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Rob Weintraub's Big Ten Alumni Trophies

Minnesota Vikings WR Stefon Diggs
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Eight is a very lucky number in China, where I was fortunate enough to live for a couple of years. I certainly feel lucky to be able to present my eighth annual Alumni Awards -- my selections for every season's best NFL player from each of the Power Five college programs. It's a great way to gauge the health of the collegiate teams, an indicator of the volatility of the pro game, and, most of all, a fun argument-starter.

Today we cover the Big Ten Conference.


ILLINOIS (17 total pros on rosters in 2019 per ESPN.com)

2012: Vontae Davis, CB, IND
2013: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, HOU
2014: Vontae Davis, CB, IND
2015: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, HOU
2016: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, HOU
2017: Clayton Fejedelem, S, CIN
2018: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, HOU
2019: Whitney Mercilus, DE/LB, HOU

Just a so-so season for the Merciless One but it was easily enough to capture his fifth Illini Award in eight seasons.


2012: Rodger Saffold, OT, STL
2013: Tracy Porter, CB, OAK
2014: Rodger Saffold, G, STL
2015: Tracy Porter, CB, CHI
2016: Jordan Howard, RB, CHI
2017: Rodger Saffold, G, LAR
2018: Rodger Saffold, G, LAR
2019: Rodger Saffold, G, TEN

Saffold's move to Nashville helped propel the Titans line to among the league's best, and gave Rodger-With-A-"D" a Hoosier Award in his third city.

IOWA (28)

2012: Marshal Yanda, G, BAL
2013: Adrien Clayborn, DE, TB
2014: Marshal Yanda, G, BAL
2015: Marshal Yanda, G, BAL
2016: Marshal Yanda, G, BAL
2017: Micah Hyde, S, BUF
2018: George Kittle, TE, SF
2019: George Kittle, TE, SF

Another quality group of Hawkeyes getting paid to play, including Vikes tackle Riley Reiff; Packers corner Josh Jackson and tackle Bryan Bulaga; and Bears center James Daniels. But it comes down to Kittle against Yanda, possibly the two best players at their respective positions in the league.


2012: Torrey Smith, WR, BAL
2013: D'Qwell Jackson, LB, CLE
2014: Torrey Smith, WR, BAL
2015: Stefon Diggs, WR, MIN
2016: Yannick Ngakoue, DE, JAX
2017: Yannick Ngakoue, DE, JAX
2018: Yannick Ngakoue, DE, JAX
2019: Stefon Diggs, WR, MIN

The number of Terps in the pros is small, but they are an impressive enough group, with Diggs not only ending Yannick's bid for four straight but beating out rookie Packers safety Darnell Savage, Pats corner J.C. Jackson, and Panthers wideout D.J. Moore for the Turtle.


2012: Tom Brady, QB, NE
2013: Tom Brady, QB, NE
2014: Tom Brady, QB, NE
2015: Tom Brady, QB, NE
2016: Tom Brady, QB, NE
2017: Tom Brady, QB, NE
2018: Tom Brady, QB, NE
2019: Tom Brady, QB, NE

The question I received more than any other in the wake of New England's playoff defeat was "Does this mean Tom Brady won't win the Michigan Alumni Award, at last??!!" Alas, no. His time in New England may have come to an end, but Touchdown Tommy goes out with his unprecedented eighth consecutive Wolverine trophy. But with defenders like Frank Clark and Devin Bush hovering, even if Brady plays another season (or three), his chances of hoisting yet another of these coveted trophies is dwindling rapidly.


2012: Domato Peko, DT, CIN
2013: Le'Veon Bell, RB, PIT
2014: Le'Veon Bell, RB, PIT
2015: Kirk Cousins, QB, WAS
2016: Le'Veon Bell, RB, PIT
2017: Le'Veon Bell, RB, PIT
2018: Kirk Cousins, QB, MIN
2019: Kirk Cousins, QB, MIN

Bell's reappearance after a year on the beach was supposed to make this a tough race again, but instead Captain Kirk cruised to his second straight Sparty.


2012: Eric Decker, WR, DEN
2013: Eric Decker, WR, DEN
2014: Eric Decker, WR, NYJ
2015: Eric Decker, WR, NYJ
2016: De'Vondre Campbell, LB, ATL
2017: De'Vondre Campbell, LB, ATL
2018: De'Vondre Campbell, LB, ATL
2019: De'Vondre Campbell, LB, ATL

Yawn, another Gopher for Campbell against nothingburger competition.


2012: Ndamakong Suh, DT, DET
2013: Lavonte David, LB, TB
2014: Ndamakong Suh, DT, DET
2015: Richie Incognito, G, BUF
2016: Lavonte David, LB, TB
2017: Lavonte David, LB, TB
2018: Ndamakong Suh, DT, LAR
2019: Lavonte David, LB, TB

Bucs teammates David and Suh were the only real competitors for the Black Shirt, with the linebacker slipping past the tackle for the award. Suh hoped to win the trophy with his third different team, but alas.


2012: Barry Cofield, DT, WAS
2013: Zach Strief, OT, NO
2014: Zach Strief, OT, NO
2015: Zach Strief, OT, NO
2016: Zach Strief, OT, NO
2017: Trevor Siemian, QB, DEN
2018: Anthony Walker, LB, IND
2019: Anthony Walker, LB, IND

Another win in a cakewalk for the decent but hardly sensational Walker. Those journalism schools sure aren't turning out the NFL talent of late.


2012: Zach Boone, G, SF
2013: James Laurinaitis, LB, STL
2014: Cameron Heyward, DE, PIT
2015: Malcolm Jenkins, S, PHI
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL
2017: Marshon Lattimore, CB, NO
2018: Michael Thomas, WR, NO
2019: Michael Thomas, WR, NO

"When in doubt, draft the Buckeye" is usually a good credo for pro teams to follow. As always, the duel for the Alumni Award was a battle royal, featuring the Bosa Brothers hurling one another off the ropes at Zeke Elliott, Terry McLaurin, Marshon Lattimore, Sam Hubbard, Corey Linsley, etc. It came down to a mano a mano duel between defending champ Thomas and Pittsburgh's interior game-wrecker Cameron Heyward. Thomas' records and his team's superiority carried the day, and the Buckeye trophy back to the Big Easy.


2012: Cameron Wake, DE/LB, MIA
2013: Tamba Hali, DE/LB, KC
2014: Cameron Wake, DE/LB, MIA
2015: NoVarro Bowman, LB, SF
2016: Sean Lee, LB, DAL
2017: Cameron Wake, DE/LB, MIA
2018: Saquon Barkley, RB, NYG
2019: Chris Godwin, WR, TB

The vagaries of the NFL in a nutshell: after years of Penn State being Linebacker U, Saquon and his wondrous talents took the league by storm a year ago, appearing to indicate a long stretch of Nittanies in Barkley's future. But a sudden tweak of his knee and the race was open to competition from both Barkley's understudy in Happy Valley, Miles Sanders (now toting the rock for the Eagles), and the winner, the unheralded but extremely productive Godwin.


2012: Bernard Pollard, S, BAL
2013: Drew Brees, QB, NO
2014: Drew Brees, QB, NO
2015: Kawann Short, DT, CAR
2016: Drew Brees, QB, NO
2017: Drew Brees, QB, NO
2018: Drew Brees, QB, NO
2019: Drew Brees, QB, NO

Brees' injury opened the door a crack for Raheem Mostert to swipe away the Boiler, and his insane NFC title game gave him a strong argument. But in the end Drew collects his sixth trophy in seven years -- will he come back to try and snag No. 7? (Don't let him fool you -- this would be the only reason to put off retirement.)


2012: Ray Rice, RB, BAL
2013: Jeremy Zuttah, C, TB
2014: Devin McCourty, S, NE
2015: Devin McCourty, S, NE
2016: Devin McCourty, S, NE
2017: Devin McCourty, S, NE
2018: Devin McCourty, S, NE
2019: Devin McCourty, S, NE

It only seems like every Rutgers alum plays for the Patriots -- in truth, but five of the 16 don the revolutionary colors. Former Pats (now Titans) defensive back Logan Ryan had a shot at ending McCourty's reign with the Scarlet Knight Award, but in the end, unlike the result of the playoff contest between their respective teams, Ryan came up just short.


2012: J.J. Watt, DE, HOU
2013: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA
2014: J.J. Watt, DE, HOU
2015: J.J. Watt, DE, HOU
2016: Travis Frederick, C, DAL
2017: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA
2018: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA
2019: Russell Wilson, QB, SEA

Travis Frederick was back, and Ryan Ramczyk was phenomenal, and so was T.J. Watt. As usual, the Wisky Award was hotly contested, but in the end Mr. Ciara took it easily with an MVP-quality campaign.


4 comments, Last at 09 Mar 2020, 11:11pm

1 Minnesota has been well…

Minnesota has been well coached from 2011 on, thus consistently posting w-l records which exceed the talent level. I'd say Nebraska has been poorly coached since entering the Big 10 in 2010, thus usually underperforming the talent level. The question for Minnesota is whether they can get their recruiting classes into the top 30, and keep them there. If they do, I'd expect them to have more than 20 players on NFL rosters within 5 years.

2 Alex Boone, not Zach Boone…

Alex Boone, not Zach Boone.

Otherwise good list.

While we're in this geographic region, I realized you could make a MAC list that wouldn't be completely barren recently - Pennington, R.Moss, Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Kareem Hunt obviously, but Shawn Suisam, Charlie Frye, and Josh Cribbs also hold notable spots.

In the coaching spot, Sean McVay and John Harbaugh are carrying on the Bo Schembechler Redhawk tradition.

3 Josh Jackson

Josh Jackson basically just plays special teams. I *wish* he was showing positive qualities.

Enjoying these lists btw

4 Wisconsin

What was the NFL Roster total for Wisconsin?

Fun articles, btw. Great job-