- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Big Ten enjoyed a decent night Thursday in Chicago, placing three players in the first round of the NFL draft -- including offensive tackle Brandon Scherff of Iowa at No. 5 to the Redskins, the highest-drafted Big Ten player since Michigan tackle Jake Long went No. 1 in 2008.
Keeping with the theme, we’re looking this week in the #B1GFridayFive at the best first-round choices of the past 20 years from Big Ten schools. That, of course, eliminates from consideration the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, but this is still a great group.
Use #B1GFridayFrive to give us your thoughts on these choices.
1. CB Charles Woodson, Michigan (No. 4 overall pick in 1998)
The lone primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, Woodson exceeded the huge expectations out of Michigan. Drafted by the Raiders, he has played 17 seasons and is still going strong at age 38. He’s the only player in league history with 50 interceptions (he has 60) and 20 sacks in a career. Woodson won a national championship in college, a Super Bowl in 2011 with Green Bay and has earned first-team All Pro honors seven times.
2. OT Orlando Pace, Ohio State (No. 1 in 1997)
Pace protected the blind side for 12 years with the Rams before finishing his career with the Bears in 2009. Viewed by many as a likely Hall of Fame choice next winter in his second year on the ballot, he served as a dominating force on a St. Louis offense that finished among the NFL’s top five in passing yards for eight consecutive years, winning Super Bowl XXXIV in the midst. He was a five-time first-team All Pro selected to the the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade second team.
3. DE J.J. Watt, Wisconsin (No. 11 in 2011)
The 2011 draft is already viewed as one of the best in NFL history. Nevertheless, more than a few of the 10 teams who selected before the Houston Texans would do anything for a do-over. He’s the most dominant defensive player in the league today, and there is not much debate on the matter. Watt finished runner-up to quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the MVP voting in 2014 and has earned first-team All Pro recognition every year but his rookie season. He’s the two-time defensive player of the year and the first player to record 20 sacks in two seasons.
4. OG Steve Hutchinson, Michigan (No. 17 in 2001)
Hutchinson joined Woodson on the NFL 2000s All-Decade first team. A seven-time All Pro pick in 12 seasons, he earned acclaim with the Vikings, who drafted him, and the Seahawks before retiring after he spent the 2012 season with the Titans. Hutchinson started all 157 games in the first 11 years of his career and set the standard for guard play in the league.
5. OT Joe Thomas, Wisconsin (No. 3 in 2007)
Another great product of the Big Ten on the offensive line, Thomas is a five-time first-team All Pro and has started each of the 128 games in which he has played with the Browns. In 2007, he finished second to Adrian Peterson in voting for rookie of the year, the only player other than the star running back to receive votes. Thomas received a Pro Bowl invite in each of his first eight NFL seasons, the first offensive lineman in league history to earn such acclaim. And at age 30, he shows no sign of slowing down.