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Top 25 Players in Big 12 History, No. 8: Derrick Johnson

The most accomplished linebacker in Big 12 history wrecked Big 12 offenses at Texas, then spent 14 years doing the same in the NFL

As the Big 12 Conference ramps up its 25th football season, it’s a good time to look back through the league’s illustrious history and identify the best football players ever to suit up.

It was a daunting task to rank players from 14 schools over 24 seasons. Some schools, of course, didn’t participate in all 24 years.

Rather than select an all-time All-Big 12 team — we’ll endeavor to pull that off after the 25th season has concluded — publishers from SI affiliates who currently cover the Big 12 were asked to vote on their top 25 players.

Players were judged on both their college careers and their professional football exploits. National awards, championships and individual achievement were all considered.

In all, nearly 50 players received votes. Only 10 players were unanimous selections.

With that, the countdown continues with No. 8 — our first Texas Longhorn since No. 22 Earl Thomas:

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No Big 12 linebacker had a better career than Texas’ Derrick Johnson.

Derrick Johnson

Derrick Johnson

Three straight years on the All-Big 12 first team, a career total of 458 tackles (third in Longhorns history), 65 tackles for loss, nine interceptions, 30 passes defensed, 16 total fumbles (his eight forced fumbles in 2004 tied the NCAA record) — and that was just his college days.

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After playing in all 13 games as a true freshman out of Waco, TX, (he even made two starts, including the Red River Rivalry), Johnson earned consensus All-Big 12 as sophomore in 2002 and ranked second on the team with 120 tackles. As a junior in 2003, Johnson made 125 stops and was UT’s first consensus All-America linebacker in 20 years and was unanimous All-Big 12 as he was a Butkus Award finalist for the best linebacker in college football.

As a senior in 2004, Johnson collected 130 tackles and earned unanimous first-team All-America honors, won the Butkus and was a finalist for the Bednarik, Lombardi, Lott and Walter Camp trophies.

Johnson was the rare player who was just as good in the NFL as he was in college. The 15th overall pick of Kansas City in 2005, Johnson played 13 seasons with the Chiefs and one with the Raiders before retiring in 2018.

In Kansas City, he set the club record with 1,151 career tackles, had 28 takeaways and scored four touchdowns on defensive returns.

Johnson earned as spot in four Pro Bowls and two NFL All-Pro teams.

According to Spotrac, Johnson earned more than $52 million in his NFL career.

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