The 2024 NFL Draft is right around the corner, setting the stage for a host of Big Ten players preparing to embark on their professional journeys.

Over the years, the Big Ten has produced a host of draft picks with a strong group of No. 1 overall picks. Like every year, some players worked out while others ultimately turned into busts at the NFL level.

Before we get to this year’s draft, let’s take a walk down memory lane to revisit the highest-drafted players from every program. However, there are a few caveats to the list below.

Selections used for this piece only come from the NFL Draft. AFL Drafts are not included, and supplemental draft picks are also separated from the list below.

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And, with all due respect to our incoming Pac-12 programs, the list for this piece only includes the current B1G programs. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Illinois

  • Jeff George (1st overall 1990)

After 2 years starring for Illinois, Jeff George made the jump to the NFL as the first overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts. George’s career with Indianapolis was uneven, going 14-35 as a starter in 4 seasons with the Colts and throwing 41 touchdowns to 46 interceptions. George would leave the franchise after the 1993 season, only to be replaced by another former B1G star in Jim Harbaugh. While George’s career did not meet the expectations of a No. 1 pick, he did play parts of 12 seasons and had 3 seasons with at least 3,700 passing yards.

Indiana

  • Corby Davis (1st overall 1938)

A star for Indiana in the late 1930s, Davis spent 4 seasons with the Cleveland Rams before serving in the military during World War II. According to historical documents, Davis would begin serving as a Big Ten official after completing his service time.

Iowa

  • Randy Duncan (1st overall 1959)

An All-American and national title winner for the Hawkeyes, Randy Duncan was the first overall pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 1959 NFL Draft. Unfortunately, he never played for the Packers, eventually heading to the Canadian Football League. Duncan would return to the NFL with one season for the Dallas Texans in 1961 but did not make much of an impact.

Maryland

  • Randy White (2nd overall 1975)

Randy White starred at Maryland as a consensus All-America and the winner of the Outland Trophy and the Vince Lombardi Award in 1974. After being selected by the Dallas Cowboys, White would live up to his full potential, delivering a Hall of Fame career with 111 career sacks, 7 All-Pro selections, a Super Bowl ring and the Super Bowl XII MVP award. That’s the kind of payoff teams dream of when they draft a player.

Michigan

  • Tom Harmon (1st overall 1941)
  • Jake Long (1st overall 2008)

Jake Long was the first overall pick by the Miami Dolphins, and he was a cornerstone lineman early in his career. He received 4 Pro Bowl nods in 5 seasons, including 1 first-team All-Pro selection while starting 74 games for the Dolphins.

Tom Harmon was the first overall pick by the Bears after capturing the 1940 Heisman Trophy award for the Wolverines. However, he never appeared in a game for the Bears, beginning a brief career as a movie star before serving in the military. Harmon would return to football in 1946, playing 2 seasons for the Los Angeles Rams.

Michigan State

  • Bubba Smith (1st overall 1967)

Bubba Smith was a 2-time All-American before turning into a game-wrecking pass rusher for the Baltimore Colts. In 5 seasons for the franchise, he delivered 43 total sacks, 2 Pro Bowls and a first-team All-Pro selection. Though falling short of the value expected of a No. 1 pick, Smith did produce some high moments for the Colts.

Minnesota

  • Ed Widseth (4th overall 1937)
  • Clayton Tonnemaker (4th overall 1950)

Ed Widseth appeared in 44 games for the New York Giants from 1937-40. He would start all 11 games and was named an All-Pro for the 1938 Super Bowl champions. Clayton Tonnemaker would spend 3 seasons with the Green Bay Packers, starting 36 games during his time there with a pair of second-team All-Pro selections.

Nebraska

  • Sam Francis (1st overall 1937)
  • Irving Fryar (1st overall 1984)

Irving Fryar was a versatile playmaker with over 1,700 yards from scrimmage for the Huskers during the 1980s. He spent 9 years with the New England Patriots, producing over 5,700 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns in the return game, but his best seasons as a receiver came while with the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles.

Sam Francis joined the Philadelphia Eagles after an All-American season and finishing 2nd in Heisman Trophy voting during the 1936 season. He was quickly traded to the Chicago Bears, and he would spend 4 seasons in the NFL before eventually serving in the military.

Northwestern

  • Otto Graham (4th overall 1944)
  • Chris Hinton (4th overall 1983)

Otto Graham was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1944 but did not sign with the team due to World War II. After the war, he would lead the Cleveland Browns to 3 NFL Championships with 7 All-Pro appearances. While Graham did not get to play for the Lions, he would go down as a Hall of Fame player.

A star offensive lineman, Chris Hinton would be traded by the Denver Broncos in a package to acquire John Elway. He was a major contributor in 7 seasons with the Colts, finishing with a pair of second-team All-Pro selections and 6 Pro Bowls.

Ohio State

  • Tom Cousineau (1st overall 1979)
  • Dan Wilkinson (1st overall 1994)
  • Orlando Pace (1st overall 1997)

A star linebacker, Tom Cousineau played 4 seasons for the Cleveland Browns but fell short of the expectations attached to a No. 1 overall pick. He was a second-team All-Pro in 1984 but started just 59 games in 6 total NFL seasons.

Dan Wilkinson was a big-time defensive lineman with the Buckeyes who spent 4 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. He did have 25 sacks with the Bengals, but Wilkinson fell short of an All-Pro nod or Pro Bowl selection.

Orlando Pace was selected by the St. Louis Rams to be a cornerstone piece of the offensive line. He delivered, helping the Rams win a Super Bowl while earning 3 All-Pro nominations and 7 Pro Bowls. Pace finished his Hall of Fame career with 12 seasons for the Rams.

Penn State

  • Ki-Jana Carter (1st overall 1995)
  • Courtney Brown (1st overall 2000)

Ki-Jana Carter embarked on his NFL career after 3,000 yards of offense for the Nittany Lions and a 2nd place Heisman finish in 1994. Unfortunately, he was unable to make a major impact with the Cincinnati Bengals, delivering 747 rushing yards in 4 seasons.

The 1999 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Courtney Brown spent 5 seasons with the Cleveland Browns but recorded just 17 total sacks. Injuries would take a toll on his ultimate productivity.

Purdue

  • Leroy Keyes (3rd overall 1969)
  • Mike Phipps (3rd overall 1970)
  • Jim Everett (3rd overall 1986)

Leroy Keyes spent 4 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, first as a running back then as a defensive back. He would produce 8 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries over his final 3 seasons with the franchise.

Mike Phipps entered the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and had some strong seasons, ultimately finishing with a 24-25-2 overall record as a starter with the franchise. Cleveland’s best season came in 1972 when the Browns were 10-3 under Phipps, but he threw 13 touchdowns to 16 interceptions that season.

Jim Everett was selected by the Houston Oilers, but he would not play for the team. Instead, he went 46-59 overall with the Rams in 8 seasons. He did have a high-water mark between 1988-89 with a 21-11 record and 60 combined passing touchdowns.

Rutgers

  • Anthony Davis (11th overall 2010)

Anthony Davis would deliver on his value as a first-round pick, starting 71 career games for the San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately, injuries began to derail his career, but Davis was a stalwart on the line from 2010-14.

Wisconsin

  • Pat Harder (2nd overall 1944)

Pat Harder starred at Wisconsin before leaving the Badgers in 1943 for military service. He returned to football as a pro in 1946, starring for the Chicago Cardinals. He was a 3-time NFL Champion and received the 1948 UPI MVP award.

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