By Guest Writer, Parker Jones
Each year, the NFL Draft looks at the best and brightest from the college ranks. Combing meticulously through hundreds of young players via combines, workouts, interviews and the somewhat controversial Wonderlic Test, there’s never a guarantee of employment in the NFL — or as some would say: Not For Long.
But who has moved from the Big House to the big time? Which five active Michigan Wolverines are having the best success in the NFL today? Here’s a look:
Many draft gurus didn’t even have Brady on their boards at all, and most had him going undrafted. Robert Kraft’s war room took a chance that day in April and has given the league one of the winningest quarterbacks ever – one who will one day be enshrined at the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Appearing in five Super Bowls, with three of them wins, the Patriots Tom Brady is still lighting up the field in Foxboro.
As far as top ex-Wolverine players, it doesn’t get any more successful than him. Yet for every great quarterback like Brady, he needs a solid lineman.
The number one NFL Draft pick from 2008 was Jake Long. He has the ideal physical requirements for an offensive lineman — standing nearly six-foot-eight and weighing well over 300 pounds – but also boasts incredible quickness for that size.
The fierceness he learned as a Wolverine translated nicely to the NFL when he became a starting tackle for the Dolphins in 2008. Such dominance on the line earned him a title of fan favorite when he was selected to the Pro Bowl for four straight years. His durability is also remarkable, considering he has started and played in all 74 games since he came to the league. Long recently signed a $34 million contract with the St. Louis Rams.
Keeping with the offensive theme, one of the top wide receivers in the league right now is Mario Manningham, who plays for the San Francisco 49ers. While playing at Michigan, Manningham was a relatively unknown player on the national scene. Manningham was drafted in the third round, which was higher than some analysts expected because of his somewhat lackluster junior year and questionable knee injury.
Yet Manningham possesses that rare prototypical slot receiver size — at just 6-feet tall and 180 pounds. Looking like a young Marvin Harrison, he earned a Super Bowl ring in 2012 when the NY Giants beat New England. Another Wolverine, another championship ring.
The adage of “defense wins championships” certainly holds true when it comes to Wolverine players. One of the most feared and respected linebackers in the NFL is Lamarr Woodley. His vicious hits in the Big House landed him as the Steelers’ second round pick in 2007.
It took the former Lombardi Trophy winner only two seasons before he led his team to a Super Bowl win over the Arizona Cardinals. He is still an anchor for the Pittsburgh defense and has accrued almost 300 career sacks since being in the NFL.
Finishing out the Top Five Wolverines in the NFL is Larry Foote, another Pittsburgh Steeler. A fourth round draft pick in 2002, Foote didn’t come to prominence in the NFL until 2005 when he started the entire season as a linebacker. He is most noted for a game-winning interception in the AFC Championship that year.
After a brief stint in 2009 with the Lions, Foote is back with Pittsburgh (alongside Lamar Woodley) and is responsible for the Steelers having one of the most dominant run defenses in the NFL. His roots as a Wolverine (think Michigan could use him this year?) connect him strongly to other top former teammates in the NFL.
Needless to say, when you consider these five guys and their high level of play in the NFL, Michigan should be proud of the championship-caliber products it has produced.