North Carolina to the NFL Part 6: How many NFL first round picks have been produced by North Carolina high schools?
North Carolina to the NFL
(This is the sixth in a series on the North Carolina products who went on to play in the NFL. Here are the previous and upcoming stories:)
Part 1: The first NFL player came in 1921 and he came from the state’s winningest high school program. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-1-the-first-nfl-player-came-in-1921-and-he-came-from-the-states-winningest-high-school-program/
Part 2: North Carolina to the NFL Part 2: Jim Thorpe is not a N.C. native but he spent time in the state and later recruited N.C. natives for his NFL team. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-2-jim-thorpe-is-not-a-n-c-native-but-he-spent-time-in-the-state-and-later-recruited-n-c-natives-for-his-nfl-team/
Part 3: What do the numbers say about North Carolina high school products in the NFL? How many have there been? And who played the longest in the NFL? Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolina-to-the-nfl-part-3-what-do-the-numbers-say-about-north-carolina-high-school-products-in-the-nfl-how-many-have-there-been-and-who-played-the-longest-in-the-nfl/
Part 4: What North Carolina high schools and counties have produced the most eventual NFL players? Link: North Carolina to the NFL Part 4: What North Carolina high schools and counties have produced the most eventual NFL players? – Carolina Sports HUB (carolinassportshub.com)
Part 5: Which colleges have benefitted the most from North Carolina high school products who eventually played in the NFL? Link: North Carolina to the NFL Part 5: Which colleges have benefitted the most from N.C. high school products who eventually played in the NFL? – Carolina Sports HUB (carolinassportshub.com)
Part 7: How did eventual NFL players do when they played for North Carolina high schools?
Part 8: North Carolina has a handful of natives who didn’t attend high school in the state before making it to the NFL. Here’s a look at some of them.
By Richard Walker
Fifty-three former North Carolina high school football players have been selected in the first round of pro football’s draft
The first came in 1945 when the New York Giants used their 10th overall pick on Durham’s Elmer Barbour out of Wake Forest and the last came in April 2021 when Maiden’s Caleb Farley was picked 22nd by the Tennesse Titans out of Virginia Tech.
Twenty-one of those 53 first-rounders went on to become Pro Bowlers, including each of the state’s No. 1 overall selections (Roman Gabriel and Mario Williams), and one of the first-rounders (Carl Eller) eventually was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
By decade, North Carolina high schoolers were most frequently selected in the first round in the 1990s when there were 16 selections that include a record-setting three in the 1998 draft.
Other decades in which first rounders were selected were the 1940s (1), 1960s (4), 1970s (8), 2000s (7), 2010s (12) and 2020s (1). The 2015 and 2019 drafts also saw a record-tying three first-round selections.
Barbour, the initial first-rounder, was a blocking back who played only three games in the NFL for the New York Giants in 1945. Barbour later gained far greater fame as a high school and college football coach; He guided his alma mater of Durham to a state title in 1950 and a state runner-up finish in 1955 before later becoming an assistant coach at Wake Forest and South Carolina.
The two first-rounders were all-time NFL greats.
In 1962, when the AFL and NFL were holding two separate drafts, Wilmington New Hanover’s Gabriel was the No. 1 overall selection of the Oakland Raiders in the AFL draft and the No. 2 overall selection of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL draft.
An All-ACC quarterback at N.C. State, Gabriel signed with the Rams and eventually spent 16 seasons in the league with the Rams and Philadelphia Eagles. He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection, the 1969 NFL MVP and the 1973 NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Later a football coach at Cal Poly Pomona and the United States Football League’s Boston Breakers and the World League of American Football’s Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks, Gabriel also was a general manager for the minor league baseball Gastonia Rangers and was a radio analyst on the Carolina Panthers radio network.
Many consider Gabriel a Pro Football Hall of Famer, though he has yet to be voted in.
In 1964, North Carolina’s only first-rounder to be so honored was selected sixth overall when Winston-Salem Atkins’ Eller was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings out of the University of Minnesota. Eller, a defensive end, would go on to become a six-time Pro Bowler and 1971 NFL Defensive Player of the Year before being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
A 1967 first-round pick – No. 18 overall selection – Bob Matheson didn’t play in a Pro Bowl but because famous for playing a role in the evolution of NFL defense. From Boone Appalachian High before playing at Duke, Matheson was the inspiration for the two-time Super Bowl champion Miami Dolphins’ “53” defense.
A linebacker, Matheson (whose jersey No. 53 gave the defense its name) was the fourth linebacker in a 3-4 defensive alignment that many football coaches have employed in the years since Miami won the 1973 and 1974 Super Bowls.
Fayetteville E.E. Smith’s Doug Wilkerson became a three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman after being the 14th overall pick of the Houston Oilers in 1970 out of North Carolina Central and Fayetteville Seventy-First’s Marvin Powell became a five-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman after being the fourth overall pick of the New York Jets in 1977 out of Southern California.
High Point Andrews’ Ted Brown wasn’t a Pro Bowler, but the No. 16 overall pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 1979 out of N.C. State was a four-time All-ACC running back who held that league’s all-time rushing record (4,602 yards) until the 2020 season. And with the Vikings, he rushed for 4,546 yards and 40 touchdowns in eight seasons.
Richmond County’s Mike Quick was a five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver after the Philadelphia Eagles made him the No. 20 overall selection in 1982. And Quick, who played at N.C. State, has been an Eagles’ radio analyst since 1998.
On June 5, 1984 – or a month after the annual draft of college players – the NFL held a supplemental draft of USFL and Canadian Football League players and two former N.C. prep stars who would become Pro Bowlers were selected in the first round.
Kings Mountain’s Kevin Mack, a fullback who played at Clemson, was the No. 11 selection who would go on to become a two-time Pro Bowler for the Cleveland Browns. And West Carteret’s Vaughan Johnson, a linebacker who played at N.C. State, was the No. 18 selection who would go on to become a four-time Pro Bowler for the New Orleans Saints.
A 1985 first rounder, Kannapolis Brown’s Ethan Horton, went from being considered a draft disappointment to a steal for another after a position switch. A high school quarterback, Horton was the 15th overall pick of the Kansas City Chiefs as a running back out of North Carolina, before being released and being signed a free agent by the Los Angeles Raiders. The Raiders turned Horton into a tight end, where was a 1991 Pro Bowl selection.
Greensboro Page’s Haywood Jeffires became a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Houston Oilers after being the No. 20 overall pick in the 1987 draft out of N.C. State.
Another N.C. State product, Winston-Salem Carver defensive lineman Ray Agnew, was the No. 10 overall pick of the New England Patriots in 1990 and later a Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams. Most recently, Agnew has been a Rams director of player personnel and will enter the 2021 season as the Detroit Lions’ assistant general manager.
Western Harnett’s Eric Swann was the No. 6 pick of the Phoenix Cardinals in 1991. A defensive lineman, Swann didn’t attend a college and was drafted after playing semipro football.
Whiteville’s Chester McGlockton was the No. 16 overall pick of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1992. A defensive lineman who also played at Clemson, McGlockton was a four-time Pro Bowler.
The No. 3 overall pick of the 1994 draft, Swain County’s Heath Shuler, had an unspectacular five-year career as a quarterback for the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints. But the former University of Tennessee quarterback later became a U.S. congressman representing North Carolina’s 11th district (near Asheville).
The No. 18 overall pick of the 1994 draft, Northern Durham’s Dewayne Washington, spent 12 seasons as a cornerback for the Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs. A N.C. State standout, Washington later served as a head coach for Wake Forest Heritage High School from 2015 to 2017.
A record three first-rounders were selected in 1998 – East Wake’s Greg Ellis, West Charlotte’s Mo Collins and Asheville’s John Avery.
Ellis was the No. 8 overall pick of the Dallas Cowboys as a defensive end out of the University of North Carolina. In 2007 Ellis was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year was also selected to the Pro Bowl. A two-sport star in high school, Ellis as a sophomore helped East Wake to the N.C. 4A championship game against West Charlotte; Eventual NBA guard Jeff McInnis scored 20 points to lead West Charlotte to a 61-44 win in a game played at the Smith Center at UNC.
Collins was the No. 23 overall pick of the Oakland Raiders out of the University of Florida. An offensive lineman, Collins would return to become head coach at his high school alma mater; Collins would die of kidney failure on Oct. 26, 2014 after nine games as head coach.
Avery was the No. 29 overall pick of the Miami Dolphins out of the University of Missisippi. A running back, Avery played in the NFL for three seasons before playing in the CFL where in 2004 he helped the Toronto Argonauts win the Grey Cup championship.
The No. 6 pick of the 1999 draft by the St. Louis Rams, Eastern Guilford’s Torry Holt out of N.C. State was a seven-time Pro Bowler and was a Super Bowl winner in his rookie season.
The No. 9 pick of the 2001 draft by the Seattle Seahawks, South Point’s Koren Robinson out of N.C. State also played for the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, for whom he was a 2005 Pro Bowler.
The No. 2 pick of the 2002 draft by the Carolina Panthers, Southern Nash’s Julius Peppers out of North Carolina was a nine-team Pro Bowler who also played for the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
In 2006, the second No. 1 overall pick produced by the state was Richlands’ Mario Williams out of N.C. State was a four-time Pro Bowler. Drafted by the Houston Texans, he also played for the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.
The No. 18 pick of the 2012 draft by the San Diego Chargers, Richmond County’s Melvin Ingram out of South Carolina is a three-time Pro Bowler.
The No. 10 pick of the 2014 draft by the Detroit Lions, Greensboro Smith’s Eric Ebron out of North Carolina was a 2018 Pro Bowl seletion.
The No. 10 pick of the 2015 draft by the St. Louis Rams, Tarboro’s Todd Gurley out of Georgia has been a three-time Pro Bowler.
And the No. 18 pick of the 2018 draft by the Green Bay Packers, Mint Hill Rocky River’s Jaire Alexander was a 2020 Pro Bowl selection.
Here’s a list of North Carolina’s first round draft picks:
1945 No. 10 overall – Elmer Barbour (New York Giants)
1962 No. 1 overall (AFL), No. 1 overall (NFL) – Roman Gabriel (Oakland Raiders/Los Angeles Rams)
1964 No. 6 overall – Carl Eller (Minnesota Vikings)
1967 No. 18 overall – Bob Matheson (Cleveland Browns)
1968 No. 6 overall – Dennis Byrd (Boston Patriots)
1970 No. 14 overall – Doug Wilkerson (Houston Oilers)
1974 No. 22 overall – Charley Young (Dallas Cowboys)
1977 No. 4 overall – Marvin Powell (New York Jets)
1979 No. 16 overall – Ted Brown (Minnesota Vikings)
1981 No. 18 overall – Donnell Thompson (Baltimore Colts)
1982 No. 20 overall – Mike Quick (Philadelphia Eagles)
1984 Supplemental No. 11 – Kevin Mack (Cleveland Browns)
1984 Supplemental No. 18 – Vaughan Johnson (New Orleans Saints)
1985 No. 15 overall – Ethan Horton (Kansas City Chiefs)
1987 No. 20 overall – Haywood Jeffires (Houston Oilers)
1989 No. 7 overall – Tim Worley (Pittsburgh Steelers)
1989 No. 11 overall – Donnell Woolford (Chicago Bears)
1990 No. 10 overall – Ray Agnew (New England Patriots)
1991 No. 11 overall – Anthony Smith (Los Angeles Raiders)
1991 No. 6 overall – Eric Swann (Phoenix Cardinals)
1992 No. 10 overall – Ray Roberts (Seattle Seahawks)
1992 No. 16 overall – Chester McGlockton (Los Angeles Raiders)
1993 No. 28 overall – Thomas Smith (Buffalo Bills)
1994 No. 3 overall – Heath Shuler (Washington Redskins)
1994 No. 18 overall – Dewayne Washington (Minnesota Vikings)
1996 No. 22 overall – Marcus Jones (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
1996 No. 29 overall – Jamain Stephens (Pittsburgh Steelers)
1998 No. 8 overall – Greg Ellis (Dallas Cowboys)
1998 No. 17 overall – Brian Simmons (Cincinnati Bengals)
1998 No. 23 overall – Mo Collins (Oakland Raiders)
1998 No. 29 overall – John Avery (Miami Dolphins)
1999 No. 6 overall – Torry Holt (St. Louis Rams)
1999 No. 29 overall – Dimitrius Underwood (Minnesota Vikings)
2001 No. 9 overall – Koren Robinson (Seattle Seahawks)
2002 No. 2 overall – Julius Peppers (Carolina Panthers)
2004 No. 26 overall – Chris Perry (Cincinnati Bengals)
2006 No. 1 overall – Mario Williams (Houston Texans)
2006 No. 22 overall – Manny Lawson (San Francisco 49ers)
2008 No. 29 overall – Kentwan Balmer (San Francisco 49ers)
2009 No. 4 overall – Aaron Curry (Seattle Seahawks)
2012 No. 16 overall – Quinton Coples (New York Jets)
2012 No. 18 overall – Melvin Ingram (San Diego Chargers)
2013 No. 7 overall – Jonathan Cooper (Arizona Cardinals)
2014 No. 10 overall – Eric Ebron (Detroit Lions)
2015 No. 31 overall – Stephone Anthony (New Orleans Saints)
2015 No. 24 overall – D.J. Humphries (Arizona Cardinals)
2015 No. 10 overall – Todd Gurley (St. Louis Rams)
2018 No. 30 overall – Mike Hughes (Minnesota Vikings)
2018 No. 18 overall – Jaire Alexander (Green Bay Packers)
2019 No. 6 overall – Daniel Jones (New York Giants)
2019 No. 17 overall – Dexter Lawrence (New York Giants)
2019 No. 18 overall – Garrett Bradbury (Minnesota Vikings)
2021 No. 22 overall – Caleb Farley (Tennessee Titans)