the rest of his 10-year career in the Bay area and picked up three Super Bowl rings along the way.
Kiko Alonso: Despite missing the entire 2014 season, Kiko Alonzo’s stunning rookie season was enough to earn him a starting spot. The Buffalo Bills selected Alonzo with the 46th pick in the 2013 draft, not knowing that they had just drafted the future 2013 defensive rookie of the year. Starting all 16 games of the 2013 season, Alonzo managed a total of 159 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 sacks and 1 forced fumble.
Unfortunately, Alonzo tore his ACL during the offseason before the 2014 season. Ironically, the Bills had planned to move him to outside linebacker before he got injured. On March 10, Chip Kelly shocked the world when the Philadelphia Eagles traded star running back Lesean McCoy for Alonzo, who joins the laundry list of Oregon Ducks that have been reunited with Kelly in Philly. Hopefully, Alonzo can reclaim the glory of his rookie season come September.
Dave Wilcox (LOLB): One of the few Ducks ever to have reached the Hall of Fame (elected in 2000), Dave Wilcox had a star-studded 11-year career with the San Francisco 49ers. He was drafted by the 49ers 29th overall in the 1964 draft as a defensive end, but was converted to outside linebacker before the start of his rookie season. Wilcox was deemed “The Intimidator” – and rightfully so. He caused havoc for opposing offenses, grabbing 13 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries in his career. Wilcox was elected to the Pro-Bowl seven times.
Fun fact: Before attending Oregon, Wilcox attended Boise Junior College, which is now known as Boise State University (Yes, that Boise State).
Bryan Hinkle (ROLB): Selected 156th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Hinkle spent his entire 12-year career in Pittsburgh as both a left outside and right outside linebacker. He was an incredibly versatile linebacker and pass-rusher and was equally as impressive in pass coverage. Hinkle was responsible for 15 interceptions, 22.5 sacks and 11 fumble recoveries.
Mel Renfro: Arguably the most successful NFL Duck, Mel Renfro is in the elite fraternity of Ducks elected into the Hall of Fame (Wilcox, Dan Fouts, Norm Van Brocklin, Gary Zimmerman, Tuffy Leemans). Renfro was drafted 17th overall in the 1964 draft by the Dallas Cowboys, where he began his career as a safety. In his rookie season, he grabbed 7 interceptions (one for a touchdown) and 4 forced fumbles. The following year, coach Tom Landry attempted to move Renfro to halfback to help the team’s running game, but it had near disastrous results when he was injured in the first game of the season. He found his permanent home at cornerback.
During his 14-year career, he racked up 52 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. Renfro was also elected to the Pro Bowl 10 out of his 14 years in the league and won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys. He was also inducted into the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor, an honor reserved for the team’s most legendary players.
Dave Grayson: Back in 1961, when the NFL and the AFL were separate entities, there was a young undrafted free agent by the name of Dave Grayson. He was signed to the Dallas Texans, an AFL team that would soon become the Kansas City Chiefs. Grayson spent four years with the Chiefs and was on the team for the transition from Dallas to Kansas City. He then joined the Oakland Raiders, where he spent the remainder of his career before retiring in 1970. His final year playing for the Raiders was the first year of the NFL/AFL merger. During Grayson’s career, he put up impressive numbers, sporting 48 interceptions and 5 pick 6’s.
T.J. Ward: T.J. Ward was selected by the Cleveland Browns as the 38th overall pick in the 2010 draft. To date, he has established himself as one of the most versatile safeties in the NFL, providing a consistent run- and pass-defensive threat. In his five years in the league, he has managed 7 interceptions, 5.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles. He has also had the honor of being nominated to the Pro Bowl twice, the second nomination coming after being traded to and playing for the Denver Broncos in 2014.
Jarius Byrd: Byrd was taken as the Buffalo Bills’ 42nd overall pick in the 2009 draft, where he initially began his career as a back-up. Due to injuries to the starting safeties, he was forced to step up as the starter. In his rookie year, he was responsible for 9 interceptions and established himself as a starter.
Byrd spent four years in Buffalo before signing with the New Orleans Saints. Unfortunately, his first season with the Saints was cut short after four games due to a torn knee ligament. In his six years in the NFL, Byrd racked up 22 interceptions, 378 combined tackles, 3 sacks, and 12 forced fumbles. He was also nominated to the Pro Bowl three times.
Top image from the NFL