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 Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State are among the top schools in the nation at producing NFL talent. Which players have been the best NFL draft picks from those schools?
Here are the 10 best picks in the history of the NFL draft from Nebraska, based on a combination of career accomplishments and when they were selected.
10. Dominic Raiola, Detroit Lions (No. 50, 2001)
Dominic Raiola could have ended up with the Pittsburgh Steelers or New England Patriots, but both teams traded the No. 50 pick in the 2001 draft. He ended up in Detroit, and he spent 13 seasons as a consistent, durable center for the Lions.
He never was selected to a Pro Bowl, but it is hard to start 209 games in the NFL and not be an above-average player for at least part of your career.
9. Ahman Green, Seattle Seahawks (No. 76, 1998)
Ahman Green didn’t have a long run as a starting running back in the NFL, but he was very productive. After being traded to the Green Bay Packers, Green had a seven-year run from 2000-06 where he ran for 1,000 yards six times and had one year cut short by injury. He made the Pro Bowl four times, and his 2003 season (1,883 rushing yards) is among the top 10 in NFL history.
8. Ron McDole, St. Louis Cardinals (No. 50, 1961)
Ron McDole played in 240 games, which is a good place to start any NFL resume for someone chosen 50th in a draft. He was an AFL all-star twice with the Buffalo Bills and was considered one of the best defensive linemen in the history of the pre-merger AFL. He spent the second half of his career in the NFL with Washington.
7. Pat Fischer, St. Louis Cardinals (No. 232, 1961)
The Cardinals chose Pat Fischer 13 rounds after McDole, but they kept him a little longer. He was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1964 and 1965 with the franchise, before signing with Washington in 1968 and earning another invitation in 1969. Fischer played 213 games in the NFL, which was the most in league history for a cornerback when he retired.
6. Irving Fryar, New England Patriots (No. 1, 1984)
Irving Fryar went to the Pro Bowl five times and caught 851 passes in a long, productive career. His statistics rank high among the 81 players who have been the No. 1 pick in an NFL draft.
Of those 81, Fryar is one of 12 to earn at least five Pro Bowl invitations. There are 15 No. 1 picks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. A few recent No. 1s will be there eventually, namely Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. Maybe Cam Newton and Andrew Luck will reach that level as well.
Fryar has the most receptions and receiving yards of any No. 1 pick; Keyshawn Johnson, whose namesake son will play with the Cornhuskers this fall, is second. He also has scored the most touchdowns (88) of any No. 1 pick.
5. Neil Smith, Kansas City Chiefs (No. 2, 1988)
A player has to have a great career to be a good value at the No. 2 pick in the draft, and Neil Smith certainly qualified. From 1990-95, Smith posted 70.5 sacks.
He was one of the best pass rushers of the 1990s, teaming with Derrick Thomas to terrorize quarterbacks. Smith went to the Pro Bowl six times and is one of 26 players with at least 104 sacks in league history.
4. Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions (No. 2, 2010)
Ndamukong Suh’s NFL career hasn’t been without some issues, but he’s been one of the most dominant defensive players for much of it. He’s earned five Pro Bowl invitations in seven years, and three times been named first-team All-Pro.
3. Bob Brown, Philadelphia Eagles (No. 2, 1964)
Three of the five Cornhuskers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame played before there was an NFL draft, which started in 1936. One of the other two is offensive tackle Bob Brown, who was a first-team All-Pro selection in five of his 10 NFL seasons.
There were three Hall of Fame players selected in the first six picks of the 1964 draft, including Charley Taylor (No. 3) and Carl Eller (No. 6). Brown was the rookie of the year in 1964 and was selected to the Pro Bowl six times.
2. Roger Craig, San Francisco 49ers (No. 49, 1983)
Roger Craig caught 16 passes at Nebraska, but became one of the best dual-threat running backs in NFL history. He established an NFL record with 92 receptions in 1985. He also became the first player to produce a 1,000-1,000 (rushing and receiving yards) season, something only Marshall Faulk has duplicated.
A key cog in the 49ers diverse and dominant offense, Craig went to the Pro Bowl four times. He finished his career with more than 8,000 rushing yards and nearly 5,000 receiving. He was a semi-finalist for the Hall of Fame one year and one of 15 finalists the next.
1. Will Shields, Kansas City Chiefs (No. 74, 1993)
Will Shields ranks as one of the best offensive linemen in the history of the NFL. He did not miss a game in his 14-year career and started every game but one.
He was named to every AFC Pro Bowl team from 1995 to 2006, and only seven players in league history have been selected to more. Shields was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015. He’s one of 11 third-round picks since the AFL-NFL merger to earn a place in Canton.