20 For 20: The Best NFL Players of the Kirk Ferentz Era -- Part 2

By RossWB on July 5, 2018 at 4:41 pm
Reiff time.

© Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

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The Iowa-to-NFL pipeline has produced many success stories over the past 20 years; we're counting down the best of the best. 

Previously: 20-16

15) SCOTT CHANDLER (2007-2015)

Scott Chandler is another member of the NFL tight end assembly line that Iowa football has created under Kirk Ferentz. If you play tight end at Iowa you're absolutely going to get a look from the NFL; if you start for a few years, you're almost certainly going to get drafted. Chandler parlayed his Iowa success into a fourth round draft pick by the San Diego Chargers in 2007. Chandler had a delayed start to his NFL career, though -- due to several injuries he didn't actually catch his first pass until his fourth season, in 2010. By then he was on first fourth different team (having spent brief stints with the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys after leaving the Chargers). But things finally clicked for Chandler with the Buffalo Bills. He was a fixture in Buffalo from 2011-2014, starting 34 games (and playing in 61 total) while averaging 45 catches, 528 yards, and four touchdowns per season. He posted career-highs in touchdown catches (six) in 2011 and 2012, but posted career-highs in receptions (53) and yards (655) in 2013. Chandler spent one year in New England in 2015 before further injuries ended his career. 

14) ADRIAN CLAYBORN (2011-present)

Like Chandler, Clayborn's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He was drafted in the first round by Tampa Bay in 2011 and produced a strong rookie season: 42 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles. Clayborn suffered season-ending injuries early in the 2012 and 2014 seasons, sandwiched around a 2013 season in which he started all 16 games and racked up a career-high 64 tackles along with 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Clayborn moved to Atlanta after the 2014 season and spent three seasons with the Falcons. His health was mostly better there, with the painful exception of a torn bicep in the 2017 playoffs that cost him a chance to play in the Super Bowl. Clayborn was used in a more situational role in Atlanta, starting just 13 of the 45 games he played for the Falcons. But he still managed to rack up 17 sack and four forced fumbles in his new role -- and even scored a pair of touchdowns. Most notably he set the Falcons' franchise record with six sacks against the Dallas Cowboys last year. Clayborn signed with New England in the offseason. His career hasn't quite lived up to the starry heights his 20th overall selection suggested, but he's been effective when healthy over the past eight seasons. 

13) RILEY REIFF (2012-present)

Who would have imagined that Riley Reiff would one day sign a $58.75 million contract ($26.3 million guaranteed) with the Minnesota Vikings back in his early days at Iowa when he was more famous for running half-naked through Pita Pit than for his blocking prowess? But Reiff quickly put his youthful indiscretions behind him and became a standout on Iowa's line, earning some Freshman All-America honors in 2009, second team All-Big Ten honors in 2010 (after taking over at left tackle), and first team All-Big Ten honors in 2011. His steady (and ever-improving) performance earned him a first round draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 2012 and after seeing limited action as a rookie in 2012, he took over as their starting left tackle in 2013, a role he held for three seasons before moving to right tackle in 2016. Reiff moved to the Vikings in 2017 on a big-money deal and promptly helped shore up a long-term weakness for the Vikings. Reiff has never been selected to a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro team, but he's been a steady and reliable presence on the offensive line. He's missed just four games over the last five seasons and he's been a fixture up front for the Lions and the Vikings. 

12) BRYAN BULAGA (2010-present)

The man Reiff replaced at Iowa checks in next; Bulaga arrived at Iowa as a highly-touted recruit in 2007 and immediately lived up to the hype. He was Iowa's starter at left guard by the midway point of his freshman season and became the starting left tackle in 2008 and 2009, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors in '08 and first-team All-Big Ten honors, as well as the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year Award, in '09. To the surprise of no one he became yet another Iowa offensive lineman drafted in the first round (he's the second of four R1 OL picks in the Ferentz era to date) when Green Bay took him 23rd overall. Injuries have been the only thing to slow Bulaga in his NFL career; a hip injury cost him half of the 2012 season and ACL tears cost him the entire 2013 season and most of the 2017 campaign. But when healthy, Bulaga has been very good, earning a spot on the NFL's All-Rookie team in 2010 and second-team All-Pro honors by Pro Football Focus in 2011. He also rated highly in 2016. Reiff has had better health than Bulaga, but I think Bulaga's highs have been slightly higher than Reiff's, which is why I gave him the nod here. 

11) ERIC STEINBACH (2003-2011)

Steinbach was a key player in Iowa's early turnaround under Ferentz, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2001 and 2002 as well as Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and first-team All-America recognition in 2002. He was drafted with the 33rd pick of the 2003 NFL Draft (narrowly missing out on the first round) by the Cincinnati Bengals, with whom he spent the first four years of his career. Steinbach was an immediate starter for the Bengals and started in 62 of 63 games during his tenure there. Steinbach was considered the top free agent offensive lineman available in 2007 and the $49.5 million ($17 million guaranteed) deal he signed with Cleveland made him one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in the league at that time. Steinbach was named to the NFL's All-Rookie team in 2003 and though he never made an All-Pro or Pro Bowl team (he was a first alternate for the 2008 Pro Bowl), he was still a consistently strong performer for several years. He was also consistently available -- over his 8-year NFL career, he missed just three games and started in 124 of the 125 games he played in. That reliability -- as well as his very solid overall play at left guard -- made him a fixture in the AFC North for almost a decade.

NEXT: It's time to give the defensive line its due. 

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