Seven NFL Players From Arkansas Who Hit the Big Time

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Priest Holmes

Arkansas is known as a football state with, of course, the Razorbacks as the prominent team. But not all great future pros were Hogs. Scottie Pippen, a UCA grad, is the most prominent example of this in basketball. Football, too, has stars from the state who have gone on to enjoy success in a big-time way. Here are some of our favorite NFL Arkansans:

DeAngelo Williams

Born in Wynne, DeAngelo Williams played for Memphis and then was picked up by the Carolina Panthers in the 2006 NFL draft. he starred eight years there as a running back. He broke more than 15 franchise records during his time there before switching to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 where he played out the final two seasons of his career.

Priest Holmes

Priest Holmes, who was born in Fort Smith and raised in San Antonio, went undrafted before joining the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent in 1997. A year later, he rushed for 1,008 yards, and in 2001, earned a Super Bowl ring as part of the roster in the Ravens victory over the New York Giants.

The following season he switched to current Super Bowl champions and 2021 favorites Kansas City Chiefs, who will be backed by many in the state as sports gambling in Arkansas expands at retail locations this year. There, he became a three-time Pro-Bowler, three-time All-Pro and the NFL Offensive Player of the year in 2002.

He and Emmitt Smith are the only players to rush for 20 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. In 2004, Holmes might have become the only running back in league history to accomplish the feat in three straight seasons, if not for a back injury that ended his season eight games early.

The Fort Smith native retired with 8,172 yards, 86 TDs and a rushing average of 4.6.

Bobby Mitchell

Hot Springs native Bobby Mitchell was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1958 where he teamed up with Jim Brown for four seasons as a halfback. He switched to the Washington Redskins in 1962 where he was deployed as a flanker. He became a four-time Pro-Bowler and two-time receiving yards leader amongst other achievements. In 1983, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He stayed with the franchise after retirement and became a scout and then assistant general manager. However, he never achieved his ambition of becoming the NFL’s first black general manager, having been overlooked twice for the role. In total, he spent 41 years with the Redskins.

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My book about Bobby Mitchell, Jim Pace, Eddie Miles and other Arkansas sports legends:

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Joe Perry

Pro Football Hall of Famer, Joe Perry hailed from Stephens and played in three different decades beginning with the San Francisco 49ers in 1948 and ending with the same franchise in 1963 after a one-season sojourn at the Baltimore Colts. He was the rushing leader for six years and finished with 8,378 yards, 4.8 average yards and 78 rushing touchdowns. His 49ers rushing yards record stood until 2011, while his 49ers rushing touchdown record of 68 remains intact.

Cortez Kennedy

Kennedy, who sadly passed away in 2017 aged 48, was the third pick for the Seattle Seahawks in the 1990 Draft and spent his entire career with the West Coast franchise. Before that, he was a college superstar at Miami where he was inducted into their Hall of Fame. He featured in eight Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro three times. He was named in the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team despite featuring for a team that was mediocre during the decade. He finished with 668 tackles, 58 sacks and three interceptions and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012. In the same year, the Seahawks retired his number 96 jersey.

Willie Roaf

Born in Pine Bluff, Wille Roaf had to choose between basketball and football in college and luckily made the right choice. He went on to become an elite offensive tackle. He was the eighth pick for the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 1993 draft and spent nine seasons at the franchise before switching to the Kansas Coty Chiefs where he saw out his career from 2002 to 2005. He achieved 11 Pro Bowl selections and was a six-time First-Team Pro Bowl pick. He entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012 and featured in the NFL’s 1990s and 2000s All-Decade Teams.

Don Hutson

Also from Pine Bluff, Don Hutson joined the Green Bay Packers for a team-record salary in 1935 and spent his 11-year professional career at the franchise. He was a pioneer in his end position (i.e. wide receiver) and helped to shape the modern passing game. His profuse list of honors includes three NFL Championships, four NFL All-Star appearances, eight First-Team All-Pros and two MVP awards. He recorded 488 receptions, 7,991 receiving yards, 16.4 average yards, 99 receiving touchdowns and 30 interceptions. He still holds many records 75 years later.

In short, Hutson was the NFL’s greatest wide receiver in the first half century of its existence.

Honorable mentions must go to Kevin Williams, Rod Smith and Leslie O’Neal, who could have all easily been featured on this list. They are just a small sample of the top Athletes to have emerged from The Natural State.

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