Orange Watch: The modern era history of Syracuse football first round NFL draft selections

Dwight Freeney
Michael Vick (7), of the Atlanta Falcons scrambles past Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney (93) in the 2006 Pro Bowl held at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. Photo Credit: Cpl. Michelle M. Dickson of the U.S. Marine Corp.

Item: The annual NFL Draft begins a week from Thursday (April 29) in Cleveland, with the first round, followed the next day by rounds two-four and the final three rounds (five-seven) to be announced on May 1. While most pre-draft predictions have two to three ex-Orange players likely to hear their names called; defensive backs Andre Cisco, “Iffy” Melifonwu, and Trill Williams, none are expected to be first-rounders, something that has not occurred for a Syracuse player in eight years.

The answer to the trivia question to name the last Syracuse player to be a first round NFL draft choice is: Justin Pugh by the New York Giants as the 19th player selected in the 2013 draft. Pugh played five seasons with the Giants and is now beginning his fourth season with Arizona.

Since the Common Draft Era from 1967-69, and the Modern Era when the NFL and AFL merged in 1970, there have been 16 former Syracuse players, including Pugh, drafted in the first round.
Here is a capsule look at those players:

1967 Floyd Little-Denver Broncos. The beloved college and pro football Hall of Fame member who bled Orange, died on January 1, 2021 after battling cancer. He retired in 1975 as the Denver Broncos all-time leading rusher, a mark since broken by Terrell Davis.

1968 Larry Csonka-Miami Dolphins. Also, a pro football Hall of Famer, Zonk ran for over 1000 yards in a season three times in his 11 NFL campaigns with Miami and the New York Giants. He has enjoyed a post-playing career living in the wilds of Alaska.

1969 Art Thoms-Oakland Raiders. Thoms played seven seasons on the defensive line with the Raiders and one with the Philadelphia Eagles, recording one touchdown on a fumble recovery in his under the radar pro career.

1973 Joe Ehrmann-Baltimore Colts. The NFL’s first Ed Block Courage Award recipient in 1978 (to support victims of abuse, violence and neglect), Ehrmann, who was on the Colts DL, currently heads the InSideOut Initiative that “connects male and female student-athletes to transformational coaches, in a culture of belonging, for their social-emotional and character development.”

1980 Art Monk-Washington Redskins. The always quiet Monk let his game do his talking (a then-record 106 catches in 1984) in a 16-year NFL career with the Redskins, New York Jets, and Eagles, joining Little as a college and pro football Hall of Fame member.

1986 Tim Green-Atlanta Falcons. The first player from the Dick MacPherson era (1981-1990) to be a first-round selection, Green played eight seasons with the Falcons, and had 24 career sacks. Battling the horrid disease ALS, Green last made an emotional public appearance at the Dome in 2019 for his number retirement (72) ceremony.

1988 Ted Gregory-Denver Broncos. A member of the undefeated 1987 SU team, Gregory never played for the Broncos, traded to New Orleans before the ‘88 season got underway. A severe knee injury limited his pro career to three games with the Saints, recording one sack.

1996 Marvin Harrison-Indianapolis Colts. Like Monk, Harrison let his game do his talking, rarely wanting to interact with the media. Teaming up with Peyton Manning, the Hall of Fame duo is the most productive scoring combination in NFL history with 112 touchdowns.

1998 Tebucky Jones-New England Patriots. Jones almost made Super Bowl history with a 97-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI, but the play was called back by a penalty. Jones played eight pro seasons with the Patriots, Saints, and Dolphins.

1998 Donovin Darius-Jacksonville Jaguars. This is the only time Syracuse had two players selected in the first round of the same NFL draft. Three slots after Jones, the hard-hitting Darius went to the Jaguars to begin an eventful nine-year NFL career. He currently serves on the NFLPA executive committee.

1999 Donovan McNabb-Philadelphia Eagles. Only Ernie Davis in 1962 (Cleveland), who was the top overall pick in the draft, went higher than McNabb as the second overall selection by the Eagles, drawing boos that day from Philly fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden. It is McNabb who’s likely to have the last laugh, on the edge of an eventual Hall of Fame career.

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2000 Keith Bulluck-Tennessee Titans. In his second season as a starter in 2003, Bulluck made the Pro Bowl, eventually playing 10 NFL seasons. He led the league in tackles (2004) and had a team high five interceptions for a linebacker over his career which ended with one season as a New York Giant.

2001 Will Allen-New York Giants. Producing an up and down NFL career, Allen played five seasons with the Giants recording four interceptions as a rookie, his career high for a season, before finishing in Miami. Unfortunately, his post-playing career is marked by the six-year prison term he received in 2017 after pleading guilty to running a Ponzi scheme involving loans provided to professional athletes.

2002 Dwight Freeney-Indianapolis Colts. The most decorated Syracuse football player so far this century, Freeney went from first team All-American honors (2001) with the Orangemen, to first team All-Pro (2004) with the Colts, setting an NFL rookie record with nine forced fumbles (three in one game against McNabb). A ferocious pass rusher, Freeney was a seven-time Pro Bowler in 16 overall seasons, and is one day headed to the Hall in Canton, Ohio.

2012 Chandler Jones-New England Patriots. Overlapping one season (2009) at Syracuse with his older brother Arthur, also an NFL player for eight seasons, Jones was named to the NFL all-decade team 2010-2019 playing only eight seasons out of 10, and was the NFC defensive player of the year with Arizona in 2019. Despite missing 11 games with the Cardinals in 2020 with an injury, if Jones comes back strong, he remains on course to possible future enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

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About Brad Bierman 738 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.