Ohio State vs. Michigan players in the NFL: How Big Ten rivals compare in all-time draft picks

Ohio State and Michigan are two of the most storied programs in college football. The Big Ten powerhouses have among the most wins and national championships in the sport’s history.

Along the way, many of those major contributors to the two teams have gone on to careers playing football in the NFL. Both throughout history and in recent years, few schools can match the number of talents sent to the NFL.

There are going to be plenty more Ohio State and Michigan players headed to the NFL after the 2022 season. Players like CJ Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba from Ohio State, and Blake Corum and Olusegun Oluwatimi from Michigan, who will be expected to play a major role in the latest edition of The Game, are expected to be calling NFL teams home when Ohio State and Michigan meet in 2023.

How have the two programs compared in NFL draft picks to this point in their respective histories? The Sporting News takes a look.

MORE: Revisiting the epic 2019 LSU vs. Alabama game loaded with NFL Talent

Most NFL draft picks by school

  • Ohio State: 480
  • Michigan: 397

Based on draft data from Pro Football Reference, the Buckeyes have 480 all-time draft picks, while Michigan has only 397. The Buckeyes rank third all-time behind Notre Dame (522) and USC (516), while the Wolverines have the fifth -most, separated from the top three by Oklahoma in fourth (412).

The NFL draft has only been seven rounds since 1994, however, a format it still follows to this day. There had been more variance before that, with eight in 1993, 12 in 1977-92, 17 from 1967-76, at the start of the Super Bowl era. The NFL draft has existed since 1936.

Given its prolonged run of dominance, it should be no surprise that since the NFL draft shifted to seven rounds, Ohio State has far and away the most draft picks. The Buckeyes have sent 190 players to the NFL since 1994, 22 more than Alabama (168), which has the second-most. The gap between first and second is nearly as wide as the gap between second and eighth, which is USC (147).

The Wolverines are tied for the 11th-most NFL draft picks in the seven-round era with 130.

Jim Harbaugh and Ryan Day have continued their two programs’ trends of producing draft pick numbers. Since Jim Harbaugh became Michigan’s head coach in 2015, 44 players have gone to the NFL. Only Alabama (65), Ohio State (61), LSU (54) and Georgia (50) have produced more. Day has sent 26 players to the NFL since he became head coach in 2019, topped only by LSU and Georgia (31 each), and tied with Alabama for third.

Most players drafted in one year by school

  • Ohio State: 14
  • Michigan: 11

How does a school get a lot of all-time draft picks? It helps to send Massive classes to the NFL all at once. Ohio State held the seven-round draft era record with 14 players drafted in a single year (2004), tied with LSU (2020) before Georgia broke the record in 2022 with 15. In the history of the draft, Texas (17 in 1984 ) has the single-class record. Michigan’s program record of 11 has been reached twice: first in 1972 and then again in 2017.

Both programs are among the few schools that have had classes in which they have sent double-digit players to the league in the same class. There have been 35 schools have at least one year in which they sent 10 or more players to the league in the same season. Ohio State has done it eight times. Michigan has done it four times. Only USC (15) and Notre Dame (13) have had more double-digit draft classes than the Buckeyes.

In the seven-round era, only 15 schools have sent at least 10 players to the NFL at one time. Ohio State is tied with Alabama for the most 10-plus classes with four. Michigan is tied for sixth with two such classes.

Day has yet to produce a draft class as large as Harbaugh’s record of 11 from 2017. Day’s largest class since he became the head Coach of the Buckeyes is 10, which he accomplished in both 2020 and 2021.

Most first-round picks by school

  • Ohio State: 87
  • Michigan: 51

No school has produced more first-round draft picks than Ohio State since the first-ever NFL draft. The Buckeyes have sent 87 players to the NFL in the first round of picks. USC (84) is the only other team that has more than 76. The Wolverines rank seventh in history with 51.

In the history of the seven-round draft, Ohio State still leads with 49, and Alabama in second with 46. Michigan has the ninth-most first-round selections since 1994 with 30.

Like with overall draft picks, the Buckeyes have racked up the big overall draft numbers with large swaths of players going in single drafts. Ohio State had five players taken in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, which is tied for the third-most all time and in the seven-round era. Michigan’s most first-round picks were three, which came in 1995 and 2001.

Since Harbaugh became the Wolverines head coach, Michigan has had eight first-round picks, which is tied for the sixth-most during that time span with Florida. Alabama (24), Ohio State (18), Georgia (13), LSU (11) and Clemson (10) are the only teams with more. Day has sent six players in the first round of the draft since he became the head coach, trailing only Alabama (12), Georgia (eight) and LSU (seven).

Best NFL players by school

But it’s not always just about sending players to the draft. It’s often about how players perform when they reach the NFL. And here, it gets a bit more even.

Both Ohio State and Michigan have six players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Michigan’s Hall of Fame players are Elroy Hirsch, Tom Mack, Dan Dierdorf, Ty Law, Charles Woodson and Steve Hutchinson. Ohio State’s Hall of Fame players are Dante Lavelli, Jim Parker, Dick LeBeau, Paul Warfield, Cris Carter and Orlando Pace.

Ohio State has the second-most combined Pro Bowl Appearances with 175, trailing only USC’s 226. Michigan is 10th at 113.

Then there’s Pro Football Reference’s approximate value (AV), which is described by the site as “an attempt to put a single number on the seasonal value of a player at any position from any year.” And among programs with at least 200 players drafted in the NFL, few teams have produced players to perform better. Of teams with at least 200 players drafted, Ohio State draftees average 19.17 AV per player (fifth), while Michigan draftees average 18.28 per player (10th).

The last way to look at it is which school has produced the very best players. And if you’re looking at the top, no one has produced a better player than Michigan. That would be Tom Brady, who has an AV of 184, the best of any player in NFL history. Ohio State’s best player by approximate value is currently Paul Warfield, who has a career AV of 108.

But with Brady still playing and Cameron Heyward still in the league, both are still adding to those AV totals — and each could add to the Hall of Fame totals.

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