Tom Brady is NFL's GOAT, but here are Michigan football's other GOATs at each position
Michigan football’s most recognized NFL draft pick has finally called it quits.
On Wednesday, quarterback Tom Brady — famously drafted No. 199 overall in 2000, going in the sixth round to the New England Patriots — retired for the second (and final, he insists) time.
Brady was the 308th Wolverine selected all-time in the draft; that total is up to 412 — a run that stretches from receiver Matt Patanelli, No. 85 overall in 1937 (the draft’s second year) to offensive lineman Andrew Stueber, No. 245 overall in 2022, and includes three No. 1 overall picks — and is likely to grow in Kansas City, Missouri, this April. There are also 118 Wolverines to make the NFL after going undrafted (including six who appeared in a game in 2022).
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In all, 414 Wolverines have played in the NFL (at least according to Pro Football Reference’s data); in honor of Brady, affectionally called the GOAT (greatest of all time), as well as a pair of Wolverines who’ll be facing off in Super Bowl 57 next Sunday, here's a look at the best NFL player from Michigan at every modern position:
Brady is the name you know, but the choices at offensive line are ridiculous, with Jeff Backus, Jumbo Elliott, Reggie McKenzie and Jon Runyan — all of whom started for more than a decade in the NFL — just missing the cut.
QB: Tom Brady
Well, duh. Brady finished with the most completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns and victories in NFL history. But who’s No. 2 among Wolverines? You could go with Elvis Grbac or Jim Harbaugh (who both made the Pro Bowl), Brian Griese (whose numbers are arguably second-best behind Brady) — or even give a shoutout to the lone U-M QB still playing this season: Chad Henne, who’ll be backing up Patrick Mahomes for the Chiefs.
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LT: Mike Kenn
It was tough to pass on Al Wistert, whose, uh, 6-foot-1, 214-pound frame earned him the nickname “Big Ox” over his nine seasons with the Eagles and a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1940s Team, but we’ll go with Kenn, the 6-7 bruiser who missed just 13 games in 16 seasons (1978-94) with the Atlanta Falcons and made two All-Pro teams and five Pro Bowls.
G: Steve Hutchinson
A 2020 inductee into the Hall of Fame, Hutchinson paved the way for mighty rushing attacks in Seattle and Minnesota, as well as paving the way for interior linemen to get big paychecks. At 6-5, 313, he made seven Pro Bowls, five All-Pro teams and the Hall’s All-2000s squad.
C: John Morrow
The Port Huron native manned the middle for the Rams and Browns for 10 seasons, making the Pro Bowl in 1961 and ’63; he was still sprightly enough to compete in alumni flag football games at age 79 in 2012.
G: Tom Mack
The Rams got some value in taking Mack at No. 2 overall in 1966; he never missed a game over 13 seasons and made 11 Pro Bowls en route to a Hall of Fame induction in 1999, the final year of his eligibility.
RT: Dan Dierdorf
The future broadcaster made the Pro Bowl in six of his 13 seasons with the Cardinals (then located in St. Louis) and received three All-Pro nods en route to making the Hall’s All-1970s team. A Canton, Ohio, native, he was inducted into the Hall in 1996.
TE: Ron Kramer
He grew up in Detroit and finished his career with the Lions, but in between was a key part of the Green Bay Packers’ aerial attack, with four consecutive seasons of at least 500 receiving yards from 1961-64 and a Pro Bowl and All-Pro nod in 1962.
WR: Anthony Carter
An instant star with the Michigan Panthers of the USFL in 1983-84, Carter finished his pro career with nearly 11,000 receiving yards and 82 touchdown catches, though only 7,733 yards and 55 TDs came in his 11 NFL seasons, which featured three Pro Bowl appearances.
WR: Elroy Hirsch
The Wisconsin native already had an epic nickname — “Crazylegs” for his distinctive wobbling running style — when his World War II stint in the Marines landed him in Ann Arbor for two years. After the war, he became one of the NFL’s most prolific deep receiving threats; his three Pro Bowl berths and two All-Pro nods include his insane 1951 season with the Rams, in which he caught 66 passes for 1,495 yards (nearly matching the league’s No. 2-3 totals combined) and 17 touchdowns in a 12-game schedule. His 124.2 yards a game that season are still third in NFL history.
RB: Ron Johnson
After a false start with the Browns in 1969, Johnson was dealt to the New York Giants and became an instant star; his 263 carries led the NFL and he became the first 1,000-yard rusher in Giants franchise history en route to All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors, plus a ninth-place finish in MVP voting. Two years later, the Detroit native did it again, with 298 carries for 1,182 yards and a Pro Bowl berth.
RB: Leroy Hoard
Hoard’s best season of his nine-year career came during the Browns’ 11-5 run in 1994 under Bill Belichick; converted to fullback, the former second-round pick rushed for 890 yards and caught 45 passes for 445 yards to earn a Pro Bowl spot.
KR/PR: Desmond Howard
The Heisman Trophy winner never caught on as a wide receiver, but his return skills — highlighted by an NFL-best 875 punt return yards and three TDs in 1996, and eight TDs in 244 career returns (3.3%) — earned him a sixth-place finish in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting in 1992 and a Pro Bowl spot in 2000 with the Lions.
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Despite the tough call between a pair of active Wolverines — we’ll get to them in a few — the most stacked position was linebacker, with longtime starters such as John Anderson, Larry Foote, David Harris and Dhani Jones just missing the cut.
DE: Len Ford
NFL teams passed on the two-way star of Michigan’s 1947 national championship teams through 32 rounds of the NFL draft because of his skin color, but the Los Angeles Dons of the rival All-American Football Conference didn’t. After two solid seasons as a receiver, topping 500 yards in each, Ford landed with the Browns as the AAFC folded and Cleveland joined the NFL. Converted back to defensive end, he earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods for four straight seasons (1951-54), making the Hall’s All-1950s team and, in 1976, the Hall of Fame itself.
DE: Frank Clark/Brandon Graham
Clark’s clear talent on the field — with 58½ sacks and 14 forced fumbles in 120 games, with three Pro Bowl nods for the Chiefs — is just enough to overshadow the off-field issues that got him suspended, then dismissed in Ann Arbor, and later suspended in the NFL. Graham, meanwhile, has just one Pro Bowl berth, but leads with 70 sacks and 21 forced fumbles in 178 games with the Eagles, including the key strip-sack of Brady in Super Bowl 52. We’ll call this one a tie, with the edge going to whoever wins the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 (as it’ll be the second ring for either one).
DT: Trevor Pryce
Four Pro Bowl berths, an All-Pro nod in his third season and two top-five finishes in Defensive Player of the Year voting speak to his ability to disrupt opposing run games; he also caused havoc in the passing game with 91 sacks in 187 games, and won Super Bowls in his first two NFL seasons in Denver.
DT: Tom Keating
After a couple seasons as a backup in Buffalo, Keating broke through as the heart of the Raiders’ line in the late 1960s; after two Pro Bowl seasons followed by a leg injury that cost him the 1968 season, Keating returned in 1969 with 12 sacks (unofficial) and a fourth-place finish in the AP’s AFL Player of the Year voting.
LB: Roger Zatkoff
The Hamtramck native played just six seasons, but made three Pro Bowls (1954-56) before forcing a trade from Green Bay to the Lions in 1957. Detroit gave up its leading rusher in 1955, Lew Carpenter, but came out ahead, as the Lions won the ’57 title with Zatkoff as a key contributor.
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LB: LaMarr Woodley
Woodley played 15 games or more just three times in his nine seasons with the Steelers, but those three years landed him 35 of his 58 career sacks in 110 games, including a Pro Bowl nod in 2009 as Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl.
LB: Cato June
An All-Big Ten safety in Ann Arbor, June was drafted by the Colts in 2003’s sixth round (No. 198 overall) with the plan of moving to LB. He blossomed into a ball hawk; from 2004-06, he had 355 tackles and 10 interceptions, and went to the Pro Bowl in 2005.
LCB: Ty Law
Law settled in on the left side in his second season with the Patriots after going in the first round in 1995 (No. 23 overall); his 53 career interceptions are 24th in NFL history, and he led the league twice. Over 15 seasons (wrapping up with the Jets, Chiefs and Broncos), Law made five Pro Bowls, two All-Pro teams and finished third in 1998’s Defensive Player of the Year voting, before being selected to the Hall’s All-2000s team and, in 2019, the Hall itself.
RCB: Dave Brown
A safety at Michigan, Brown was drafted in the first round in 1975 by the Steelers, whose dominant defense would deliver a second consecutive championship. Brown played mostly as a returner during the title run, then was selected by the Seahawks in the 1976 expansion draft. It was a good choice for the fledgling franchise; he produced 50 interceptions over 11 seasons in Seattle and was the third player named to the team’s Ring of Honor. Brown made just one Pro Bowl, but his 62 career picks are 10th all-time.
FS: Rick Volk
Volk was a hit immediately with the Colts, delivering six interceptions in 14 games in 1967 to make the Pro Bowl and finish second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting (behind the Lions’ Lem Barney). He made two more Pro Bowls and received an All-Pro nod in 1971, finishing with 38 interceptions in 150 games.
SS: Charles Woodson
It’s cheating a little to list Woodson at safety considering the 1997 Heisman winner dominated the first 14 years of his career (in Oakland and Green Bay) at cornerback. There, he made eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams, won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998 and then Defensive Player of the Year more than a decade later (2009). Still, he starred at safety in his final four seasons, including one final Pro Bowl spot at age 39 in 2015. A member of the Hall’s All-2000s team thanks to his 65 career interceptions (fifth all-time), Woodson was inducted into the Hall in 2021, his first year of eligibility.
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The pickings are slimmer here, with nine Wolverines making the NFL in the kicking game — three punters and six kickers, though Jake Moody and Brad Robbins should increase both totals in 2023.
K: Jay Feely
Feely never made the Pro Bowl or an All-Pro squad, but we’ll give him the nod over the former U-M kicker who did — Ali Haji-Sheikh (1983) — on the strength of Feely’s extended career. Over 14 seasons, the 2001 All-Rookie Team member finished top 10 in field goal accuracy three times, resulting in 1,451 points, 30th all-time.
P: Don Bracken
Bracken’s eight seasons with the Packers and Rams, in which he averaged 39.9 yards per punt with 21.3% of his punts inside the 20, puts him ahead of Zoltan Mesko and Matt Wile.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Best Michigan football alums at each position in the NFL all-time