Love them or hate them, no one can deny that Michigan football is one of the most prestigious programs in college football history. The Wolverines have 11 claimed national championships in their history, which is among the most in college football. While they haven’t won a title since 1997, their recent resurgence could indicate they will break that drought soon.
With such a storied history, Michigan has produced many NFL legends. The Wolverines have 11 former players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which is the third most of any school behind Notre Dame and USC with 13 each. With one former Wolverine a lock to get a gold jacket in a few years (we all know who it is), Michigan could end up topping that list one day.
The 2023 NFL Draft is just around the corner, a new generation of Wolverines are about to have their dreams come true. In honor of that, let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back on the greatest former Michigan players in NFL history. Narrowing this list down was extremely tough, but these five players stood above the rest.
Without further ado, here are the five greatest Michigan players in NFL history.
5. Dan Dierdorf, OT, 1971-83
Michigan has produced a number of elite offensive linemen over the years, and Dan Dierdorf is one of the best. He was a consistent presence on Michigan’s offensive line from 1967 to 1970, and he could play on both sides depending on the situation. He was a second-team All-American in 1969 and a consensus first-team All-American in 1970.
The then-St. Louis Cardinals saw Dierdorf’s ability, selecting him in the second round of the 1971 NFL Draft. St. Louis struggled in Dierdorf’s first three seasons, but emerged as a contender in 1974 in part due to his excellent blocking. From 1974 to 1980, Dierdorf earned five Pro-Bowl and All-Pro selections each, with the only exception coming in 1979. Additionally, he didn’t allow a single sack in 1976 and 1977. He retired in 1983, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996, and now serves as a radio analyst for Michigan football.
4. Ty Law, CB, 1995-2009
In his time at Michigan, Ty Law showed flashes of what made him so special in the NFL. In three seasons with the Wolverines, Law racked up 154 tackles, 17 passes defended, and six interceptions. He was a two-time unanimous All-Big Ten selection, and is still one of the finest defensive backs in school history.
After declaring for the 1995 NFL Draft, Law was taken 23rd overall by the New England Patriots. Law was a true ballhawk throughout his career, with 53 interceptions and 169 passes defended in 15 seasons. Of course, Law gained fame as one of the top players on the Patriots defense during the first part of their dynasty, winning three Super Bowls between 2001 and 2004 alongside another former Wolverine we’ll see later on.
Law bounced around the league towards the end of his career, spending time with the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos. However, in his own words, Law is “a Patriot for life.” He finally received his well-deserved gold jacket in 2019.
3. Steve Hutchinson, G, 2001-12
Another standout offensive lineman, Hutchinson thrived in his time as a Wolverine. After switching from defensive tackle to guard in his freshman season, Hutchinson never looked back. He didn’t allow a single sack in his final two seasons with Michigan, and was Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and a unanimous All-American in 2000.
His outstanding college resume and fantastic measurables enticed the Seattle Seahawks to pick him 17th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft. Hutchinson became an NFL starter right away, and earned three All-Pro selections in five years in Seattle, including two first-team. Ahead of the 2006 season, the Minnesota Vikings poached Hutchinson away from the Seahawks with an offer sheet that was the biggest contract for a guard in NFL history at the time. Hutchinson continued to excel in Minnesota, earning four straight All-Pro nods from 2006-2009.
The 2009 season marked the final time Hutchinson played a full season, as injuries began to take their toll on him. He played two more seasons with the Vikings and one with the Tennessee Titans before hanging up his cleats. Hutchinson received his gold jacket in 2020, and is undoubtedly a legend in Minnesota, Seattle, and Ann Arbor.
2. Charles Woodson, DB, 1998-2015
If we were judging these players based on their college careers, Woodson would almost certainly be at the top. Woodson’s college resume is unreal, with countless awards and a 1997 national championship to his name. Most notably, he is still the only defensive player to ever win the Heisman Trophy.
After Woodson’s stint as the most electric player in college football, the then-Oakland Raiders selected him fourth overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. He became an immediate standout in Oakland, winning Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998 and earning four straight Pro-Bowl selections to start his career. In 2006, he left to join the Green Bay Packers, where he would win Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 and a Super Bowl in 2010. He then returned to Oakland to finish his career, earning one last Pro-Bowl selection in his final season in 2015.
It comes as no surprise that Woodson became a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in 2021. For many other schools, Woodson would have a solid case to be the greatest NFL player in school history. However, there’s one former Wolverine whose list of accomplishments dwarfs even Woodson’s.
1. Tom Brady, QB, 2000-22
Try not to act too surprised, now. Before he became the GOAT, Tom Brady was a relatively pedestrian quarterback at Michigan, with 4,644 yards and 30 touchdowns to 16 interceptions in his two years as a starter. He flew under the radar in the draft, with the New England Patriots selecting him in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
We all know the story by now, so let’s just skim over it. After taking over for the injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001, Brady took over the starting job and never looked back. He led the Patriots to six Super Bowl championships and nine appearances in his 20 seasons, winning three MVPs in the process. He then joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020 and won his seventh and final ring that season.
Brady holds just about every quarterback record in the book, including most career wins, passing attempts, passing completions, yards and touchdowns. He retired for good in February, and he will be a surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer when he’s eligible in 2028.
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