The Saban 250, Bonus: How his LSU, Michigan State Standouts Stack Up

BamaCentral marks the end of the Nick Saban coaching era with the definitive rankings of his top 250 players with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Nick Saban was the head coach at Michigan State from 1995-99
Nick Saban was the head coach at Michigan State from 1995-99 / Courtesy to Sports Illustrated/Associated Press

We ranked the top 250 players of the Nick Saban era at Alabama, however that’s not the only school where he was a collegiate head coach. The first gig was at Toledo in 1990, followed by Michigan State (1995-99) and LSU (2000-04), where he won his first national championship with the Tigers in 2003.

Along the way, he had some impressive players, including a handful who went on to have prominent career in the National Football League.

It only made sense to look at some of their careers as well, and eyeball where they might have landed in The Saban 250. Granted, the coach will almost never make comparisons between his former players, and we left the assessments a little vague due to different conferences and decades, and the evolution of the game, but the following includes 10 standout players from those Michigan State and LSU teams plus a few notes about some others Saban recruited.

Remember, the primary aim of The Saban 250 was to demonstrate just how deep and vast the the talent the coach recruited and developed over the years. In just four short years he turned LSU into such a recruiting powerhouse that Tigers continually had the most players in the NFL until they were finally surpassed by the Crimson Tide in 2017.

As for Toledo, we’re not going to include the Rockets in this listing, but it’s interesting to take note of the four players who were selected for All-MAC honors that 1990 season.

  • Wide receiver Rick Isaiah was with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1992. He’s worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes since 1999, including as the Divisional Vice President for the North Division.
  • Tight end Jerry Evans was an eighth-round pick in the 1991 NFL Draft and played for the Denver Broncos from 1993-95.
  • Tackle Craig Kuligowski has coached at Toledo, Missouri, Miami (Fla.) and briefly for Saban at Alabama.
  • Linebacker Matt Eberflus, who was known for his intensity and led the team in tackles that season (89), got into coaching as well. He spent nine more years at his alma mater, then followed Gary Pinkel to Missouri. In 2009 he jumped to the NFL and is now the head coach of the Chicago Bears. Yeah, he’s that Matt Eberflus.  

Michigan State 1995-99

Saban didn’t have any consensus All-Americans with the Spartans

He had three first-round draft picks during his time in East Lansing. However, Michigan State had seven draft picks in 2000, the program’s most since 1991

Running back T.J. Duckett, who played for Saban in 1999, went on to be a first-round draft selection in 2002. Tight end Chris Baker was a third-round pick. He set the school record for tight ends with 133 receptions, 1,705 yards and 13 touchdowns. Charles Rogers was the No. 2-overall selection in 2003

Defensive lineman Dimitrius Underwood was a first-round selection in the 1999 NFL Draft after not playing his senior season. As a junior, he had 57 tackles, including 12 for a loss and eight sacks

The Spartans had a pair of special-teams players selected in the sixth round of their respected drafts: punter Craig Jarrett in 1999, and kicker Paul Edinger in 2000

Players listed alphabetically. Years are when lettered under Saban.

Flozell Adams, tackle, 1995-97

• First-team All-American, 1997
• Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, 1997
• All-Big Ten 1997
• Three-year starter, two under Saban
• Listed as 6-foot-7, 335-pounds. Probably should have been a first-round draft selection but was partially deaf in one ear. Had illustrious pro career and named to five Pro Bowls.
• Second-round selection in 1998 NFL Draft
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Somewhere in the low 40s.

Tony Banks, quarterback, 1995

• Second-team All-Big Ten, 1995
• Team captain 1995
• For his collegiate career he completed 301 of 396 passes for 4,129 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. His passer rating was 135.5
• Second-round selection 1996 NFL draft
• Banks played baseball in the minor leagues and then at San Diego Mesas College for two years before transferring to Michigan State
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Great athlete, however still in mid 70s

Plaxico Burress, wide receiver, 1998-99

• Had four 100-yard games in 1998, and three more in 1999. Set school record with 255 yards on 10 catches against Michigan
• Set school-record 13 receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns against Florida in the 2000 Citrus Bowl
• Burress set a Big Ten record with 65 receptions his first season (1,013 yards) and then topped that with 66 as a sophomore to go with 1,142 yards and a school-record 12 touchdown catches.
• Forced two fumbles, recovered another, and notched seven tackles on special teams.
• Finished career with 131 catches for 2,155 yards and 20 touchdown receptions.
• All-Big Ten, 1999
• Second-team All-Big Ten, 1998
• No. 8-overall selection in 2000 NFL draft
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Statistically he remind us of Calvin Ridley. Somewhere in the 30s as he only played two seasons with the Spartans

Amp Campbell, cornerback, 1996-99

• Third-team All-American 1999
• All-Big Ten, 1999
• Second-team All-Big Ten 1997
• Team captain 1998
• Lead team in interceptions in 1997 with five
• Credited with 104 total tackles, including 15 for a loss and three sacks, with five interceptions
• Campbell suffered a cervic-spinal injury against Oregon just two games into the 1998 season. He had started all but one game for the Spartans from 1996 until his injury in 1998. He came back to play in the 1999 season
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Somewhere in the 90s

Sedrick Irvin, running back, 1996-98

• Notched three straight 1,000 seasons
• Left Michigan State fourth in all-time rushing with 3,414 yards (is still fourth). Lorenzo White’s school record of 4,513 was within reach
• Second-team All-Big Ten 1997-98
• Team captain 1998
• Fourth-round draft selection in 1999
• Spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons as a football intern at Alabama under Saban
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: His numbers remind us of Damien Harris, who was No. 74

Derrick Mason, wide receiver, 1994-96

• Had five 100-yard games in 1996 when he finished with 865 receiving yards on 53 catches
• Second-team All-SEC 1996
• Set a team record for kickoff return yards with 2,575 and had three touchdowns
• Also had 620 punt-return yards and two touchdowns
• For career had 120 receptions for 1,914 yards
• Fourth-round selection 1997 NFL draft
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Low 50s.

Muhsin Muhammad, wide receiver, 1995

• Had 50 catches for 867 yards and three touchdowns in 1995
• Finished career with 60 receptions for 969 yards, and five touchdowns.
• Had four 100-yards games in 1995
• Second-round selection 1999 NFL Draft
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: He’s a difficult speculation due to his draft status doesn’t reflect his overall statistics. He’d proabbly rate close to Jermaine Burton at No. 110.

Julian Peterson, linebacker/defensive end, 1998-99

• First-team All-American 1999 (non-consensus)
• All-Big Ten 1999
• During two years at Michigan State, recorded 140 tackles and 25 sacks in only 23 games
• Had 15 sacks during final season
• No. 16 selection in 2000 NFL Draf
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: He should be higher up, but squarely in the 40s

Ike Reese, linebacker, 1995-97

• Third-team All-American, 1997
• All-Big Ten 1997
• Finished collegiate career with 420 tackles, 10 sacks, five fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles and three interceptions
• Led Spartans in tackles three times, twice under Saban, 115 in 1996 and 137 in 1997
• Team captain 1997
• Fifth-round selection in 1998 NFL Draft
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Upper 50s

Robaire Smith, defensive end, 1998-99

• First-team All-American 1998
• All-Big Ten 1999
• Second-team All-Big Ten 1997
• Led Spartans in sacks with 12 in 1997
• For career notched 191 tackles, including 48 for a loss and 22 sacks, with four forced fumbles, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries
• Sixth-round selection in 2000 NFL draft
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: 60s

LSU 2000-04

 Saban only had four consensus All-American players while at LSU, but he recruited and helped develop numerous more.

JaMarcus Russell only started four games for Saban in 2004 as a freshman, but went on to be 25-4 as a starter.  He won 2006 Manning Award and was the first-overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft.

 Saban only had two first-round draft picks, but LSU had one in 2006, four in 2007 and one in 2008. Joseph Addai was a first-round selection in the 2006 draft, with Andrew Whitworth a second-round pick.  In addition to Russell, LSU had LaRon Landry, Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis selected in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Glen Dorsey was the fifth-overall pick in the 2008 draft. In 2007 he won the Rotary Lombardi Award, Lott Impact Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Outland Trophy. He also finished ninth in Heisman Trophy voting and was a consensus All-America. Recruited by Saban, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2020.

 One of LSU’s proudest traditions began while Saban was at LSU, the No. 18 jersey that symbolizes success on and off the field while having a selfless attitude. After helping lead the Tigers to the 2003 national title, quarterback Matt Mauck passed it down to Jacob Hester.

Michael Clayton, wide receiver, 2001-03

• All-SEC 2003
• Second-team All-SEC 2002
• Was the 15th-overall selection in the 2004 NFL Draft
• Holds school record with 21 career touchdown receptions
• Played in 40 games with 31 starts, is credited with 182 catches for 2,582 yards
• Was the only player in LSU history to have at least 700 yards receiving in three straight seasons. Finished second in school history in receptions with 182
• Team captain 2003
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: 25-30 range.

Devery Henderson, wide receiver, 2001-03

• Caught the “Bluegrass Miracle” in 2002
• Second-team All-SEC 2003
• Second-round selection in 2004 NFL Draft
• As a senior made 53 catches for 861 yards and led SEC in receiving touchdowns with 11, an LSU single-season record
• Began career and played two seasons as a running back
• Finished collegiate career with 81 receptions for 1,335 yards and 19 receiving touchdowns, plus also had 83 carries for 433 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Returned 30 kicks for 742 yards (24.7 average)
• Was also a track standout at LSU. Went on to win a Super Bowl with Saints
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Was an emerging talent, but would be just outside of the of the top 100

Bradie James, linebacker, 1999-2002

• Named an All-American in 2002
• A 2002 National Scholar-Athlete per the National Football Foundation
• All-SEC 2001-02
• Second-team All-SEC 2000
• Defensive MVP of the 2000 Peach Bowl
• Finished career ranked second in LSU history with 418 tackles including 32 for a loss and 11 sacks
• Set the LSU single-season tackle record with 154 in 2002
• Fourth-round selection in 2003 NFL Draft
• Team captain 2002. The team defense was dubbed “The James Gang”
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Approximately No. 42

Chad Lavalais, defensive lineman, 2000-03

• 2003 consensus All-American
• 2003 Sporting News National Defensive Player of the Year
• SEC defensive player of the year in 2003
• All-SEC 2003
• Second-team All-SEC 2002
• Fifth-round selection in 2004 NFL Draft
• Team captain 2003
• During final year, was credited with 61 tackles, 16 for a loss and seven sacks, 23 quarterback hurries and 6 pass breakups
• For career, had 32.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks
• Originally signed with LSU in 1998. While waiting to gain eligibility, spent a year as a prison guard
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Somewhere in the 30s

Rudy Nuswanger, center, 2002-04

• 2005 Draddy Award (now William V. Campbell Trophy)
• 2005 Wuerffel Trophy
• Won 2005 McWhorter Award as the SEC’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year
• 2004-05 Academic All-American
• Graduated from LSU with a perfect 4.0 GPA
• Played in 47 games, with 29 starts. Played and started at least one game at all five positions on the offensive line
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: We love stories like his, but he still wouldn’t crack the top 100

Stephen Peterman, tackle, 2000-03

• Named an All-American in 2003, but wasn’t a consensus selection
• All-SEC 2002
• Second-team All-SEC 2003
• He was a third-round draft pick in 2004
• Credited with 863 snaps as a senior and recorded a team-best 133 knockdowns and 24 pancakes. Allowed only one sack, against a team he had 19 knockdowns, Ole Miss
• Started 14 games at right guard in 2003 after starting 25 games at left guard
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Somewhere around No. 75

Josh Reed, wide receiver, 1999-01

• 2001 Fred Biletnikoff Award
• 2001 consensus All-American
• 2001 All-SEC
• 2000 second-team All-SEC
• Was a second-round selection in 2002 NFL Draft
• Signed as a tailback but moved to wide receiver nine weeks into the 1999 season and had a 100-yard performance in just his second game
• He caught an LSU record 94 passes for SEC-record 1,740 yards his junior season. Led nation by averaging 145.0 receiving yards
• Became the first 3,000-yard receiver in SEC history (total stands at 3,001
• Set an SEC record for both receptions and yards with 19 catches for 293 yards in win over Alabama. Had 338 all-purpose yards, second-most in school and the third highest total in SEC history
• Set LSU bowl and Sugar Bowl record with 14 receptions for 239 yards in 47-34 win over No. 7 Illinois in Sugar Bowl
• Set an LSU record by recording 6 straight 100-yard games to open season
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Between No. 15-20

Marcus Spears, defensive lineman, 2001-04

• 2004 consensus All-American
• 200304 All-SEC
• Was the 20th-overall selection in 2005 NFL Draft
• Spears had nine sacks and 17 tackles for a loss as a senior. Was credited with 49 tackles, the same number he had as a junior
• Began career as a tight end and also played some tight end. Had a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown against Mississippi State. Was also a highly-recruited basketball prospect
• Team captain 2004
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: 20-25 range

Corey Webster, cornerback, 2001-04

• Second-round selection in 2005 NFL Draft
• Named an All-American in 2003-04, but was not consensus. LSU still considered him its first two-time All-American since 1987
• Second-team All-SEC 2004
• Second-team All-American 2003
• All-SEC 2002-03
• Played in 11 games with 10 starts in 2004 after suffering injury in season opener against Oregon State, Notched 33 tackles and two interceptions
• Started career as a wide receiver and had seven receptions for 74 as a freshman. Switched in 2002. Played some on offense in early part of 2004, and had a 6-yard touchdown
• Made 16 interceptions during career, led SEC with seven in 2002
• In 2003 was second in the SEC with 25 pass breakups. Had 17 in 2002
• Team captain 2004
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: His success reminds us of Eddie Jackson. Top 50

Ben Wilkerson, center, 2001-04

• 2004 Rimington Award
• 2004 consensus All-American
• 2003 named a second-team All-American
• 2003-04 All-SEC
• 2003 Second-team All-American
• Started 41 career games before suffering a torn patella tendon in his left knee
Where he might have ranked in Saban 250: Just outside of the top 50. Just become he wasn't drafted doesn't mean he wasn't an outstanding college player

This is the second of five bonus stories to The Saban 250.

See Also: The Ultimate All-Saban Team at Alabama

Christopher Walsh


Christopher Walsh is the founder and publisher of BamaCentral, which first published in 2018. He's covered the Crimson Tide since 2004, and is the author of 26 books including Decade of Dominance, 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Nick Saban vs. College Football, and Bama Dynasty: The Crimson Tide's Road to College Football Immortality. He's an eight-time honoree of Football Writers Association of America awards and three-time winner of the Herby Kirby Memorial Award, the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s highest writing honor for story of the year. In 2022, he was named one of the 50 Legends of the ASWA. Previous beats include the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Originally from Minnesota and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, he currently resides in Tuscaloosa.