As BSD reaches its first 10 years, we asked ourselves a question that turned out to be much more difficult than expected- who are the top 10 players during the past decade to suit up in those iconic blue and white uniforms? Each member of the staff painstakingly put together their own top 10 (a first place vote was worth 10 points, a second-place vote was nine points, and so on), and no matter how much we toiled with our own individual lists, it seemed nearly impossible to create a list that didn't exclude a few well-deserving players.
Once the results were tallied , we finally came up with our top 10 (although not without considerable debate over some of the inclusions and omissions- I wouldn't be shocked if this doesn't lead to some fisticuffs at the first tailgate). With a list that includes All-Americans, Bendarik Award recipients, Big Ten players of the year, top five draft picks and more, it's no wonder we can't agree with so many legendary figures to choose from since BSD launched prior to the 2006 season.
Without any further ado, here are the final results:
10. Saquon Barkley
Barkley finds himself on this list despite basically only playing 8.5 games thus far into his Nittany Lions career. But throughout his true freshman season, it often became apparent that Barkley was the best player on either side of the field. His vision of the field is unmatched of any Penn State running back in recent memory, and is on par with that of an elite NFL back. Combine that with an incredible burst and agility, Barkley is a special player that doesn't come around often. He basically carried an otherwise inept offense as a freshman in 2015, and should only get much better moving forward.
8. Deon Butler (tie)
Butler entered the program with almost no expectations as a walk-on defensive back on a team coming off a 3-9 season. After a redshirt season and a position change, Butler developed into a stellar wide receiver that helped revive a dreadful offense and re-write the team record books. After four consistently outstanding seasons, Butler found himself as Penn State's career leader in receptions, and in possession of two shiny Big Ten Championship rings.
8. Daryll Clark (tie)
It's almost hard to imagine how prolific Penn State's offense was during his two-year stint as the starting quarterback after the last two seasons of ineptitude. Clark was one of the most pleasant surprises of the aughts, claiming honors as the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year, back-to-back all-conference first-team honors and the Silver Football Award, among others. Despite outstanding athleticism, Clark focused on honing his abilities as a drop-back passer and quickly became one of the best in the nation with his ability to distribute the ball pretty much anywhere he could find the slightest opening. His enthusiasm for the game was contagious and helped motivate his teammates as he led them to back-to-back 11-2 seasons.
7. Levi Brown
One of the most consistent and fundamentally sound offensive linemen to ever play for the Nittany Lions. Brown only played one season during the BSD era (2006), but was a huge component in helping lead the way for Tony Hunt's 1,690 yards from scrimmage that helped carry the team to a 9-3 season that included an upset victory against Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. Brown was a quiet leader who knew how to set an example for younger teammates by focusing on hard work and fundamentals.
6. Navarro Bowman
Perhaps the most athletic linebacker to play at Penn State since Lavar Arrington, Bowman regularly punished opponents with vicious hits. His speed was unmatched, allowing him to make plays all over the field and made him especially dangerous off the edge. Wherever the ball went on any certain play, Bowman was always around to disrupt things. Despite his greatness, he was somewhat overshadowed playing next to Sean Lee but will remain among the very best of the best at Linebacker U.
5. Jared Odrick
Penn State has been the home of dominant, do-it-all defensive tackles during the past decade-plus, and Odrick remains one of the pioneers. Odrick had exceptional athleticism for his size, which allowed him to take up residence in opponents backfield. He typically forced offenses to gameplan around him and was recognized as the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. Also, he may or may not be the lead singer of Counting Crows.
4. Dan Connor
When you're the program's all-time leading tackler at a school nicknamed "Linebacker U." no one can begin to doubt your greatness. While he may have lacked the flash of other standouts at the position, Connor was the ultimate lunch pail type of player- as fundamentally sound as you can find with an unmatched nose for the ball who would lay down hits that made opponents fear running in his direction. He also helped keep the Bendarik Award (given annually to the nation's best defensive player) in the family by claiming the honor in 2007 following Paul Posluszny's back-to-back honors in 2005 and 2006.
3. Sean Lee
When you first look at Sean Lee, there's nothing that screams "elite college and NFL linebacker." At first glance when he entered the program, he looked like an undersized linebacker who may be in over his head in the Big Ten. But as soon as Lee stepped on the field, he made it apparent he was one of the best linebackers you'll encounter. Not only did he make plays from sideline-to-sideline, he could hit like no other. If you were to sit in the top row of the upper deck at Beaver Stadium, the crack of the pads sounded like you were only 10 feet from Lee taking down his latest victim. He made play, after play, after play whenever he was on the field, and when he was forced to miss the entirety of the 2008 season with a knee injury, he was constantly working with the other linebackers to help guide them towards a Big Ten Championship.
2. Allen Robinson
Robinson surprised many by playing as a true freshman, and never quite looked back. In 2012 and 2013, he was among the very best wide receivers in the nation. Robinson could simply do anything and everything needed of him, whether it be taking a simple swing pass to the end zone, blowing past his man for a deep ball, running through and around every member of the defense, or making that leaping grab just as it seemed all hope was lost. When things just weren't going Penn State's way, they could always heave it up to Robinson and let him do his magic. In Penn State circles, he's commonly known as the best wide receiver in program history.
1. Paul Posluszny
Nothing quite screams "Penn State Football" like the sight of Posluszny smashing into opponents in his iconic #31 jersey, the white of his helmet nearly completely covered in paint from the opponents uniforms, and that streak of blood that was forever trickling down from his forehead. Posluszny was the heart and soul of Penn State as they re-claimed their spot as one of the nation's best programs. He would leave Penn State with two Bendarik Awards, a first team All-American and the programs all-time leading tackler, among a slew of other honors. Perhaps most importantly, he has become the iconic, larger-than-life figure for a new generation of Penn State fans.
BONUS (because nothing stops Michael Mauti, even coming in 11th on a top 10 list) :
11. Michael Mauti
If this list was for everyone's favorite players of the past decade, there's a really solid chance Mauti would come out on top. Another big if? If Mauti didn't have the terrible fortune to tear his ACL on three separate occasions, he not only may have topped this list, but would have been near the top of all-time greats to ever play at Penn State. Despite missing significant time throughout his career, Mauti was still among the very best Nittany Lions of the past decade. His passion and motor were second to none- wherever the flow of the play was directed, Mauti would always find himself in the middle of the action, usually smashing heads with the ballcarrier. Mauti will forever be celebrated among Penn State fans for helping keep the program together following the announcement of the sanctions and being the spiritual leader of an incredible 2012 season that easily could have gone 10-2 or 11-1 despite everyone from the outside expecting the program to completely collapse by the end of the season.
FULL VOTING RESULTS
1. Paul Posluszny (114) 2. Allen Robinson (86) 3. Sean Lee (65) 4. Dan Connor (62) 5. Jared Odrick (58) 6. Navarro Bowman (47) 7. Levi Brown (26) 8. Deon Butler (24) 8. Daryl Clark (24) 10. Saquon Barkley (23) 11. Mike Mauti (21) 12. Stephen Wisniewski (20) 13. Derrick Williams (16) 14. Aaron Maybin (15) 15. Christian Hackenberg (13) 16. Carl Nassib (11) 17. Evan Royster (10) 18. Devon Still (7) 19. Anthony Zettel (6) 20. AQ.. Shipley (3) 21. Jordan Norwood and Adrian Amos (1)