The three big football universities in the state -- Utah, Utah State, and BYU -- have all sent exceptional players to the NFL. Often these athletes started out as late-round draft fodder or unselected cast-offs (or chose to sign with a different league, like Steve Young). But what about the players that actually got chosen in the first round? There are more of them than you might think. Here's the full list of all first-round Utah college alumni, in chronological order.
Grosscup (#11, middle row) helped develop the "Utah pass" while playing quarterback for the Utes in 1957-58. He was chosen by the New York Giants with the 10th pick of the 1959 NFL Draft. After three seasons in New York (one with the New York Titans of the AFL), Grosscup began a successful career as a football broadcaster.
Olsen was drafted third overall in the 1962 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams, choosing the more-stable NFL over the upstart Denver Broncos of the AFL. He went on to a Hall of Fame career, including 14 Pro Bowl appearances, an MVP award, and a place among the all-time football elite.
After Olsen's success, the Rams chose another Aggie, quarterback Bill Munson, with the seventh pick of the 1964 draft. Munson found his greatest success with the Detroit Lions, where he threw for 2,311 yards and 15 touchdowns in 12 games played in 1968.
The St. Louis Cardinals chose Lane with the 13th pick of the 1968 draft, and the Aggie running back rewarded them with a Pro Bowl season in 1970, rushing for 11 touchdowns and gaining 1,342 total yards. Lane also excelled with the Kansas City Chiefs as a rusher and receiver.
Phil joined his brother Merlin on the Los Angeles Rams after an injury ended his rookie season with the Boston Patriots, who took him with the fourth pick in the 1970 NFL Draft. When another Olsen brother, Orrin, entered the league in 1976, they became one of the few families to have three active players in the NFL at the same time. Phil's career, however, was cut short by more injuries.
The St. Louis Cardinals took Thompson, a cornerback, with the 17th pick of the 1971 draft. His best season came in 1975, when he tallied seven interceptions and one touchdown. He later played for the Baltimore Colts as well.
Wilson was chosen 15th by the Oakland Raiders in 1980, as the backup to starting quarterback Jim Plunkett. He would continue to battle Plunkett -- and injuries -- throughout his time with the Raiders. Wilson passed for 2,608 yards and 16 touchdowns in 1985, but he faded in the playoffs that year and never reached those numbers again.
This brash Cougar quarterback was the 5th pick of the 1982 NFL Draft, and by 1985 he was leading the Chicago Bears to a Super Bowl title on the field (and a "Super Bowl Shuffle" off it). Known as much for his swagger as his skill, he threw for more than 18,000 yards in his NFL career.
The San Francisco 49ers chose linebacker Shell (#90) with the 24th pick of the 1984 draft. He helped the Niners to a Super Bowl championship in his rookie season, but he only played four seasons total in the NFL. He later became an Arena Football League head coach, winning a Coach of the Year award with the New York Dragons before a 2005 arrest for cocaine use.
Matich, the center on the Cougars' 1984 national championship team, was drafted 28th in the 1985 draft by the New England Patriots. He saw limited game action in his first few seasons before finding success with the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins.
The second Cougar taken in the first round of the 1987 draft, this defensive lineman was chosen 17th by the Cincinnati Bengals. An Outland Trophy winner in college, Buck won a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1991.
Knight was drafted with the 11th pick of the 1987 draft, six spots earlier than teammate Jason Buck. Also a member of the 1984 national championship team at BYU, Knight only played for three seasons in the NFL.
Elliss, a defensive tackle, was chosen by the Detroit Lions with the 20th pick in the 1995 draft. He notched 8.5 sacks in 16 games during 1997 season and earned Pro Bowl honors in 1999 and 2000. Elliss has returned to Salt Lake City and is currently working toward a degree in sports management from the University of Utah (see our article by Brad Rock for more).
Chosen by the Tennessee Oilers (later the Titans) with the 16th pick of the 1998 draft, Dyson is perhaps best known for his role in the Titans' playoff campaign of 1999, where he was on the receiving end of the "Music City Miracle," a disputed lateral pass from teammate Frank Wycheck. Dyson was tackled on the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV, just one yard shy of what would have been a game-tying touchdown.
An All-America pick in his final year in Provo, Tait was chosen 14th by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999. The offensive tackle earned two Pro Bowl selections, once in 2001 with the Chiefs and again in 2006 with the Chicago Bears.
Nicknamed "Freight Train" while at BYU, Morris went to the Indianapolis Colts with the 28th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft. The linebacker became a starter for the Colts, with 471 total tackles over eight seasons. Morris helped the Colts to a Super Bowl championship in 2007.
This consensus All-American offensive tackle was chosen by the Carolina Panthers with the 8th pick of the 2003 draft. He has been a stalwart blocker for the Panthers, earning multiple Pro Bowl honors and one first-team All-Pro selection. After suffering an ankle injury in 2009, Gross returned to start all 16 games for Carolina in 2010.
After leading the Utes to an undefeated season and a Fiesta Bowl win in 2004, Smith was selected first overall by the San Francisco 49ers. The quarterback has had a bumpy professional career, battling injuries, multiple coaching changes, and inconsistent play. In 2010 Smith threw for 2,370 yards and 14 touchdowns, but his status for 2011 is unclear, as the 49ers traded up to draft Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Friday.