Clemson's 5 Best: NFL Careers

Christopher Hall

While Clemson holds claim to the title of WRU (Wide Receiver University), the Tiger football program has produced quality talent all over the field that has gone on to enjoy memorable careers professionally.

For the last couple of weeks, AllClemson.com has reminisced on the top-ten players in program history for each position. The staff has also broken down the best game's under head coach Dabo Swinney in addition to the top-ten games of each decade and all-time best wins in program history.

Keeping with that same frame of mind, today's installment of the Clemson's 5 Best series ranks the five top NFL careers of former Clemson Tigers.

5. Levon Kirkland (1988-1991)

A 1991 All-American, Kirkland was a force for the Tigers with 274 tackles including 40 tackles for loss and 19 sacks. In 1989 he was named the Gator Bowl MVP. He helped lead Clemson to a pair of ACC championships and four top-20 finishes. Professionally, he was a second-round, 38th pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1992 NFL Draft. He was a two-time Pro Bowler for the Steelers in 1996 and 1997 and a two-time team MVP in 1998 and 1999. Kirkland is also a member of the NFL 1990's All-Decade team. In addition to playing for the Steelers from 1992-2000, he also played one season each for the Seattle Seahawks (2001) and Philadelphia Eagles (2002). For his career, Kirkland tallied 1,029 tackles, 19.5 sacks 11 interceptions, and forced four fumbles.

4. Bennie Cunningham (1972-1975)

A hometown legend from nearby Seneca High School in Seneca, S.C., Bennie Cunningham was a two-time, first-team All American and was the first African American in school history to garner the honor. He had 64 receptions for 1,044 yards and 17 career touchdowns, including seven in 1974. Professionally, he was a first-round, 28th pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1976 NFL Draft. Cunningham played his entire career in the Steel City from 1976-1985 where he helped the Steelers to a pair of Super Bowl Victories in Super Bowl XIII and XIV. For his career, he had 202 receptions for 2, 879 yards, and caught 20 touchdown passes. Cunningham is also part of the Pittsburgh Steelers All-Time Team. The former Tiger passed away in 2018 after a brief battle with cancer.

3. William "The Refrigerator" Perry (1981-1984)

Despite tipping the scale at over 300 pounds, Perry wowed fans and opposing players with this quickness and athletic ability. A national champion and two-time ACC champion, he clipped his time at Clemson with 60 tackles for loss and 27 sacks. Additionally, he was the first in school history to earn All-American status three times in his career. Professionally, Perry was a first-round, 22nd pick to the Chicago Bears of the 1985 NFL draft. He played for the Bears from 1985-1993, earning a Super Bowl ring in Super Bowl XX in 1985. Perry also played for the Philadelphia Eagles 1993-1994 and the London Monarchs (NFL Europe) in 1996. For his career, "The Fridge" notched 29.5 sacks and also posted three offensive touchdowns. Off the field, Perry was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.

2. Dwight Clark (1975-1978)

A native of Charlotte, N.C., Clark had a quiet yet still effective career for the Tigers. He only caught 30 passes for 571 yards in his career, but he averaged 17.3 yards per catch. Clark was part of a special class at Clemson which includes Steve Fuller, Joe Bostic, Jerry Butler, and Steve Kenney. Professionally, Clark was a 10th-round, 248th pick to the San Francisco 49ers of the 1979 NFL Draft where he played from 1979-1987. Clark was a two-time Champion, winning Super Bowl XVI and XIX with San Francisco. He was also a two-time Pro Bowler in 1981 and 1982 and was the NFL reception leader in 1982. For his career, Clark finished with 506 receptions for 6,750 yards and 48 receiving touchdowns over 134 games. After his retirement in 1987, he worked in the 49ers Front Office as Executive Administrative Assistant (1990-1991), Vice President of Player Personnel (1992-1994), and Vice President/Director of Football Operations (1995-1998). In 1988, his no. 87 49ers jersey was retired and he was also inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame. Clark passed away in 2018 after a two-year battle against ALS.

1. Brian Dawkins (1992-1995)

A three-year starter for the Tiger defense and arguably the greatest defender in school history, Dawkins tallied 247 tackles and 11 interceptions in his Clemson career. He earned first-team All-ACC honors in 1995. As a senior, he set a school record with three interceptions in a single quarter against Duke. Professionally, he was a second-round, 61st pick of the Philadelphia Eagles of the 1996 NFL Draft. Dawkins enjoyed a decorated pro career playing for the Eagles from 1996-2008 and the Denver Broncos 2009-2011. He's a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and was named to the First-Team All-Pro squad four times. Dawkins is a Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Famer and his No. 20 jersey was retired in 2012. In 2018, Dawkins joined an elite class as NFL Hall of Famer joining Randy Moss, Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Owens. 

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