Highest NFL draft picks from Illinois

Written by:
February 8, 2022
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Highest NFL draft picks from Illinois

Since the first draft was held in 1936, the National Football League (NFL) has used its annual culling of the top college talent in the country to grow its ranks, renew the popularity of the sport, and to increase competitive parity among all football teams. Though the draft process has undergone several iterations since that first draft took place, it remains true to its original design as an equalizer. In its current arrangement, the draft consists of seven rounds, whereby each of the 32 NFL teams receives one pick per round. The order of selection takes place in reverse order of how each team finished the previous season—in other words, barring any trades between teams, each round starts with the team that had the worst overall record and ends with the Super Bowl champions.

There is a long and storied history of teams coming out of the dustbin of failure to resurrect themselves through strategic drafting of top college players. In 1989, for example, the Dallas Cowboys finished 1-15, the worst record in their franchise history. But after drafting Emmitt Smith, who would go on to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, first-round No. 1 pick Russell Maryland, and No. 1 pick and future Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, “America’s team” transformed itself into a powerhouse that won three Super Bowls throughout the 1990s.

And while for every top draft pick that went on to gridiron glory—such as 7-time All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning—there are equally storied accounts of star players who almost didn't make it out of the draft at all, let alone make a team’s top pick, the NFL’s annual strategic raffle has retained, for teams and colleges alike, its power to change the face of the game with a single draft pick. To this, one need look no further than the 2017 draft, when nine teams passed over Patrick Mahomes, who has gone on to take the once-flailing Kansas City Chiefs to three Super Bowl appearances.

With the 2022 draft slated to be held April 28-30 in Las Vegas, Stacker compiled a list of the highest NFL draft picks born in Illinois since 1970 using data from Pro Football Reference. Ties were broken by the most recent year drafted.

#10. Dennis Lick (T)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #8 overall in 1976
- Drafted by: Chicago Bears
- University: Wisconsin
- Years as a starter in NFL: 4 (0 Pro Bowls)

#9. Mike Pruitt (RB)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #7 overall in 1976
- Drafted by: Cleveland Browns
- University: Purdue
- Years as a starter in NFL: 8 (2 Pro Bowls)

#8. Sterling Sharpe (WR)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #7 overall in 1988
- Drafted by: Green Bay Packers
- University: South Carolina
- Years as a starter in NFL: 7 (5 Pro Bowls)

#7. Bryant Young (DT)
- Born: Chicago Heights, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #7 overall in 1994
- Drafted by: San Francisco 49ers
- University: Notre Dame
- Years as a starter in NFL: 14 (4 Pro Bowls)

#6. Corey Davis (WR)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #5 overall in 2017
- Drafted by: Tennessee Titans
- University: Western Michigan
- Years as a starter in NFL: 4 (0 Pro Bowls)

#5. Chris Hinton (T)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #4 overall in 1983
- Drafted by: Denver Broncos
- University: Northwestern
- Years as a starter in NFL: 11 (7 Pro Bowls)

#4. Simeon Rice (DE)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #3 overall in 1996
- Drafted by: Arizona Cardinals
- University: Illinois
- Years as a starter in NFL: 11 (3 Pro Bowls)

#3. Solomon Thomas (DE)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #3 overall in 2017
- Drafted by: San Francisco 49ers
- University: Stanford
- Years as a starter in NFL: 2 (0 Pro Bowls)

#2. Donovan McNabb (QB)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #2 overall in 1999
- Drafted by: Philadelphia Eagles
- University: Syracuse
- Years as a starter in NFL: 11 (6 Pro Bowls)

#1. Russell Maryland (DT)
- Born: Chicago, Illinois
- Draft pick: Round 1, #1 overall in 1991
- Drafted by: Dallas Cowboys
- University: Miami (FL)
- Years as a starter in NFL: 10 (1 Pro Bowls)

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