For the record, Pro Football Reference was a huge help.
Let’s get to it …
The pick: Michael Vick. There’s really no other choice here, even with Vick’s interrupted career with his prison term for dogfighting. On the field, Vick was a revelation early in his career, a quarterback who ran for 1,000 yards in a season, something unheard of in the NFL. His career has a very big what if factor to it, with Vick having lost three seasons of his prime, but he still threw for 22,464 yards and 133 touchdowns and ran for 6,109 yards and 36 more scores.
Apologies to: Well, there’s no real apologies here, since no one was close to Vick. Tyrod Taylor’s had a decent run here of late for the Bills, though they seem to want to bench him at every opportunity, even with nobody even close to as good on the roster. Don Strock had a 15-year career, mostly as a backup with the Dolphins. He did go 16-6 as a starter, however.
The pick: Kevin Jones. Would you believe that for all the running back success Virginia Tech has had at the college level, Jones is the only tailback to actually produce a 1,000-yard season in the NFL? And even his career was stunted by a Lisfranc injury, back when that was the kiss of death for a running back. Jones was a first-round pick and ran for 1,133 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie for the Lions. He never topped 689 yards in each of the following three seasons, though he did have eight touchdowns in 2007. He was out of the league 2009 at age 27 but still had a far more productive career than any other Hokie running back, with 3,176 career rushing touchdowns and 24 touchdowns.
Apologies to: Only a couple Hokies tailbacks had NFL careers longer than two years, so it’s slim pickin’, but Vaughn Hebron carved out a decent NFL career, playing for five seasons, rushing for 1,137 yards and seven touchdowns and winning a pair of Super Bowl rings with Denver, where his biggest contribution was on kick returns.
The pick: Tony Paige. That’s right, it’s the NFL, so we’re going with a fullback, even though that position is vanishing even at that level. (Don’t worry. I’ll still pick three wide receivers and a tight end.) Paige played nine NFL seasons from 1984-92 for the Jets, Lions and Dolphins, rushing for 20 touchdowns in his career, though his value was largely as a blocker.
Apologies to: There aren’t really many options here. Perhaps Don Testerman, who played for the Seahawks from 1976-78 and one year with the Dolphins, rushing for 865 yards and two touchdowns. But he only played on year at Tech before transferring to Clemson.
The pick: Jeff King. There’s not really a close second here. King played seven NFL seasons and caught 156 passes for 1.323 yards and 12 touchdowns. Not monster numbers, but respectable.
Apologies to: John Burke played five years in the NFL, but nobody else had more than a one- or two-year run. Perhaps Logan Thomas can make a splash at the position as he becomes more accustomed to it.
The picks: Carroll Dale, Antonio Freeman and Eddie Royal. We go to the way-back machine for Dale, who was a standout on those early Green Bay teams and has a spot in the Packers Hall of Fame after a career in which he had 8,277 receiving yards and 52 touchdowns. (And that was primarily in the ’60s.) Freeman was one of Brett Favre’s favorite targets for a long time, a Super Bowl winner who had 1,424 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1998 and 7,251 career receiving yards to go with 61 touchdowns. Royal gets the last spot, and perhaps perfectly as a slot guy, after a career in which he had 4,357 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Apologies to: Ernest Wilford probably comes to mind. The big target had 15 touchdowns and 2,145 receiving yards in a seven-year NFL career, mostly with the Jaguars. Andre Davis had some moments with the Browns, scoring 17 career touchdowns, and Josh Morgan had some productive seasons early with the 49ers and one year with the Redskins.
The pick: Buzz Nutter. This is a real person, I assure you. Nutter played from 1954-65 for the Baltimore Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. He made the Pro Bowl in 1962 and played in 153 games.
Apologies to: There were a bunch of guys. Matt Lehr and Jake Grove had decent little runs in the NFL, even if they weren’t stars. There were others, but I had to fill out an offensive line with the best guys, so I moved them to guard, even if they didn’t spend the majority of their career there.
The picks: Jim Pyne and Will Montgomery. Pyne was a starter for five years for Buccaneers, Lions and Browns, mostly at left guard. Montgomery got most of his starting action at center, but he played enough guard to qualify here, bouncing around the line for the bulk of his time with the Redskins. Neither made a Pro Bowl, but it’s not the deepest pool of linemen to choose from.
Apologies to: There were not a ton of contenders here. Waverly Jackson started a few years for the Colts around the turn of the century. Lehr played enough guard that he could have gone here too. Gennaro DiNapoli had a couple years as a starter. Todd Washington and Eugene Chung too.
The picks: Duane Brown and George Preas. Brown was the easiest offensive pick that there’s been yet. He’s a four-time Pro Bowl pick who was a first-team All-Pro in 2012 and a second-teamer in 2011 who was a mainstay on the left side of the Texans’ line before getting traded to the Seahawks last year. He’s started 142 career games. You have to go way back to find out about Preas, a right tackle who played 140 games in 11 seasons for the Baltimore Colts in the late ’50s and ’60s. He was part of the team that won the famed 1958 NFL championship against the Giants.
Apologies to: Don Oakes started seven seasons, primarily for the Boston Patriots, in the ’60s. Anthony Davis started a couple years for the Buccaneers. Other than that, there weren’t a lot of options.
The picks: Bruce Smith and Robert Brown. I think the Sack King is going to make this team. Smith is an NFL Hall of Famer who played on four Super Bowl teams and had 200 career sacks in 19 NFL seasons with the Bills and Redskins. In fact, he had by far the highest weighted career average (a stat on the Pro Football Reference site) of any former Hokie, at 147. The next closest was Vick at 97. Brown isn’t as well-known, but he was a grinder, playing 11 NFL seasons and 160 career games with the Packers, racking up 25.5 career sacks.
Apologies to: John Engelberger carved out a nice career with the 49ers and Broncos, starting 80 games and finishing with 201 tackles and 20.5 sacks in his career. Darryl Tapp’s done well for himself too, having played 12 seasons for six different teams (though only two as a starter), with 291 tackles and 29 career sacks.
The picks: Tom Beasley and ????. If Tim Settle makes it in the NFL, he’s a lock to make this slot, because Virginia Tech does not have much of a history of defensive tackles doing anything in the NFL. Beasley is the first pick here and honestly, he played most of his career as a defensive end, starting one year as the left defensive tackle for the Steelers in 1981. He had 11.5 sacks in his career. Perhaps we’ll make this Virginia Tech group a 3-4 defense.
Apologies to: No one, really. Waddey Harvey stated nine games for Buffalo in 1970. David Pugh, Carlton Powell and Jonathan Lewis all had cups of coffee for a few games. And that’s it.
The picks: Mike Johnson, Ben Taylor, James Anderson and Jason Worilds. OK, this is a bigger-than-expected linebacker crew, but the lack of defensive tackles is going to require some alteration to the defense. Johnson made 1,146 career tackles and 14.5 sacks from 1986-95 as an NFL starter, first with the Browns and at the end with the Lions. Taylor gets the nod despite a brief NFL career (also with the Browns) that included 1 1/2 years as a starter and 157 career tackles. (There were not a ton of middle linebackers to choose from.) To fill out a starting 11 on defense, we’ll go with two outside linebackers. Anderson was a full-time starter for four years, finishing with 420 tackles and 12 sacks in his career. Worilds makes it as an outside linebacker, with 25.5 sacks in five years with Steelers before he abruptly retired at 27 right when he was going to cash in as a free agent
Apologies to: Cornell Brown had a better NFL career than Taylor, sticking around for seven years and winning a Super Bowl ring with the Ravens, but if you’re looking to construct a somewhat true-to-life defense, Brown was an outside linebacker, and Anderson and Worilds had better NFL careers.