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Has Ohio State produced better NFL players than Michigan in the last 20 years?

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There's never a bad time to explore the depths of the rivalry.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

As great as college football is as a standalone sport, one of its purposes is ostensibly to create NFL players. The draft itself has become something of a cottage industry, with speculation and hype pervading the college football season and dominating headlines from January to April. (It has also kept Mel Kiper, Jr. wealthy enough to keep buying Dapper Dan pomade since the mid-1980's.) Given that the stakes of this season's Ohio State - Michigan tilt are likely to be the highest in years, with OSU defending a title and the Wolverines bringing in Jim Harbaugh, we decided to take a look at which school's draft picks have fared the best upon reaching football's highest level.


Best Buckeye product: Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh Steelers DE

Best Wolverine product: Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles DE

Ohio State takes the title for the past five seasons' worth of drafts, and it's not particularly close. Graham, arguably the best NFL product out of Michigan since 2010, started just one game for Philly last season, though he did appear in all 16 games and recorded 35 tackles. He has hit the 5.5 sack mark twice. Graham gets the nod over Jacksonville RB Denard Robinson, who had a molehill of a breakout with the Jaguars last year after presumptive starter Toby Gerhart was revealed to not be particularly good at football. Robinson could still have a productive future, but the Jaguars drafting Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon in this year's second round doesn't bode well for Shoelace. Trench guys like Tennessee Titans OL Taylor Lewan and Broncos OL Michael Schofield have yet to make the leap, and we have no idea what might become of 2015's Devin Funchess (Panthers WR), Frank Clark (Seahawks DE) and Jake Ryan (Packers LB).

The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have poured some serious assets into the NFL over that same timeframe. Heyward has been a stalwart for the Steelers' defense, starting all 16 regular season games and racking up 35 solo tackles in 2014. He's strung together a solid career since being drafted in the first round in 2011. The Steelers seem to agree, inking Heyward to a six-year deal this week worth more than $59 million. Hard on his heels are 2014 draftees Bradley Roby, now a DB for the Denver Broncos (65 tackles and 2 INT in his rookie year), 49ers RB Carlos Hyde (San Francisco's new feature back), and Colts OL Jack Mewhort (a starter by last season's end). It's not hard to imagine this list looking even more lopsided a few years down the road.

Advantage: Buckeyes

Late 2000's

Best Buckeye product: Nick Mangold, New York Jets C

Best Wolverine product: Jake Long, St. Louis Rams LT

It's a closer call here, but Ohio State still gets the nod in the 2005-2009 classes. New York Jets C Nick Mangold has been one of the most consistently dominating offensive linemen in the league since being taken in the first round of the 2006 draft. Mangold has made the Pro Bowl every year of his career except 2012, one of the best layman's measures we have for gauging the value of O-line players. Competing with Mangold for the top spot here are Eagles DB Malcolm Jenkins, who started all 16 games for Philly in 2014, recording 63 solo tackles and 3 INTs, and St. Louis Rams MLB James Laurinaitis, who has started every regular season game since being drafted in 2009.

Jake Long has been nearly as good as Mangold for stretches of his career, featuring stints in both Miami and St. Louis. He's a four-time Pro Bowler (though he hasn't earned that distinction since 2011), and you could certainly do worse at the left tackle spot. Other notable names from this group of Wolverines include Raiders LB/DE LaMarr Woodley, who was part of a great stretch of fearsome Pittsburgh defenses in his time as a Steeler, and Bengals CB Leon Hall, who, despite losing a step in the last season or two, has been a steady hand in the Bengals' secondary since 2007.

Advantage: Buckeyes

Early 2000's

Best Buckeye product: Nate Clements, Bills/49ers/Bengals CB

Best Wolverine product: Tom Brady, New England Patriots QB

Ohio State had an astonishing 39 players drafted between 2000 and 2004. It was one of the best five-year stretches in Buckeye draft history, pumping a lot of quality talent into the league. Guys like Mike Nugent (843 career points), Will Allen (11 seasons and counting), and Will Smith (324 career tackles) all entered the NFL in that time span, but Nate Clements was the best of the bunch. In an 11-year career, Clements recorded 656 tackles, 36 interceptions, and 7 touchdowns on defense and special teams.

Still...the name at top of Michigan's list for this stretch renders all those stats moot. Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game, winning his fourth Super Bowl in 2014 on a Patriots team that everyone had counted out by Week 2 of the regular season (sound familiar?). Brady gives Michigan the easy W here. Accompanying Touchdown Tom between 2000 and 2004 were guard Steve Hutchinson (a 12-year man for the Seahawks, Vikings, and Titans), Steelers and Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote, and journeyman safety Cato June.

Advantage: Wolverines

Late 1990's

Best Buckeye product: Orlando Pace, St. Louis Rams LT

Best Wolverine product: Charles Woodson, Raiders/Packers DB

If you were to put together an NFL team comprised by as many late-90's Buckeyes as possible, you could probably do some serious damage. The list of top-caliber players that Ohio State poured into the pros between 1995 and 1999 is an absolute murderer's row. There's Eddie George, a first-round pick who rushed for over 14,000 yards in an eight-year career that included four Pro Bowls. There's Antoine Winfield, another first-rounder who gave wide receivers fits for close to 15 years in the league. There are Joey Galloway and Terry Glenn, receivers who played like they were made in a lab to catch footballs. Shawn Springs. Korey Stringer. Mike Vrabel. It's a terrifying lineup. But the crown jewel of the group is Orlando Pace, 7-time Pro Bowler and recent Hall of Fame snub. Pace played 13 seasons after being taken with the first overall pick in 1997, and it's hard to find a more consistent left tackle who took the field during any of those years.

Michigan, meanwhile, had no shortage of NFL talent coming through its doors between '95 and '99, either. Ty Law was one of the league's premier shutdown corners for years, racking up 15 seasons total and winning a handful of Super Bowls in his time as a New England Patriot. Running back Tyrone Wheatley was no slouch, either, sticking around for 10 years. Guys like Tim Biakabutuka, Jay Riemersma, Brian Griese, and Tai Streets all saw time as contributors to various programs. Certainly not a bad offering from Michigan. But those guys just don't stack up to the NFL talent of the Buckeyes of the late '90s.

Advantage: Buckeyes

Our list ends here, mostly because I won't pretend to have seen enough tape of any player who entered the league before 1995 to speak intelligently about them. Millennials stay ruining everything, I know. If it turns out that Michigan's NFL products were head and shoulders above Ohio State's in the years preceding the ones given here, this list will probably seem pretty conveniently biased, but history is written by the victors, and since Michigan has only beaten Ohio State twice since 2001, the point stands.