BIG TEN WEST
LB Dick Butkus
1965, 1st round, 3rd pick overall, Chicago
Silver: LB Ray Nitschke, 1958, 3rd round, 36th pick overall, Green Bay
Bronze: G Les Bingaman, 1948, 3rd round, 15th pick overall, Detroit
When you’ve sent six players to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it takes a special type of legend to make the top three. Red Grange? He should be here, but he wasn’t drafted. Bobby Mitchell is in Canton, but it’s for what he did in Washington, not Cleveland.
Dick Butkus is the easy No. 1. He might have had a relatively short career, but he became – arguably – the greatest linebacker of all-time in just nine years.
Ray Nitschke had a longer run than Butkus and was a part of several legendary teams – he might have had the better overall career, but he wasn’t close to earning the same honors.
No. 3 was tricky considering three of the Illini Hall of Famers weren’t drafted. Les Bingaman played seven strong years for Detroit on both sides of the ball, going to three Pro Bowls and earning two All-Pro honors.
DT Alex Karras
1958, 1st round, 10th pick overall, Detroit
Silver: LB Andre Tippett, 1982, 2nd round, 41st pick overall, New England
Bronze: S Paul Krause, 1964, 2nd round, 18th pick overall, Washington
Three Hawkeyes are in the Hall of Fame, but Emlen Tunnell wasn’t drafted. Alex Karras was, but he’s not in the Hall of Fame thanks to a gambling scandal and ridiculous oversight. He played 12 years for the Lions being named to three All-Pro teams.
Andre Tippett is in the Hall after a dominant career as an elite pass rusher and devastating outside linebacker. The two-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler was a nice value in the mid-second round.
Krause makes the cut, but he probably shouldn’t. The Hall of Fame defensive back picked off 81 passes, but he spent 12 years with Minnesota and just four with Washington. However, he was fantastic in those four years with the Redskins, intercepting 12 passes as a rookie and earning two All-Pro nods.
DE Carl Eller
1964, 1st round, 6th pick overall, Minnesota
Silver: LB Bobby Bell, 1963, 7th round, 56th pick overall, Kansas City
Bronze: DT Leo Nomellini, 1950, 1st round, 11th pick overall, San Francisco
Seven Gophers are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the top three draft picks were easy, starting with Carl Eller. The five-time All-Pro played 15 years for Minnesota and getting on five All-Pro teams. The star of the Purple People Eater defensive front helped the Vikings get to four Super Bowls.
Bobby Bell was drafted by Minnesota, but he chose Kansas City and the AFL. It all worked out just fine as he made six All-Pro teams and won a Super Bowl over the Vikings on the way to Canton.
Leo Nomellini went to ten Pro Bowls and was on six All-Pro teams as one of the superstar defensive tackles of the 1950s.
OG Will Shields
1993, 3rd round, 74th pick overall, Kansas City
Silver: C Mick Tingelhoff, 1962, Undrafted, Minnesota
Bronze: OT Bob Brown, 1964, 1st round, 2nd pick overall, Philadelphia
14-year right guard Will Shields was the easy choice. The 12-time Pro Bowl performer was one of the NFL’s top run blockers for a very, very long time – he was the anchor for several terrific running games.
Mick Tingelhoff wasn’t drafted, but he needs to be on the list as one of the all-time greatest pickups. The five-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler played 17 years for Minnesota and played 240 games on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Bob Brown got into the Hall of Fame, but he spent the second half of his career with other teams. He was still a tremendous pick for Philadelphia as a three-time All-Pro in his five years.
OG Chris Hinton
1983, 1st round 4th pick overall, Denver
Silver: C Ray Wietecha, 1950, 12th round, 150th pick overall, New York Giants
Bronze: C Jack Rudnay, 1969, 4th round, 101st pick overall, Kansas City Chiefs
Okay, okay, so there’s a massive exception being made here. Chris Hinton was drafted by Denver, but he was later traded to Baltimore in the John Elway deal. The Colts will get credit for the draft pick – even if they biffed the Elway situation. Hinton went on to a career almost good enough to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame, being named to six Pro Bowls as a Colt.
Jack Rudney wasn’t really a star – even with four straight trips to the Pro Bowl – but he was a very, very solid starting 13-year center for Kansas City.
Ray Wietecha was a ten-year starter for the Giants going to four Pro Bowls and being named to the 1958 All-Pro team.
DB Rod Woodson
1987, 1st round, 10th pick overall, Pittsburgh
Silver: QB Bob Griese, 1967, 1st round, 4th pick overall, Miami
Bronze: OT Matt Light, 2001, 2nd round, 48th pick overall, New England
Remember, in this, a draft pick isn’t good if the guy crushes it for someone else. Drew Brees was good for San Diego, but he was allowed to leave – he became a Hall of Fame star for New Orleans. The same goes for Len Dawson, who was drafted by Pittsburgh, but won a Super Bowl and went to the Hall for Kansas City.
Rod Woodson was one of the greatest all-around defensive backs of all-time, being named to five All-Pro teams as a Steeler and going to seven Pro Bowls in his Hall of Fame career.
Bob Griese played 14 years with Miami winning two Super Bowls and being named to two All-Pro teams. The Hall of Famer also went to eight Pro Bowls.
Matt Light was an 11-year starter for New England teams – he was Tom Brady’s left tackle – earning 2007 All-Pro honors and going to three Pro Bowls.
OT Joe Thomas
2007, 1st round, 3rd pick overall, Cleveland
Silver: C Mike Webster, 1974, 5th round, 125th pick overall
Bronze: DE J.J. Watt, 2011, 1st round, 11th pick overall, Houston
J.J. Watt isn’t No. 1 yet, but he isn’t quite accomplished as two phenomenal Badger linemen – that will change. With five All-Pro seasons and the 2012, 2014 and 2015 NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, he’s obviously been amazing.
A reasonable case could be made that Mike Webster should easily be the greatest Badger draft pick, starting 15 years for the Steelers earning five All-Pro nods in his Hall of Fame career.
Joe Thomas called it quits in a certain Hall of Fame career, finishing with ten Pro Bowl nods and recognition on six All-Pro tams. He was the lone positive at times for some awful Cleveland teams and never got to have a lot of fun. He was the pro’s pro.