Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) meet on the field following a game last year. 


OK, my assignment for the day, on this first week of the NFL season: Make a list of the top Mississippi players in the league. The rules are these: They can either have been born and raised in Mississippi or have played college ball in the Magnolia State.

Rick Cleveland

As we all know, Mississippi has produced many of the greatest players in the history of the professional football. Another generation should have a huge impact in 2017.

For entertainment purposes, here is my Most Dandy Dozen. Feel free to agree, disagree and/or send me your own list.

  1. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys and Mississippi State quarterback: As a rookie, he threw for 23 touchdowns vs. four interceptions. Also ran for six touchdowns, most of any NFL quarterback. Had a passer rating of 104.6. He makes the players around him better and should only become better himself as he gains NFL experience.
  2. Eli Manning, New York Giants and Ole Miss quarterback: Some will quibble with this. Quibble away. Only one current quarterback, Tom Brady, has more Super Bowl victories than Manning, and Eli beat Brady twice head-to-head in Super Bowls. Hard to believe he is beginning his 14th NFL season, having thrown 320 touchdown passes.
  3. Fletcher Cox, Philaelphia Eagles and Mississippi State defensive tackle: This Yazoo City product is my top-ranked Mississippi-born NFL player and is simply one of the best in the business at his position. A superb run-stopper, he also has provided 28.5 sacks over his five seasons.
  4. Jamie Collins, Cleveland Browns and Southern Miss linebacker: Former second round draft pick from tiny McCall Creek, Collins often is called “The Freak” because of his freakish athleticism. Gregg Williams, the Browns’ defensive coordinator, says he could be one of the best players in the sport at safety or defensive end but he’s too valuable at linebacker.
  5. Steven Gostkowski, New England Patriots and Madison Central placekicker: A kicker, you say? Rated this highly? Well, he’s the best at what he does, Mr. Clutch. He has made 87 percent of his field goal tries, 99.3 percent of his PATs over 11 seasons. He’s not slowing down. He was 7 for 7 in the preseason with a 55- and 51-yarder.
  6. K.J. Wright, Seattle Seahawks and Mississippi State linebacker: Has been one of the key cogs in Seattle’s top-shelf defense for six seasons. Amazingly quick and fast for a guy who stands 6 feet, 4 inches and weighs 244 pounds. Listen: He has been in on 592 tackles over six seasons.
  7. Malcolm Butler, New England Patriots and Vicksburg cornerback: Splashed onto the NFL scene as a free agent rookie out of West Alabama with his game-saving play in the Super Bowl and has since become one of the league’s most respected cornerbacks. The Saints went all-out to get him, but Bill Belichick, smartly, didn’t let that happen.
  8. Gabe Jackson, Oakland Raiders and Mississippi State offensive guard: Former Kent Hull and Conerly Trophy winner has become one of the sport’s most devastating run blockers. That’s why the Raiders just agreed to pay him $56 million over the next five seasons, which is money guards don’t often see. He will earn his.
  9. Lagarrette Blount, Philaelphia Eagles and East Miss. CC running back: Ran for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. Sixty-seven of his carries earned first downs. He weighs 250 pounds and few backs, if any, in the league run harder or push the pile with more force than he.
  10. Donte Moncrief, Indianapolis Colts and Ole Miss wide receiver: I am ranking him this high and he still hasn’t had the kind of season I expected him to have as a pro. Has caught 124 passes for 1,448 yards over three seasons. The potential is there for much more.
  11. Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders and Southern Miss running back: From seemingly out of nowhere and free agency, Richard took it to the house from 77 yards out on his first NFL carry against the Saints last year. Led the entire league in yards after contact and also excelled as a kick returner.
  12. Laremy Tunsil, Miami Dolphins and Ole Miss offensive tackle: Played guard as a rookie but has been moved to his natural left tackle position for this season. Yes, this rating is based mostly on potential, but Tunsil was as good as any college offensive tackle I have ever seen. He will become one of the league’s best left tackles when he gets – and stays – healthy.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

One reply on “Here’s my Mississippi Dandy NFL Dozen”

  1. Yep, Laremy Tunsil’s potential as an unselfish player could actually prove helpful for his team one day.

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