2022 NFL Draft: Best Picks of All-Time From Every Big Ten School

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2022 NFL Draft: Best Picks of All-Time From Every Big Ten School

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2022 NFL Draft: Best Picks of All-Time From Every Big Ten School

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Who are the best NFL Draft picks from every Big Ten program? Which players turned into the greatest stars at the next level?


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With the history of the Big Ten there are loads and loads of Hall of Famers and all-time great NFL draft picks to choose from. So who are the best of all-time coming from the conference?

This isn’t a list of the top pro players to come from the Big Ten schools – these are the best draft picks.

The guys who had great careers for someone other than teams that drafted them get knocked down a peg, or aren’t on the list at all. For example, Purdue’s Drew Brees was obviously an all-time NFL great, but for New Orleans, not the Chargers.

The goal for any draft pick is to get a player who performs at a high level for a long period of time, so longevity matters over one short burst of greatness.

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Illinois Greatest NFL Draft Picks

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.

Indiana Greatest NFL Draft Picks

DE Pete Pihos
1945, 5th round, 41st pick overall, Philadelphia

Silver: DE Earl Faison, 1961, 1st round, 7th pick overall, San Diego
Bronze: C Bob DeMarco, 1960, 14th round, 157th pick overall, St. Louis

Pete Pihos is the lone Hall of Famer, playing nine years for Philadelphia and turning out to be way ahead of his time. He caught 373 passes over his career, finishing with spots on four straight All-Pro teams and with seven Pro Bowls.

Earl Faison only played five years for San Diego, but he made his era count going to the Pro Bowl each season and earning All-Pro honors four times.

Center Bob DeMarco had a 15-year career, doing most of his big things with St. Louis, going to three Pro Bowls and getting on two All-Pro teams in his nine years.

Iowa Greatest NFL Draft Picks

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 drafted, 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.

Maryland Greatest NFL Draft Picks

DT Randy White
1975, 1st round, 2nd pick overall, Dallas

Silver: DT/OG Stan Jones, 1953, 5th round, 54th pick overall, Chicago
Bronze: QB Boomer Esiason, 1984, 2nd round, 38th pick overall, Cincinnati

Dallas tried to make Randy White an outside linebacker. That didn’t really work, so he was moved to defensive tackle and he became one of the greatest linemen of all-time. He was named to seven All-Pro teams, won a Super Bowl, and was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame.

Stan Jones was a Hall of Famer for the Bears, going to seven Pro Bowls and getting on three All-Pro teams in his 12 years.

Boomer Esiason became an MVP in 1988 and took Cincinnati to the Super Bowl. After famously having to wait too long and dropping in the draft, he went on to throw for over 27,000 yards with 187 touchdowns for the Bengals.

Michigan Greatest NFL Draft Picks

QB Tom Brady
2000, 6th round, 199th pick overall, New England

Silver: OL Dan Dierdorf, 1971, 2nd round, 43rd pick overall, St. Louis
Bronze: CB Charles Woodson, 1998, 1st round, 4th pick overall, Oakland

Good luck ever coming up with a better draft pick than New England taking Tom Brady in the sixth round in 2000. He turned out okay with a whopping 14 Pro Bowl honors for the Patriots, three All-Pro teams, and six Super Bowls … and then he left and won another Super Bowl.

Dan Dierdorf is in Canton after a brilliant 13-year career with the Cardinals, earning All-Pro honors three times as a tackle.

Charles Woodson was terrific for Oakland in both his stints to start and end his career, but he was at his best late with Green Bay. He still makes the cut after starting out his run with four Pro Bowls and a 1999 All-Pro season for the Raiders.

Michigan State Greatest NFL Draft Picks

CB Herb Adderley
1961, 1st round, 12th pick overall, Green Bay

Silver: OG Joe DeLamielleure, 1st round, 26th pick overall, Buffalo
Bronze: OG Ed Budde, 1st round, 8th pick overall, Kansas City

Herb Adderley turned into the playmaking Hall of Fame defensive back the Green Bay secondary worked around in his nine years. He was named to four All-Pro teams as the premier corner of the 1960s.

Joe DeLamielleure played seven years for Buffalo before going to Cleveland, but the three-time All-Pro’s work for the Bills were enough to earn a Hall of Fame bust – he helped pave the way for O.J. Simpson.

WR Derrick Mason probably belongs on the list, but Ed Budde spent 14 years as a rock for the Kansas City offense with seven Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro spots.

Minnesota Greatest NFL Draft Picks

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. It all starts 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.

Nebraska Greatest NFL Draft Picks

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 for the top spot. 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 put in 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 teams other than Philadelphia. He was still a tremendous pick for the Eagles as a three-time All-Pro in his five years.

Northwestern Greatest NFL Draft Picks

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 before his career got going.

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.

Ohio State Greatest NFL Draft Picks

OT Jim Parker
1957, 1st round, 8th pick overall, Baltimore

Silver: OT Orlando Pace, 1997, 1st round, 1st pick overall, St. Louis
Bronze: LB Randy Gradishar, 1974, 1st round, 14th pick overall, Denver

Jim Parker was an all-timer of an All-Pro blocker, getting named to the team eight times at various spots for Baltimore. He was the anchor of some of the NFL’s greatest teams – he helped keep Johnny Unitas upright.

Orlando Pace took a little while to warm up, and then he became a Hall of Fame blocker and one of the stars of the Greatest Show On Turf. He was a three-time All-Pro and went to seven Pro Bowls.

Randy Gradishar is on the short list of the greatest players to not be in the Hall of Fame despite going to seven Pro Bowls and being named to two All-Pro teams.

Penn State Greatest NFL Draft Pick

LB Jack Ham
1971, 2nd round, 34th pick overall, Pittsburgh

Silver: RB Franco Harris, 1972, 1st round, 13th pick overall, Pittsburgh
Bronze: RB Lenny Moore, 1956, 1st round, 9th pick overall, Baltimore

A standout even on a Pittsburgh defense full of all-timers, Jack Ham was a seven-time All-Pro on the way to a Hall of Fame career. Very consistent and very good for a very long time, he played 12 years for the Steelers at the highest of levels.

Franco Harris was the missing piece of the Pittsburgh Super Bowl puzzle, adding the rushing punch with close to 12,000 yards with 91 touchdowns in his Hall of Fame career. He started out going to nine straight Pro Bowls and was named a 1977 All-Pro.

Lenny Moore played 12 years for Baltimore earning five All-Pro honors in his Hall of Fame career.

Purdue Greatest NFL Draft Picks

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 of Fame 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.

Rutgers Greatest NFL Draft Picks

S Deron Cherry
1981, Undrafted, Kansas City

Silver: RB Ray Rice, 2008, 2nd round, 55th pick overall, 2008
Bronze: S Devin McCourty, 2010, 1st round, 27th pick overall, 2010

Rutgers has a horrible, horrible history of NFL draft prospects, so go ahead and put Deron Cherry in this even though he wasn’t drafted. Kansas City did just fine, getting a six-time Pro Bowl talent and three-time All-Pro with 50 picks in his 11-year career.

Ray Rice – up until it all went off the rails – was a terrific pro for six years, running for over 1,000 yards four times and going to three Pro Bowls.

Devin McCourty was only named to two Pro Bowls, but he became a huge part of the New England defense for over a decade.

Wisconsin Greatest NFL Draft Picks

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 was amazing for Houston, but he wasn’t quite accomplished as two phenomenal Badger linemen. With five All-Pro seasons and the 2012, 2014 and 2015 NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, he was obviously amazing before leaving for Arizona.

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 teams. 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.

2022 NFL Draft Prospect Rankings, Analysis
QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs | OTsOGs & Cs | DEs & Edge | DTs
LBs | Ss | CBs | 50 Greatest Value Draft Picks Ever
NFL Draft by college over last 5 years: 1-130 rankings

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