In Mississippi, we take pride in the acclaim and accomplishments of our very talented citizens who hail from our beautiful state. As the National Football League officially kicks off its season this week, we have a very impressive number of talented athletes who have strapped on the pads and helmets to hit the gridiron for all the world to see.
According to legendary sports scribe Rick Cleveland, “Mississippi produces more NFL players per capita than any other state, and it’s not really that close.”
“A new, thorough study confirms what I have long contended to be true,” Cleveland said. “That is, the Magnolia State, relatively small and poor in so many ways, kicks tail when it comes to producing football talent. Always has.”
In proportion to many states that are well known for consistently supplying the NFL with lots of talent — such as Texas, Florida, California, Louisiana, and Alabama — Mississippi produces more professional football players per capita. In fact, since 1936 Mississippi has sent an impressive 788 players into the NFL. Not only has Mississippi sent so many great players to the league, but the Magnolia State has many legends that have made their marks in the history books and now there are several current stars who are writing their own legacies.
There’s no way that we can definitively say who is the best athlete to hail from Mississippi. So, here is a sampling of some of the most incredible, prolific athletes who took their talents to the NFL and also a glimpse into the present players who are writing their own chapters in the football annals.
- Brett Favre – The golden-armed gunslinger who brought the title back to Titletown during his time as a Green Bay Packer was known for his gutsy play and love for the game, making him one of the most fun players to ever watch. The Southern Miss alum played for 20 years in the NFL and racked up enough records and statistics to fill up any history book on football greats. Most impressive was his consecutive streak of 321 starts from 1992 to 2010, making him the holder of the longest streak in the history of the league. While his gritty determination kept him on the playing field through injuries or pain, Favre became the first NFL QB to reach 70,000 yards, 10,000 passes, 6,000 completions, 500 touchdowns, and wins over all 32 teams. His numbers speak for themselves as does his three MVP awards. Favre took the Packers to two consecutive Super Bowls and brought the famed Vince Lombardi Trophy back to the Frozen Tundra where it belonged in Super Bowl XXI. There is no doubt that his name will always be mentioned among the greatest quarterbacks to play the game.
- Jerry Rice – Bringing his own greatness to the NFL, Jerry Rice, the outstanding athlete for the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, proved to be one of the most graceful, prolific wide receivers to play the game. After his remarkable career of 20 years in the pros, Rice could do no wrong on the gridiron, making amazing catches and remarkable moves. He helped to lead the 49ers to three Super Bowl titles and charted his own amazing list of achievements. Often described as “the greatest wide receiver in NFL history,” Rice won consecutive Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989 and took home the honor of Super Bowl MVP. It’s not hard to see why “The Sporting News” donned Rice with the title of “the second-best wide receiver behind only Jim Brown.” Rice still holds many NFL records, including being the career leader in most major statistical wide receiver categories, which include receptions, catching touchdowns, receiving yards, scrimmage yards, and total touchdowns. He received 13 invitations to the Pro Bowl.
- Walter Payton – During his impressive career at Jackson State University, there was no doubt that Walter Payton was headed for greatness. “Sweetness,” nicknamed so for his sweet feet that could perform magic on the gridiron, Payton was a leader for the Chicago Bears for 13 seasons. Considered as one of the best players and most prolific rushers of all time, Payton won the 1977 AP NFL Most Valuable Award, and ironically, after he and his teammates made the iconic “Super Bowl Shuffle” video before the season had even started, Payton and company led the Chicago Bears to the 1985 Super Bowl season and almost finished with a perfect season but fell short only one time that season to the Miami Dolphins. His reputation for greatness and his kind heart have left a legacy in his honor with the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and the Walter Payton Award, while also bringing awareness to the importance of organ donations as his life was cut short due to a rare liver disease.
- Ray Guy – Beginning with an impressive career at the University of Southern Mississippi as a punter and placekicker, Ray Guy began to make his mark early in his football career with a long-standing NCAA record 61-yard field goal and led the nation with an average of 46.2 yards per punt which placed him on the first-team All-American team. In the 1973 draft, he was the first punter to be selected by the Oakland Raiders. During Guy’s career, he played in 207 consecutive games, and punted 1,049 times for 44,493 yards with an average of 42.4 yards per punt and a 33.8 net yard average. He held a streak of 619 consecutive punts before having one blocked. He will forever be known for his incredible hangtime for his incredible punts.
- Adalius Thomas – After helping to lead the Southern Miss Golden Eagles to three consecutive Conference USA championships from 1997-1999 and two Liberty Bowl wins, Freshman All-American Adalius Thomas was selected in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens. He amassed tackles, fumbles, and sacks like a man on a mission, and he was. In his rookie season, Thomas helped the Baltimore Ravens bring home a Super Bowl ring. After his impressive play in Baltimore, he took his talents to the New England Patriots during their glory years.
Without a doubt, Mississippi has historically produced some outstanding athletes for the NFL, and they are still providing even more talent to the pros.
- DK Metcalf – After three stellar seasons at the University of Mississippi, DeKaylin Zecharius “DK” Metcalf declared for the 2019 NFL Draft and was chosen in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks. Metcalf showed his talents very early in his career. In his first regular-season game, he made four receptions for 89 receiving yards as he helped to lead the Seahawks to a 21-20 victory. He set a franchise record for total receiving yards by a player in his NFL debut. His rookie season was amazing as he broke records and played with herculean-type excellence. In his rookie year, he finished the season with 900 receiving yards. During the Wild Card Round of the Playoffs, Metcalf charted seven catches for 160 yards and a touchdown in the Seattle victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, setting the NFL record for most receiving yards by a rookie in a playoff game. After his outstanding rookie year, Metcalf continues to shine and lead the Seahawks with his miraculous plays.
- Charles Cross – This Laurel native and Mississippi State University standout has already shown what he can do on the gridiron. He was selected as the ninth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. In his rookie season, offensive tackle Cross started every regular season game and one playoff game for 2022 season, garnering high praise for his performances. It will be exciting to watch how he continues to excel.
- Fletcher Cox – After a standout career for Mississippi State University, Cox was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Cox has produced an excellent career for the Eagles and continues to shine on the field. In the 2022 season, he recorded seven sacks, 43 total tackles, and one forced fumble in his 17-game starts for the Eagles. He has racked up many accomplishments and holds a Super Bowl championship ring for Super Bowl LII.
It’s impossible to list the names and accomplishments of all the Mississippi greats—past and present—to take their talents to the NFL. So, if your favorite player wasn’t listed, please forgive me. It’s a pretty impressive fact that we have so many talented athletes from the Magnolia State that we can’t list them all in 1,000 words or less. ‘Tis the season for football, so make sure to cheer on our Mississippi boys grinding away on the gridiron as they work for the ultimate goal of a Super Bowl appearance.