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The 20 best NFL careers by Louisville Cardinals: The Top 5

The final part of our countdown of the top 20 NFL careers by former Louisville players.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

No. 20-16 of the NFL career rankingsNo. 15-11No. 10-6

It's draft day! Instead of worrying too much about what your favorite pro team will do, just sit back and reminisce with us about all of the former Cards to go on to great NFL careers. Today, we'll countdown the final five on our list. You'll (not be) shocked by who tops the list.

Again, the formula here isn't exact, but an attempt at structure was made. Here's a reminder of how it works.

Points are awarded for individual awards received by some of the greatest Cardinals to play in the NFL. They are as follows:

Hall of Fame: 7 points 
League MVP: 6 points 
All-Pro selection: 5 points 
Pro Bowl selection: 4 points 
Super Bowl MVP: 3 points

The brief explanation here is that the Hall of Fame is obviously the highest honor possible, league MVP is the next hardest to achieve, and All-Pro is ahead of Pro Bowl because less players are named All-Pro than make Pro Bowls. Finally, Super Bowl MVP is a great accomplishment, but is only for one game, no matter how big that game is.

To fill in the cracks, Pro Football Reference's Career Approximate Value (CarAV) numbers were used. Again, not strictly.

Before we get to the third group of our top 20, here's a reminder of five former Cards who we'll all remember that could get on this list later in their careers based on CarAV numbers:

Teddy Bridgewater — 9 CarAV in rookie season
Preston Brown — 8 CarAV in rookie season
Calvin Pryor — 5 CarAV in rookie season
Eric Wood — 30 CarAV over six seasons (5 average)
William Gay — 33 CarAV over eight seasons (4.1 average)

So here they are, the five best NFL careers by Louisville Cardinals.

5. Tom Jackson, LB — 32 points

Years at Louisville: 1970-72

NFL teams: Denver Broncos (1973-86)

Why he's here: Before he was a familiar face on ESPN, Jackson was a stud in the NFL. Playing his entire career in Denver, Jackson was named All-Pro four times (1977-79, 1984) and went to three straight Pro Bowls from 1977-79. Jackson was a key part of the famous "Orange Crush" defense in the late 70s. He went to two Super Bowls (1979, '86), but unfortunately just missed the height of the John Elway era in Denver.

4. Bruce Armstrong, OL — 34 points

Years at Louisville: 1983-86

NFL teams: New England Patriots (1987-2000)

Why he's here: Armstrong's number 78 is retired by the Patriots, and for good reason. He's a six-time Pro Bowler (1990-91, 1994-97) and a two-time All-Pro selection (1988, '96). In addition to being one of just seven retired numbers in New England, Armstrong is also one of 11 to be named to the Patriots Hall of Fame.

3. Mark Clayton, WR — 35 points

Years at Louisville: 1979-82

NFL teams: Miami Dolphins (1983-92), Green Bay Packers (1993)

Why he's here: A key target for Dolphins great Dan Marino, Clayton went to five Pro Bowls (1984-86, '88, '91) and was named All-Pro three times (1984-85, '88). He's also a part of the Dolphins Honor Roll and holds team records in career receptions, touchdowns and single-season receiving yards. Over his 11-year career, Clayton hauled in 84 touchdown passes and racked up 8,974 yards, which rank 13th and 39th all-time in NFL history, respectively.

2. David Akers, K — 54 points

Years at Louisville: 1993-96

NFL teams: Washington Redskins (1998), Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2010), San Francisco 49ers (2011-12), Detroit Lion (2013)

Why he's here: After spending the early parts of his career on practice squads and in NFL Europe (those were the days), Akers went on to have a prolific pro career. He's a six-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection (2001-02, '04, '09-'11) and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade team.

Akers holds NFL records for consecutive postseason field goal conversions (19), most field goals in a season (44) and most points in a season without touchdowns. Basically, the guy's a legend. There are only three kickers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Akers has a case to become number four when he's eligible.

1. Johnny Unitas, QB — All of the points

Years at Louisville: 1951-54

NFL teams: Baltimore Colts (1956-72), San Diego Chargers (1973)

Why he's here: Lists work better when you talk about the career accomplishments of a guy like the legendary Unitas, so here's a list. Meet you on the other side.

- Pro Football Hall of Famer (Inducted 1979)
- 7-time All-Pro 
- 10-time Pro Bowl selection
- 3-time AP NFL MVP 
- 3-time Pro Bowl MVP
- Super Bowl V champion
- 3-time NFL champion
- 1970 NFL Man of the Year 
- 40,239 career passing yards, 290 touchdowns

Whew. In addition, Unitas' #19 is of course retired by the Colts, and he's a member of numerous "All-" teams. In Louisville, his #16 is the only retired number, and he's immortalized with a fantastic statue at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. For folks who frequent the Louisville campus, Unitas Hall is one of the first things you see if you enter on the north end.

It's unlikely that anyone will ever supplant Unitas on this list, and that's probably how it ought to be.

So, there you have it. The 20 best NFL careers by Louisville Cardinals. Tonight (and in the coming days), we'll find out where the latest class of Cards will start their NFL journeys.

Enjoy the Draft.