Since Bronco Mendenhall arrived at BYU, they have been transformed from a school that was known primarily for their offense into a place where defense has been a huge part of the Cougars success as a program. Even though the defense has carried the torch for BYU as of late, they have been producing NFL talent on that side of the ball for a long time. This is the list of the best of those defensive players based solely on what they have done in the NFL.
Obviously a list like this is completely subjective, but I try to leave out all bias when I do these rankings.
The things I factored in while doing these rankings include All-Pro selections, Pro Bowls, years as a starter, years in the league and impact on a team. Also, stats weighed heavily in my decision-making.
Even though this a list of the best 25 defensive players to play in the NFL from BYU there are a few guys who missed the cut that definitely deserve a mention.
Note: Current Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham came out of BYU and did make the NFL as a linebacker, but played just three games as a member of the Los Angeles Rams.
Spencer Reid: after going undrafted, Reid made the Carolina Panthers roster in 1998. He played 28 games over three seasons for the Panthers and the Indianapolis Colts.
Brian Mitchell: Mitchell was selected in the seventh round (172nd overall) by the Atlanta Falcons. He appeared in 36 games over three seasons as a defensive back and recorded two sacks, one interception and a fumble recovery.
David Nixon: Nixon made the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He appeared in 15 contests with the Raiders, Houston Texans and St. Louis Rams over the course over three seasons.
Steve Kaufusi: Kaufusi was selected in the 12th round (319th overall) by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1988 draft. He appeared in 32 games over two seasons for the Eagles as a defensive lineman.
Vic So’oto: So’oto made the Green Bay Packers after going undrafted. He has appeared in 14 games out three seasons with the Packers, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals and has record one sack.
Byron Frisch: Frisch was select in the third round (93rd overall) by the Tennessee Titans in the 2000 draft. Frisch never played a game with the Titans but did play 23 games for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants over two seasons. In his career, Frisch recorded five quarterback sacks, two pass deflections and a forced fumble.
Shawn Knight: Knight was selected in the first round (11th overall) by the New Orleans Saints in the 1987 draft. Knight played 31 games over three seasons on the defensive line with the Saints, Denver Broncos and the Phoenix Cardinals.
Rodney Thomas: Thomas was selected in the fifth round (126th overall) by the Miami Dolphins in the 1988 draft. Thomas appeared in 46 games over four seasons with the Dolphins and Los Angeles Rams before finishing his career with the San Francisco 49ers as a defensive back. During his career, Thomas registered three interceptions and a sack.
Tim McTyer: McTyer made the Philadelphia Eagles In 1997 after going undrafted. He last four seasons in the league as a defensive back for the Eagles and the Cleveland Browns and tallied half a sack and an interception in 28 games.
25. Justin Ena: Ena made the Philadelphia Eagles in 2002 after going undrafted. He played in 47 games for the Eagles and the Tennessee Titans as a linebacker. His best season came in 2004 when Ena recorded 32 tackles while starting five games for the Titans.
For his career, Ena recorded 59 tackles over four seasons.
24. John Kapele: Kapele was selected in the 10th round (114th overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1960 draft. Kapele played 38 games over the course of three seasons for the Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles on the defense line before finishing his NFL career in 1962.
23. Derwin Gray: Gray was selected in the fourth round (92nd overall) by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1993 draft. Gray appeared in 67 games (three starts) over the course of six seasons with the Colts and the Carolina Panthers.
During his career, Gray tallied an interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
22. Bryan Kehl: Kehl was selected in the fourth round (123rd overall) by the New York Giants in the 2008 draft. To this point, Kehl has played six seasons for the Giants, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins. His most impressive season came in 2008, when as a rookie, Kehl recorded 35 combined tackles, and his only career sack and interception.
For his career, Kehl has totaled 122 combined tackles in 72 games (five starts).
21. Mat Mendenhall: Mendenhall was selected in the second round (55th overall) by the Washington Redskins in the 1980 draft. Mendenhall played 23 games (20 starts) over two seasons for the Redskins and recorded a sack and two fumble recoveries while playing on the defensive line.
20. Ezekiel Ansah: after having an impressive second half of his senior year, Ansah was selected in the first round (fifth overall) by the Detroit Lions in the 2013 draft. Although he has only finished his rookie season, Ansah has done enough to make the list. In his first year with the Lions Ansah played in 14 games (12 starts) and recorded 32 combined tackles as well as eight sacks and two forced fumbles.
His most impressive game came in his first start against the Washington Redskins when Ansah registered seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
19. Todd Shell: Shell was selected in the first round (24th overall) by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1984 draft. Shell appeared in 38 games (15 starts) with San Francisco over four years. His most impressive season came in 1985 when Shell started 13 games and recorded four sacks and an interception.
For his career, Shell recorded five interceptions (including one returned for a touchdown) and seven sacks.
18. Colby Bockwoldt: Bockwoldt was selected in the seventh round (240th overall) by the New Orleans Saints in the 2004 draft. He appeared in 49 games (24 starts) for the Saints, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns as a linebacker. His best statistical season came in 2005 when Bockwoldt started all 16 games for New Orleans and registered 89 combined tackles
For his career, Bockwoldt totaled 158 tackles and two sacks.
17. Chris Farasopoulos: Farasopoulos was selected in the third round (58th overall) by the New York Jets in the 1971 draft. He played 42 games (21 starts) over four seasons for the Jets and the New Orleans Saints. Although he started his career as more of a return specialist, Farasopoulos spent plenty of time in the Jets’ secondary and ended his career with four interceptions and five fumble recoveries.
16. Aaron Francisco: Francisco made the Arizona Cardinals in 2005 as an undrafted free agent. He appeared in 75 games (23 starts) with the Cardinals and the Indianapolis Colts from 2005-2010 as a defensive back and safety. His most impressive season came in 2010 when Francisco started all 12 games he played in at safety for the Colts and recorded a career high 59 combined tackles and two interceptions.
For his career, Francisco made 218 tackles, intercepted four passes and forced a fumble.
15. Chris Hoke: Hoke made the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent and managed to carve out an 11 year NFL career. Even though Hoke made the Steelers in 2001, he didn’t appear in a regular season game until 2004. Over the next eight years Hoke appeared in 114 games (18 starts) at nose tackle and recorded 83 combined tackles and two sacks while being a part of two Super Bowl winning teams.
14. Tom Holmoe: Holmoe was selected in the fourth round (90th overall) by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1983 draft. Holmoe spent his entire six-year career with the 49ers and was a part of three Super Bowl winning teams. One of his most impressive seasons came in 1986 when Holmoe intercepted three passes and returned two of them for touchdowns.
For his career, Holmoe appeared in 82 games (seven starts) and intercepted a total of seven passes as a defensive back for San Francisco.
13. Glen Redd: Redd was selected in the sixth round (166th overall) by the New Orleans Saints in the 1981 draft. Redd played 76 games (36 starts) over five seasons with the Saints and the Indianapolis Colts including starting every game in the 1981 and 1985 seasons as a linebacker.
For his career, Redd registered two interceptions, a sack and two fumble recoveries.
12. Chuck Ehin: Ehin was selected in the 12th round (329th overall) by the San Diego Chargers in the 1983 draft. Ehin played 65 games (43 starts) over his five-year career with the Chargers on the defensive line.
For his career, Ehin recorded 9.5 sacks and four fumble recoveries.
11. Fred Whittingham: Whittingham played 63 games from 1964-1971 after going undrafted. During that time, Whittingham played for the Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Boston Patriots as a linebacker.
For his career, Whittingham registered three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
10. Jason Buck: Buck was selected in the first round (17th overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1987 draft. Buck spent his seven-year career playing for the Bengals and the Washington Redskins as a defensive line man. One of his most impressive seasons came in 1989 when Buck registered six sacks while starting all 16 game for the Bengals.
For his career, Buck recorded 19 sacks in his 97 games (31 starts).
9. Ryan Denney: Denney was selected in the second round (61st overall) by the Buffalo Bills in the 2002 draft. Denney appeared in 101 games (26 starts) over nine seasons with the Bills and the Houston Texans on the defensive line. One of his best seasons came in 2008 when Denney started 11 games and tallied a career-high 58 combined tackles and four sacks.
For his career, Denney finished with 297 tackles, 23.5 sacks and six forced fumbles.
8. Leon White: White was selected in the fifth round (123rd overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1986 draft. White played in 119 games (45 starts) for the Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams over his eight-year career as a linebacker. The best stretch of his career came from 1988-90 when White started 45 of 48 games and recorded six sacks, intercepted two passes and scored his only career touchdown on a fumble return.
For his career, White recorded six sacks, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
7. Brady Poppinga: Poppinga was selected in the fourth round (125 overall) by the Green Bay Packers in the 2005 draft. Poppinga appeared in 100 games (57 starts) over his eight-year career with the Packers, St. Louis Rams and Dallas Cowboys as a linebacker. His best statistical season came in 2006 when Poppinga registered 60 combined tackles, a sack, as well as an interception and forced two fumbles.
For his career, Poppinga tallied 307 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions and forced three fumbles.
6. Rob Morris: Morris was selected in the first round (28th overall) by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2000 draft. Morris played his entire eight-year career with the colts and played in 99 games (67 starts). During 2001 and 2002, Morris recorded more than 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons.
For his career, Morris had 471 tackles, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.
5. Dick Felt: Felt appeared in 80 games over seven seasons as a member of the New York Titans and the Boston Patriots in the AFL as a defensive back. His best season came in 1962 when Felt intercepted five passes for the 9-win Patriots and was named to the Pro Bowl.
During his career, Felt registered 18 interceptions and was named a Pro Bowler on two separate occasions.
4. Rex Berry: was selected in the 14th round (162nd overall) by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1951 draft. Berry spent his entire six-year career in the San Francisco secondary and played in 66 games. One of his best seasons came in 1953 when Berry registered seven interceptions and one of his three interception returns for a touchdown.
During his career, Berry intercepted 22 passes, recovered eight fumbles and was named a Second-Team All-Pro in 1955.
3. Brett Keisel: Keisel was selected in the seventh round (242nd overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2002 draft. After not seeing much time in his first three seasons, Keisel has been a mainstay on the Steelers defensive line for the last nine years and was a key piece to a pair of Super Bowl runs. Keisel has played in 144 games (110 starts) over 12 years in Pittsburgh.
For his career, Keisel has registered 29 sacks, 391 combined tackles, seven forced fumbles and a 79 yard touchdown run on his only interception. He made the Pro Bowl in 2010.
2. Travis Hall: Hall was selected in the sixth round (181st overall) by the Atlanta Falcons in the 1995 draft. Hall played 150 games (93 starts) over 11 seasons with the Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers on the defensive line. His best statistical season came in 1997 when Hall registered 78 combined tackles and 10.5 sacks.
For his career, Hall recorded 450 combined tackles, 42 sacks, six forced fumbles and 10 fumble recoveries.
1. Kurt Gouveia: Gouveia was selected in the eighth round (213th overall) by the Washington Redskins in the 1986 draft. He played 183 games (91 starts) as a linebacker for the Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers. Once he became the full-time starter in Washington, Gouveia had back to back monster seasons in 1992 and ’93. During those two seasons, Gouveia recorded 340 tackles, four interceptions and 2.5 sacks.
For his career, Gouveia tallied 837 combined tackles, five sacks, 12 interceptions and two touchdowns.