The 2017 NFL Draft starts Thursday in Philadelphia and is sure to feature many Big Ten stars finding out where their professional careers will begin. Programs such as Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska are among the top schools in the nation at producing NFL talent. Which players have been the best NFL draft picks from those schools?
Michigan has sent the fourth-most players to the NFL, trailing only Notre Dame, Southern Cal and Ohio State. The Wolverines are currently 26th among schools with active NFL players (29), according to Pro Football Reference, but they are going to shoot up that list after this coming weekend.
The most players drafted from one school since the NFL adopted the seven-round format in 1994 was Ohio State. The Buckeyes had 14 players selected in 2004. Michigan could challenge that mark in 2017.
Half of the players on this list of drafted Michigan players are offensive linemen. Three of the players were top-5 picks who lived up to the pre-draft hype and produced Hall of Fame-caliber careers.
Here are the 10 best picks in the history of the NFL draft from Michigan, based on a combination of career accomplishments and when they were selected.
Honorable mention: Jim Harbaugh (No. 26, 1987)
There have been nine Michigan quarterbacks drafted, but only one in the first round. Jim Harbaugh had a solid career, earning one Pro Bowl selection and nearly leading the Indianapolis Colts to the Super Bowl. We’re not sure what he’s up to these days, though.
10. Mike Kenn, Atlanta Falcons (No. 13, 1978)
No former Wolverines player spent more time in the NFL than offensive tackle Mike Kenn, though a certain quarterback in New England is two years away from matching his 17 years of experience. Kenn started all 251 games he played, all for the Falcons. He made five straight Pro Bowls from 1980-84 and earned first-team All-Pro honors in 1980 and 1991.
9. Jon Runyan, Houston Oilers (No. 109, 1996)
Jon Runyan only made it to the Pro Bowl once in his career, but he was consistently an above-average offensive tackle. His durability was remarkable. He once started 190 consecutive games from 1997-2008. Runyan was the fourth former NFL player to become a member of Congress as a two-term congressman from New Jersey. His son, Jon Runyan Jr., is an offensive lineman at Michigan.
8. Ty Law, New England Patriots (No. 23, 1995)
Ty Law made the Pro Bowl five times and led the NFL in interceptions twice. He also won the Super Bowl three times and started nearly 200 games. He also earned a place on the second team of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s all-2000 squad. That, and the Super Bowl rings, are going to be a big part of his case as a player on the fringes of the Hall of Fame discussion.
7. Elroy Hirsch, Cleveland Rams (No. 5, 1945)
The Rams had to wait four years for Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, who served in U.S. Marine Corps and played in the All-America Football Conference before moving to the NFL in 1949. A running back, he had two huge seasons for the Rams and made the Pro Bowl three times before earning a spot in the Hall of Fame in 1968.
6. Anthony Carter, Miami Dolphins (No. 334, 1983)
Anthony Carter was a two-time All-American and 1982 player of the year in the Big Ten for the Wolverines, but he dropped in the NFL draft because he intended to play in the AFL. He joined the Dolphins in 1985, but they traded him to the Minnesota Vikings before his rookie season began. Carter made the Pro Bowl three times and had three 1,000-yard seasons as a wide receiver.
5. Tom Mack, St. Louis Rams (No. 2, 1966)
Before that Tom Brady guy came along, Tom Mack held the distinction of the most Pro Bowl invitations for a Michigan alum. He earned the honor 11 times in 13 seasons, and was a first- or second-team All Pro eight times. Mack is one of the best guards in NFL history, just like another player coming up shortly.
4. Charles Woodson, Oakland Raiders (No. 4, 1998)
Charles Woodson won the Heisman Trophy and probably went a spot or two too late in the draft. He made the Pro Bowl nine times and won both the defensive rookie of the year and defensive player of the year awards during his career. One of the best defensive backs in the league’s history, he’ll likely earn a spot in Canton on his first try.
3. Steve Hutchinson, Seattle Seahawks (No. 17, 2001)
Steve Hutchinson might have been the NFL’s premier interior offensive lineman during a dominant seven-year stretch from 2003-09. He earned seven Pro Bowl nominations and was a first-team All-Pro five times (and second-team the other two years). Eligible in 2018, Hutchinson might not be end up in the Hall of Fame on his first try. He should get there eventually.
2. Dan Dierdorf, St. Louis Cardinals (No. 43, 1971)
Dan Dierdorf was one of the best offensive linemen of the 1970s before a long career as a television analyst. He made the Pro Bowl six times in a seven-year span, and earned three first-team All-Pro designations. Only two other players in his draft class had more of either of those honors.
1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots (No. 199, 2000)
It couldn’t be anyone else. Tom Brady of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and one of the great late-round draft finds in any sport. He has led the New England Patriots to five Super Bowl titles. Enough said.