Iowa has produced some fantastic football players over the years, but who are the best 10? The following are some of the Iowans, and players who went to college in Iowa, who’ve lit up the NFL in the past.
Take a look at the 10 best NFL players that the Hawkeyes state has produced.
Best NFL Players From Iowa Of All Time
1. Andre Tippett
Andre Tippett was born in Alabama and went to high school in New Jersey. But his college career took place in Iowa, as he attended Ellsworth Community college in Iowa Falls and then played for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
His time at the University of Iowa saw him become an All-American. The linebacker was part of a powerful defense that set some of the best records in the program’s history and some of the most impressive triumphs in recent times. He still holds some Iowa records for things like tackles for lost yardage in a season.
Tippett joined the NFL in the 1982 draft, as a second-round pick, and spent his entire career with the New England Patriots. His outstanding career saw him enter the University of Iowa’s Varsity Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He earned a place in the NFL’s all-decade team from the 1980s and played in five consecutive Pro Bowls.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) August 1, 2022
2. Paul Krause
Paul Krause is another example of a former pro football player who wasn’t born in Iowa but who started his college career here. He was born in Michigan, played high school football in that state, and was an outstanding basketball player.
This led him to the University of Iowa, where he was used in various positions on the football field, as his speed and powerful build helped him to become an imposing figure in the college football scene. That wasn’t his only sport in Iowa, though, as Krause also played baseball. In fact, he was an All-American and could have joined the major leagues if he wanted to, although a shoulder injury helped him decide to focus on football.
Instead, he joined the Washington Redskins in the 1964 NFL draft and quickly made a name for himself as he led the league in number of interceptions as a rookie. He went on to set a record of 81 career interceptions, which is still the leading total in the NFL at the time of writing. Krause was picked for the Pro Bowl eight times and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Happy birthday, Paul Krause! pic.twitter.com/L5foMQKgK8
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) February 19, 2022
3. Alex Karras
The multi-talented Alex Karras achieved fame in the NFL and also as an actor and sportscaster and was an excellent wrestler too. He was born in Indiana and seemed set to go to college there until a plan hatched by the University of Iowa saw him spend the summer hidden away in Spencer while they waited to unveil him.
His time with the Iowa Hawkeyes wasn’t an immediate success, as he was overweight and homesick in the early days, but Karras eventually settled into life in Iowa. However, his relationship with the coach, Forest Evashevski remained difficult until the end, and the player once threw a shoe at him out of frustration.
When he finally lost weight and formed a reasonable working relationship with the coach where they only spoke about football and nothing else, Karras helped the Hawkeyes win the Big Ten title and reach the Rose Bowl for the first time. Karras joined the Detroit Lions and also had a successful acting career that included a memorable role in the Western comedy Blazing Saddles and a few TV series.
No. 65: Alex Karras aka “The Mad Duck”
— NFL (@NFL) October 12, 2019
4. Emlen Tunnell
The legendary Emlen Tunnell had an outstanding football career that began at the University of Toledo before he landed at the University of Iowa. Away from the football field, he received a Silver Lifesaving Medal for heroically saving two shipmates while serving in the Coast Guard.
Despite suffering a broken neck while playing for the Toledo Rockets, Tunnell went back to college football once he left the Coast Guard, leading the Iowa team in terms of total offense and pass completions. He set a record of 155 receiving yards and 3 TDs from 6 receptions in a single game, but a difficult relationship with coach Frank Carideo soured the end of his time in Iowa.
With no money to return to college again, Tunnell hitchhiked from Pennsylvania to New York to play in a trial game and then signed for the New York Giants as their first-ever African American player. He quickly became one of the most efficient punt returners in the NFL and was later inducted as the first African American to join the Pro Football Hall of Fam
— NFL (@NFL) February 13, 2020
5. Jay Hilgenberg
Jay Hilgenberg was born in Iowa City and his father, Jerry Hilgenberg, was a player and coach for the University of Iowa football team. Jay followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the University of Iowa.
His NFL career saw him join the Chicago Bears, where he spent a decade before short spells at the Cleveland Browns and the New Orleans Saints. Playing as a center, Hilgenberg was part of the Super Bowl XX winning team with the Bears and has been nominated for the Hall of Fame.
The latest reports suggest that Hilgenberg has been working as an analyst for radio shows in Chicago. His recent social media output suggests that Hilgenberg still stays in shape and also travels a lot, as well as meeting fellow ex-Bears whenever possible.
— Jay Hilgenberg (@JayHilgenberg) October 13, 2019
6. Aaron Kampman
Born in Cedar Rapids, Aaron Kampman played for Aplington-Parkersburg High School before choosing the University of Iowa over several other options. He quickly made an impression and moved from linebacker to defensive end as he racked up numerous tackles.
Among the highlights of his college career, Kampman made 15 tackles and 3 sacks to help the Hawkeyes finish the 2001 season with a winning record and reach the Alamo Bowl, where he collected 96 tackles and 9 sacks. At college, his athletic prowess also saw him stand out in basketball and in track events.
Kampman joined the NFL in the 2022 draft, where the Green Bay Packers picked him. A solid defensive player, he enjoyed several years with the Packers before ending his career following an injury-plagued spell at the Jacksonville Jaguars. A college career total of 342 tackles puts him comfortably in the top 10 in Hawkeyes history.
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) September 19, 2018
7. Bradley Fletcher
Bradley Fletcher was born in Ohio and played his high school football there before joining the University of Iowa. The cornerback was largely used as a backup before his senior season, where he recorded a total of 60 tackles.
After this season as a regular starter, he was picked by the St Louis Rams in the 2009 draft, before moving onto the Philadelphia Eagles and then the New England Patriots.
However, he was released after just two games and has retired from professional football shortly after.
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 18, 2015
8. Bob Sanders
Although he was born in Pennsylvania, safety Bob Sanders headed to Iowa to play for the Hawkeyes. His powerful play and physical stature helped him to get named to three of the All-Big Ten teams during this stage in his career. His time in Iowa ended on a high as he caused three fumbles in his last game, including one right on the goal line.
Sanders moved to the NFL when the Indianapolis Colts picked him in the 2004 draft and despite a string of injuries he managed to help the Colts to win Super Bowl XLI.
He then spent a season with the San Diego Chargers but was unable to shake off his injury woes.
Bob Sanders was a different breed. #NFLHawks
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) May 12, 2022
9. Dallas Clark
This tight end from South Dakota was regarded as the best college player in the tight end position when he played for the University of Iowa. With unanimous All-American honors and as part of the first Hawkeyes team to go unbeaten in 8 decades, Clark also holds the record for the longest pass play in the history of Kinnick Stadium after he ran 95 yards against Purdue.
His next move was to join the Indianapolis Colts, who chose him as the 24th pick in the first round of the 2003 draft. Clark then won the Super Bowl with the Colts and became the highest-paid tight end in the league.
He wound down his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then the Baltimore Ravens.
— NFL (@NFL) June 25, 2022
10. John Niland
Born in New York, John Niland moved to Iowa to accept a football scholarship. While playing for the Hawkeyes, he was moved from fullback to offensive tackle and offensive guard. An All-American pick, Niland, is now a member of the University of Athletics Hall of Fame and the all-time football team for the university.
His NFL career began when the Dallas Cowboys chose him as the fifth overall pick in the 1996 draft, while the Oakland Raiders picked him in the AFL draft for the same year. Renowned as one of the best offensive linesmen of the period, Niland turned in some powerful performances for the Cowboys and he also collected several Pro Bowl selections before moving to the Philadelphia Eagles towards the end of his pro career, retiring after just one season there.
76 days till #DALvNYG
Player: John "Johnny Nightlife" Niland, G
1st round (5th overall) draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 1966.
🔘 6x Pro Bowler
🔘 2x All-Pro
🔘 1x Super Bowl Champ (SB VI)
🔘 30th on ESPN's 50 greatest Cowboys
— Dallas Cowboys Fanatic (@CowboysNews365) June 24, 2019