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Four years ago, we ranked the top twenty-five Virginia Tech athletes playing professional. The list featured then Denver Broncos receiver Eddie Royal at the top of the list and included anyone from Brandon Flowers to Joe Saunders to Ace Custis. Today, we update the list with plenty of changes.
1. Duane Brown, Left Tackle, Houston Texans
Brown is the poster child of the tight end to left tackle transition, as he arrived in Blacksburg as a tight end from Hermitage high school and was converted to offensive tackle early in his career. A few years as a starter at Virginia Tech later, he became a first round pick of the Houston Texans. Fast forward to now, and Brown is considered one of the top left tackles in the NFL and signed a 54 million dollar extension last season that kicked in following the 2012 season.
2. Brandon Flowers, Cornerback, Kansas City Chiefs
The first of three corners on this list, Flowers has been the top cover man for the Kansas City Chiefs since the day he arrived. After a stellar career in orange and maroon, he became a second round pick of the Chiefs in 2008. Flowers recorded 13 interceptions in his first four years in the league, earning him a 50 million dollar extension.
3. Michael Vick, Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
When Michael Vick is on top of his game, he's number one of this list by far. However, he struggled last year behind a weak Philadelphia offensive line and hasn't been able to make it through a full season for a number of years. Chip Kelly brings in a new scheme for Vick to learn this season, but for him it's always been about whether he gets protection. If he has time to make plays, Michael Vick will make plays.
4. Kam Chancellor, Strong Safety, Seattle Seahawks
If Brown is the poster child for the position change, Chancellor is the poster child for player development at Virginia Tech. Chancellor was a lightly recruited athlete out of the 757 and what a pickup he was for the Hokies. He played immediately as a freshman at cornerback before moving to safety for the final three years of his Virginia Tech career. Chancellor played as a reserve as a rookie, but assumed the starting role in 2011 and hasn't looked back. He made the Pro Bowl after the 2011 season and recorded 101 tackles last season. In April, he agreed to a 35 million dollar extension.
5. David Wilson, Running Back, New York Giants
Two years from now, Wilson is the most likely player to be at the top of this list. Wilson had a pretty good rookie season in New York, good enough to convince the Giants to release starter Ahmad Bradshaw and hand the starting job to him. Wilson started his rookie year on a bad note when he fumbled his second career carry. However, in December he showed why he was a first round pick. Against the Saints, Wilson set a new Giants record for all-purpose yards in a game with 327. He scored three touchdowns and became the first player in NFL history with 200 kick return yards and 100 rushing yards.
6. Shayne Graham, Kicker, Cleveland Browns
Graham has played for 10 teams so far over his 12 year NFL career, but spent last season with the Cleveland Browns. Carving out a career in the NFL as a kicker in very difficult, so his longevity as one of the league's best 32 placekickers is what earns him this ranking.
7. Will Montgomery, Center, Washington Redskins
Montgomery has gone from 7th round pick to starter, making the leap over the last few seasons with the Washington Redskins. He was originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers and played a season with the New York Jets before making the move to D.C. Since then, he has established himself in the nation's capital and signed a four-year, 12 million dollar contract before the 2012 season.
8. DeAngelo Hall, Cornerback, Washington Redskins
Hall rejuvenated his career with the 'Skins after a disastrous stint in Oakland, but again appear to be on the downside of his career. Washington released him after the 2012 season to avoid the cap hit, but resigned him to a shorter and smaller deal. He has always been one of the better zone corners in the league and as he ages, look for him to become more of a situational option at cornerback.
9. Jason Worilds, Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
Worilds has played sparingly over the last few seasons with the Steelers after being a second round pick, but 2013 looks to be his season to make a move. He has a terrific chance to move into a starting role this season at outside linebacker, as long as he fends off a challenge from 2013 first round pick Jarvis Jones. If he does that, he will be a starter at linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, which is a pretty prestigious position in the National Football League.
10. Tyrod Taylor, Quarterback, Baltimore Ravens
Taylor hasn't played a whole lot with the Ravens and will likely have to change teams to have a shot at starting, but he immediately established himself as Joe Flacco's top backup upon arrival and won a Super Bowl in February. If he can continue to play well when he has opportunities, someone will give him a shot as their top guy.
11. Joe Saunders, Starting Pitcher, Seattle Mariners
Saunders has started 197 games in the big leagues and has a career record of 81-69, making him clearly the pride and joy of the Virginia Tech baseball program right now. He's not as good as he once was as a Los Angeles Angel, when he won 33 games in 2008 and 2009. However, he's as good as it gets for the Hokies in the majors and is still a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter.
12. James Anderson, Linebacker, Chicago Bears
Anderson played his first several seasons with the Carolina Panthers. He recorded 454 tackles over six seasons with the Panthers before signing with the Bears this off-season. Anderson will become the first player since Mike Singletary to wear No. 50 for the Bears.
13. Josh Morgan, Wide Receiver, Washington Redskins
Morgan is one of the 'Skins secondary receivers, although he had a very good 2012 campaign in which he caught 48 passes for 510 yards and two touchdowns. Besides Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon, Morgan is probably the third receiver right now for the 'Skins.
14. Eddie Royal, Wide Receiver, San Diego Chargers
Royal was the top player on this list three seasons ago, when he was breaking out as a top option as a receiver for the Broncos. Since then, he fell out of favor in Denver and moved to San Diego, where he caught 23 passes for 234 yards and a touchdown last season.
15. Jeff King, Tight End, Arizona Cardinals
King spent his first three seasons with the Panthers - starting two of them - before signing with the Cards in 2011. He caught 17 passes for 129 yards last season.
16. Jayron Hosley, Cornerback, New York Giants
Hosley played in 12 games as a rookie in 2012 after being selected in the second round by the Giants. He recorded one interception and was in on 40 tackles during the season. Hosley is not only getting work at cornerback these days for the Giants, but is a candidate to take over return duties in 2013 as well.
17. Patrick Nyarko, Forward, Chicago Fire
Nyarko was the key player on the Virginia Tech soccer team that went to the College Cup (the final four of college soccer) in 2007. He was selected 7th overall by the Fire after that season and has played in Chicago ever since. Nyarko has scored 13 goals for the Fire in his career, but recently began earning call-ups from the Ghana national team.
18. Malcolm Delaney, Point Guard, BC Budivelnyk
After going undrafted in 2011, Delaney signed with one of the top French teams. After a year there, he signed with a team in Ukraine and has had a very successful season, earning first team all-Eurocup team. Hopefully in the next year or two he gets a shot at the NBA. Patrick Beverly (Houston Rockets) and Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto Raptors) are two former first-team all-Eurocup players who now play in the NBA.
19. Austin Wates, Outfielder, Oklahoma City Redhawks
After Saunders, the next closest player to the majors in Wates, who is currently playing for the AAA team in the Astros farm system. He hit .310 in 23 games for the AA team before getting called up to AAA and could see time in Houston this season considering how bad the Astros are.
20. Jarrett Boykin, Wide Receiver, Bay Packers
Boykin has been biding his time in Green Bay over the last few seasons, but may be ready to breakout in 2013 after the Packers lost Greg Jennings in free agency. He started playing more and more towards the end of the year and had a big catch late in the season against the Vikings, so maybe it's time for him to step into a larger role for the Packers.
21. Brendon De Jonge, PGA Tour
De Jonge turner pro in 2003 after playing at Virginia Tech and has developed into a solid PGA Tour player. He finished 15th at the most recent Players Championship, earning himself a cool $156,750. He had four top ten finishes and seven top 25 finishes all of last season, but already has three top tens and 11 top 25s this year.
22. Corey Fuller, Wide Receiver, Detroit Lions
Fuller hasn't played a game in the pros yet, but after his stellar final season in Blacksburg you have to think he will find a way to have success in the National Football League. He will play on a team that loves to throw the ball around, so the opportunities for catches will be there, especially since he will be playing with Calvin Johnson.
23. Johnson Wagner, PGA Tour
Wagner is the other Hokie on the PGA Tour, and, like De Jonge, he is working on establishing himself on the PGA Tour. He has won three PGA tour events in his career, and his most recent, this year's Sony Open in Hawaii in January, earned him his PGA Tour card through 2014.
24. Erick Green, Point Guard, NBA Draft
Green has yet to be selected and officially become a professional, but that is only a matter of time. Look for him to be selected in the second round during the upcoming NBA Draft and potentially be the only Virginia Tech player in the NBA next season.
25. Courtney Liddle, First Base/Catcher NY/NJ Comets
Liddle has split time at first base and catcher over her career playing softball for the Hokies and was recently selected in the 5th round of the 2013 National Pro Fastpitch college draft. Angela Tincher has since retired, so now Liddle will be carrying the torch for Virginia Tech softball in the professional ranks.
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