Penn football has a long, illustrious history, filled with great players from all eras. The Quakers, who have won the most outright Ivy League titles, have had 52 players drafted and a total of 63 players suit up in the NFL, including three who are currently rostered. Today, we took a look back at the five Quakers who have had the most successful NFL careers.
5. Jim Finn — running back
After not playing much in the 1995 and 1996 seasons, Jim Finn broke out for the Quakers in 1997, making first team All-Ivy as a running back. In 1998, Finn had the greatest rushing season in Penn history, leading the Quakers to an 8-2 (6-1 Ivy) record and the Ivy League championship.
Finn rushed for 1,450 yards and 12 touchdowns on his way to winning the Asa S. Bushell Cup as Ivy League Player of the Year. This outstanding season lead to Finn being drafted by the Chicago Bears with the 253rd and final selection in the 1999 NFL draft, earning him the title of Mr. Irrelevant.
He was waived by the Bears in training camp, but then signed with the Indianapolis Colts, playing as a fullback and appearing in 43 games over three seasons. After leaving the Colts, he signed with the New York Giants, where he enjoyed a successful four-year stint as the lead blocking back for Tiki Barber from 2003-2006, starting in 33 games and paving the way for Barber’s 1,860 rushing yards in 2005, a Giants record.
An injury forced him to miss the entire 2007 season, his last on an NFL team, but he still won a ring as a member of the Giants' 2007 Super Bowl-winning roster, becoming the only Quaker to win a Super Bowl ring. He is also one of only two Penn alumni to have caught an NFL pass from both Peyton and Eli Manning.
4. Greg Van Roten — guard
Van Roten was one of the most successful offensive lineman in Penn history, earning two first team All-Ivy selections and an honorable mention over his three years as a starter. He was the anchor of the 2010 Penn offensive line, an integral part of one of the greatest Red and Blue teams in recent history. The team went undefeated in conference play and won the Ivy League title for the second straight year and had nine first-team All-Ivy selections.
After his senior season in 2011, Van Roten was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers and played 10 games over the course of the next two seasons before being released. Van Roten then bounced around between 2014 and 2017, singing with the Seattle Seahawks' and Jacksonville Jaguars' practice squads in addition to a stint in the Canadian Football League.
Following this, he signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers, playing ten games in the 2017 season before signing a two-year extension. Van Roten started every game in 2018 and 2019 at guard, before an injury ended his 2019 season in Week 12. He signed with the New York Jets this offseason and has not missed a snap as the starting right guard for the currently winless team.
3. Eddie Bell — halfback, defensive back
After a successful career as a halfback at Penn from 1950 to 1953, Eddie Bell was selected in the fifth round of the 1953 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Bell switched to the defensive side of the ball in the NFL, playing five years as a defensive back for the Eagles and the New York Titans, recording 11 interceptions and recovering six fumbles. Bell is one of only three Quakers to have been a team's primary starter at his position over five different NFL seasons.
2. Brandon Copeland — linebacker
One of the greatest defensive players in Quakers history, Copeland was a key player on Penn’s 2010 and 2012 championship winning squads. He garnered three first team All-Ivy honors, as well as leading the 2012 championship winning team as defensive captain.
This impressive college resume led to him signing as an undrafted free agent with his hometown Baltimore Ravens. After being cut by the Ravens, he was signed to the Tennessee Titans' practice squad, staying there for two years. Following this, Copeland appeared in all 32 games for the Lions from 2015 to 2016, before an injury forced him to miss the entire 2017 season.
He then signed with the Jets for the 2018 season and had one of the greatest NFL seasons by a Quaker. Starting at OLB for the Jets, Copeland recorded five sacks, eight tackles for a loss and two passes defensed. Copeland played for the Jets in 2019 as well, recording 1.5 sacks over 12 games.
Following this, Copeland signed a one year contract with the New England Patriots for this season, playing in six games before he tore a pectoral muscle, which will force him to miss the rest of the season.
1. Chuck Bednarik — center, linebacker
One of the greatest NFL players of all time, Chuck Bednarik had a successful college career at Penn before being drafted No. 1 overall in the 1949 NFL draft, something no other Ivy League player has ever done. A three-time All-American, Bednarik played both offense and defense for the Quakers, in addition to occasionally punting. Following a Maxwell Award and a third-place finish in Heisman voting in 1948, Bednarik began his NFL career, which largely lived up to the hype.
The eight-time All-Pro put together an impressive 14-year Hall of Fame career, and is widely known for being one of the NFL’s final “60-minute man,” playing center for the Eagles on offense, as well as linebacker on defense. A member of the Hall of Fame’s 1950s All-Decade team, Chuck is most well known for two incidents that occurred in 1960.
In the 1960 NFL championship game, with the Eagles up 17-13, Bednarik tackled Packers running back Jim Taylor at the Eagles eight-yard line as the final defender before the end zone, securing the championship by staying on top of Taylor to prevent the Packers from getting another play off. The other came during the 1960 season, when Bednarik delivered one of the hardest hits in NFL history, knocking Giants wideout Frank Gifford unconscious and forcing him out of action for the next 18 months.
The now-iconic photo of Bednarik celebrating while Gifford is lying on the field motionless is one of the most famous sports photos of all time. Bednarik is widely recognized as one of the greatest NFL players ever, being ranked at No. 35 in NFL network's 2010 countdown of the top 100 greatest players of all time.
As Penn’s impressive football program continues to produce more and more NFL-caliber players, these future Quaker legends will try to add their names to the list of alumni who have had successful NFL careers.
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