Illinois football: Illini among the top 50 in most NFL Drafts picks since 2000

There is an argument to be made that the Illinois football team has been a laughingstock of the college football world for much of the past couple of decades.

Granted, I believe Bret Bielema is going to turn the Illini into a perennial bowl team with the hopes of sneaking into the Big Ten Championship game a time or two. But those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, or something like that.

The past is what it is. Illinois hasn’t had a seven-win regular season since the 2007 campaign when the program had a crazy run to the Rose Bowl. We haven’t had 10 total wins in a season since the 2001 run to the Sugar Bowl. The icing on the cake is the fact Illinois has only made six bowl games since the year 2000.

Even with the lack of consistent winning, everything hasn’t been all doom and gloom. Illinois has actually been able to put players into the NFL despite the record not being great.

In a post by Joal Ryan of 247Sports, he listed the top 50 college football programs that have had the most NFL Draft picks in order. Most people probably think Illinois wouldn’t be in this mix. Those people would be wrong, though.

Illinois football is in the top 50 among programs that have had the most NFL Draft picks.

The ranking by 247Sports is in order of most to least among the top 50 college programs. Checking in at No. 50 on the list is, yes, Illinois.

Illinois has had 44 NFL Draft picks since the 2000 draft. Among those 44 picks included five first-round selections. The five first-round selections included Rashard Mendenhall, Vontae Davis, Corey Liuget, AJ Jenkins, and Whitney Mercilus.

Who was the first player picked in the 2000 NFL Draft for the Illini? Fittingly, it was Neil Rackers. He was a kicker for those of you who don’t remember or are too young. He started things off for the Illini, and the most recent draft picks for the Orange and Blue were Kerby Joseph, Vederian Lowe, and Doug Kramer in 2022.

Spread throughout the draft picks for the Illini are Super Bowl titles as well. Teddy Karras, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Tavon Wilson won titles with the New England Patriots. As a rookie, Nick Allegretti won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs. David Diehl won multiple Super Bowls with the New York Giants. There are more names I am missing, but the point is, the success has been there transitioning from Illinois to the NFL.

While some of you might be surprised Illinois is in the top 50 of having players selected in the NFL Draft since 2000, I am not. A lot of talented players have come through this program and have developed. Champaign is a place that can help you get to the next level.