High Five: The top NFL draft picks from the area

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson gets ready to throw the ball down the field during a game.
Associated Press

Time for another timely edition of the High Five.

This week, with the NFL Draft rapidly approaching, we’re looking at the top Herald City football players selected in the league’s history.

To say this was a brutally tough list to compile is an understatement. Former greats such as Palatine’s Len Rohde, Stevenson’s Matt O’Dwyer, Naperville Central’s Owen Daniels, and current players like Wheaton Warrenville South’s Corey Davis and Rolling Meadows’ Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t make the cut.

And because the NFL Draft didn’t begin until 1936, old-timers like Wheaton’s Red Grange don’t qualify.

5. Ryan Diem, offensive lineman, Glenbard North High School

Glenbard North High School graduate Ryan Diem started 150 games on the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line.
Associated Press

Selected in the fourth round out of Northern Illinois University, Diem spent his entire 11-year career playing offensive tackle and guard for the Indianapolis Colts.

While making sure Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning’s jersey stayed clean, Diem started 150 of the 157 games he played between 2001 and 2011.

Close your eyes for this, Bears fans … Diem became an NFL champion when the Colts beat the Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI.

4. Gary Fencik, defensive back, Barrington High School

Barrington High School graduate Gary Fencik, No. 45 at the right, was a key member of the Bears’ incredible defensive units in the 1980s.
Associated Press

Fencik went from Barrington to Yale to Bears legend.

A receiver at Yale, Fencik wasn’t selected until the 10th round of the 1976 draft — there are only seven rounds now. The Miami Dolphins intended to move him to defense, but wound up releasing him after a preseason injury.

The Bears signed him, and Fencik’s career soared. He was a key member of the Bears’ Super Bowl championship team, started 140 games in 12 seasons and snared 38 career interceptions.

Fencik was known as one of the hardest-hitting members of the Bears, which is really saying something. He earned two Pro Bowl selections.

3. Doug Betters, defensive line, Arlington High School

Miami Dolphins defensive end Doug Betters (75) chases a fumble during a 1984 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Associated Press

The high school may be closed, but the legend of Betters lives on.

He played college ball at Nevada and Montana before the Dolphins selected him in the sixth round of the 1978 draft.

Betters was part of the Dolphins’ vaunted “Killer B’s” defense of the 1980s while terrorizing quarterbacks for 64.5 career sacks. He was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1983 when he notched 16 sacks.

Betters was selected to the Dolphins’ Golden Anniversary Team in 2016.

2. Mike Wagner, defensive back, Carmel Catholic High School

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Wagner (23), a Carmel High School graduate, celebrates a safety during Super Bowl IX in 1975.
Associated Press

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” defense is best known for names such as linemen Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood, but let’s not forget the third level of the legendary unit.

Wagner was an All-American out of Western Illinois University, but he was an unknown by NFL teams and wasn’t selected by the Steelers until the 11th round of the 1971 draft.

Wagner won four Super Bowls with the Steelers while making two Pro Bowls and earning two All-Pro nods. A converted receiver, he led the NFL in interceptions with eight in 1973. In a 10-year career with Pittsburgh, he had 36 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries.

1. Ken Anderson, quarterback, Batavia High School

In an amazing rise, Anderson was a third-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals out of Augustana College in 1971.

In 16 seasons with the Bengals, Anderson threw for 32,838 yards and 197 touchdowns, and led the league in completion percentage three times. He was named the NFL’s MVP in 1981 after throwing for 3,754 yards and 29 touchdowns while guiding the team to a 12-4 record.

Anderson held numerous franchise and NFL records when he retired after the 1986 season, and was seventh all-time in career passing yards.

A member of the Augustana Hall of Fame, Anderson was selected to the Bengals’ Ring of Honor. He’s been nominated for the NFL Hall of Fame numerous times and even advanced as a finalist.

Anderson, however, is still waiting for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.

Let’s hope he gets in there some day.

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