If you could pick one former Jayhawk football player, in his prime, to join the 2009 KU football team to give it the best shot to win the Big 12 North, who would you pick?
Obviously, you could look at this a lot of different ways. Would you take the best player? Would you look at the biggest position of need? Would you take a player based on his versatility?
After doing some research and getting other opinions, here is my top ten ranking of players I'd select for the 2009 Jayhawks:
10. Ray Evans, cornerback (1947) Played in a different era, but the first-team AP All-America is the only player ever to lead the nation in passing yards (1,117) and interceptions (10) in the same season. With Todd Reesing on the roster, KU coach Mark Mangino is happy to let Evans test his intercepting skills as a full-time cornerback in the pass-happy Big 12. Gil Reich (1952), a one-year player and first-team All-American at defensive back, also deserves mention as a player that would thrive in the Jayhawks secondary.
9. Anthony Collins, offensive tackle (2007) Last season, KU struggled offensively against teams with dominant players up front. With Collins in and a second more protection for the quarterback, how many more yards could Reesing throw for?
8. John Riggins, running back (1970) The Jayhawks might not throw as much if they had the luxury of having "The Diesel" in the backfield along with Jake Sharp. Known as one of the hardest runners in KU history, Riggins rushed for 1,131 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1970. He later was chosen as a first-ballot NFL Hall-of-Famer.
7. Charlton Keith, defensive lineman (2005) Keith was dominant during his final year of school, picking up nine sacks during the 2005 season. He ended his career memorably in the Fort Worth Bowl with an interception and return for touchdown. He also had 23 tackles-for-loss in 2005, which set a new school record. With Jake Laptad on one end and Keith on the other, the 2009 Jayhawks would have a front line to be feared.
6. Charles Gordon, defensive back/returner (2005) Char-les Gor-don (clap, clap, clap clap clap) would have the ability to shore up two positions: secondary and punt returner. Gordon was a third-team AP All-American at cornerback in 2004, and he also has the two best punt return seasons in KU history (398 in 2005; 341 in 2003). Gordon's 999 career punt return yards are 393 more than the next-best Jayhawk (Donnie Shanklin).
5. Mike McCormack, offensive tackle (1950) This honorable mention All-American was a captain for KU and showed how dominant he could be once he turned pro. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and won two championships with the Cleveland Browns before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984. Cleveland head coach Paul Brown called McCormack "the finest offensive lineman I've ever coached." Yeah, I'd say he'd fit well protecting Reesing's blind side.
4. Willie Pless, linebacker (1984) Need a sure tackler at the linebacker position? If so, you can't get any better than Pless. The three-time All-Big Eight selection not only has KU's single-season record for tackles (206 in 1984), he also has the second- and third-best single-season marks as well (191 in 1985; 188 in 1983). A 1985 AP second-team All-American, Pless went on to become the Canadian Football League's career tackles leader and was inducted in the league's hall of fame in 2005. The 2009 Jayhawks also clearly would have a spot for a reliable, every-down linebacker.
3. Aqib Talib, defensive back/receiver/punt returner (2007) Another player who could help the Jayhawks in a variety of ways. Of course, his biggest contribution would be in the secondary, where the 2009 team definitely could use his services. Talib was a first-team All-American at cornerback in 2007, and the '08 secondary struggled without him there. Add in his playmaking ability as a receiver and potentially as a punt returner, and Talib becomes one of the top players on this list.
2. Gale Sayers, running back/kick returner (1964) If we are drafting based simply on "best player available," there's little doubt that Sayers is the pick. "The Kansas Comet," simply, was one of the greatest running backs in the history of football. He was a two-time, first-team All-American selection at KU and led the Jayhawks in rushing, touchdowns and kick returns in all of his three years in the lineup. He ended his career with 2,675 rushing yards and 3,917 all-purpose yards before going to the NFL, where he led the league in rushing in 1966 and 1969. After a knee injury shortened his career, he was the youngest person ever elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977 at age 34. Would running back be the biggest need for the 2009 Jayhawks, though? KU could certainly use the help at kick returner, as the 2008 team was 118th out of 119 teams in kickoff returns (17.54 yards per return).
1. Dana Stubblefield, defensive lineman (1991) Stubblefield takes my No. 1 spot based on both talent and team need. The second-team AP All-American was a force for one of the best defensive lines in KU history. He recorded 10 sacks in 1991 then followed that up as a team captain in 1992, helping the Jayhawks to an 8-4 season and Aloha Bowl victory over BYU. In the bowl game, Stubblefield had three sacks, three hurries, one tackle-for-loss and was named the Aloha Bowl Most Valuable Player. Stubblefield was a first-round NFL draft pick and was later selected as the Defensive Newcomer of the Year during his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers. With one more dominant pass rusher, KU's linebackers and defensive backs immediately would be improved as well, as they wouldn't have to cover Big 12 receivers for nearly as long. The team need at defensive line and the talent of Stubblefield puts him on the top of my former Jayhawk wishlist for this year's team.
Other staffers' picks
Tom Keegan: Gale Sayers
Dugan Arnett: Aqib Talib
D.J. Whetter: Charles Gordon (or Chip Budde, so he could get more than 1 1/2 wins in a season)
Chuck Woodling: Gale Sayers
Andrew Baker: Aqib Talib
Kevin Romary: Dana Stubblefield
Bill Mayer: Mike McCormack
Eric Sorrentino: Aqib Talib
Matt Tait: Nick Reid, linebacker (2005)