Recent Iowa Hawkeyes offenses haven’t exactly wowed college football fans, but the program has a deep history full of All-Americans, Big Ten champions, and College Football Hall of Famers.
From Nile Kinnick to Alex Karras, the tradition of Iowa football began in the infancy of college football and continues today.
Although some of the names on this list may not be familiar to modern fans, you might be shocked to find out how many NFL greats wore a Hawkeyes uniform first.
Here is our list of the top 10 Iowa Hawkeyes football players of all time.
10. Randy Duncan, quarterback
Randy Duncan has the honor of being the first Iowa Hawkeyes player to be taken with first overall pick in the NFL Draft. In 1958, Duncan was a consensus All-American, Big Ten MVP. He also led the conference in passing and the nation in total offense, completion percentage, and passing yardage. He also finished second in Heisman voting that year. During his time at Iowa, they were 24–3–2 with two Big Ten titles and two Rose Bowl victories. Duncan has been inducted into the Iowa Sports Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.
9. Josey Jewell, linebacker
Josey Jewell is one of the best linebackers to ever come out of Iowa City. As a sophomore, he led the team with 126 tackles, three sacks, and four interceptions, garnering a second-team All-Big Ten nod. As a junior, he started every game and once again led the team with 124 tackles, once again landing on the All-Big Ten second team. A senior, Jewell led the Big Ten with 125 tackles, was named a unanimous All-American, named first-team All-Big Ten, named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and won the Jack Lambert Award and Lott Trophy, amongst others. He’s been a strong force on the Denver Broncos’ defense since 2018.
8. Marvin McNutt, wide receiver
Iowa isn’t known for a strong history of wide receivers but one of the best to play for them was Marvin McNutt. As a senior, McNutt hauled in 82 passes for 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was named Big Ten Wide Receiver of the Year and earned a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team. He finished his Iowa career with 170 receptions, 2861 yards, and 28 scores.
7. Bryan Bulaga, offensive tackle
Iowa’s tradition of producing big offensive linemen continued with Bryan Bulaga, who had a very long NFL career with the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Chargers. Bulaga became a starter on the offensive line midway through his freshman season and never looked back, garnering a spot on the Sporting News‘ Freshman All-Big Ten team. In 2009, he was named to the Outland Trophy watch list and ended up becoming Big Ten’s offensive lineman of the year. He played in 126 games for the Hawkeyes, starting 122 of them. A first-round pick by the Packers, he went on to win a Super Bowl with them in 2011.
6. Brandon Scherff, offensive tackle
Another great offensive tackle, and maybe the best that Iowa has ever produced, is Brandon Scherff. Scherff was one of the most decorated offensive linemen in Hawkeyes history. 2014 was a big year for him as he won the Outland Trophy, was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, and was a unanimous All-American. Scherff ended up being drafted by the Washington Football Team in 2015 and played for them through 2021 before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022.
5. Andre Tippett, linebacker
Andre Tippett anchored what might have been one of the most dominant defenses in Iowa history, which is saying something. In 1981, he led the Hawkeyes to their first winning season, Big Ten title, and Rose Bowl in two decades. That defense allowed only 129 points, the lowest total since 1965. For his part, Tippett was a two-time first-team all-Big Ten player and he still holds the school record for tackles for lost yardage in a season. He also went on to have a standout NFL career with the New England Patriots. Tippett is a member of the University of Iowa’s Varsity Hall of Fame, Pro Football Hall of Fame, and College Football Hall of Fame.
4. Alex Karras, defensive tackle
For younger generations, Alex Karras is better known as an actor than a football player. Perhaps you know him as Mongo in Mel Brooks’ film “Blazing Saddles” or as Emmanuel Lewis’s dad in “Webster.” Before all of that, however, Karras was a monster defensive tackle for Iowa. A two-time All-American, he won the Outland Trophy in 1957. Karras went on to have a stellar NFL career with the Detroit Lions. The four-time Pro Bowler is a member of the Detroit Lions All-Time Team and the NFL 1960s All-Decade team. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
3. Dallas Clark, tight end
Dallas Clark is best known for his time with the Indianapolis Colts but before that, he was a big-time tight end for the Iowa Hawkeyes. In 2001, Clark started 10 games and caught 38 passes for 539 yards and four touchdowns, garnering honorable mention All-Big Ten. In 2012, Clark put up 43 catches for 742 yards and 4 touchdowns and helped lead Iowa to an 11-2 record and their first undefeated Big Ten season in 80 years. He picked up the John Mackey Award, was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and was a unanimous first-team All-American. He went on to have a productive NFL career, winning a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2007.
2. Chuck Long, quarterback
The Iowa Hawkeyes have produced their share of great quarterbacks, perhaps none greater than Chuck Long. Long was an All-American, Maxwell Award winner, Davey O’Brien Award winner, the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player, and finished second in the 1985 Heisman Trophy vote behind Bo Jackson. In 1985, he helped the Hawkeyes rise to No. 1 in the country and led his team to the Rose Bowl. Long threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns that season. In three of the four years that he was a starter, he threw for over 2,000 yards and ended his career with nearly 10,000 yards passing and 64 touchdowns. When he graduated, Long held every school passing record except one. Long is now a member of the College Football Bowl Hall of Fame.
1. Nile Kinnick, halfback, quarterback
You can’t tell the history of Iowa Hawkeyes football without Nile Kinnick. Born in Adel, Iowa, he stayed in-state for college despite the fact that Iowa was a struggling football program at the time. In 1937, he was named first-team All-Big Ten and a third-team All-American. In 1939, however, he threw for 638 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 31 passes and also ran for 374 yards. He was involved in 16 of the 19 touchdowns (11 passing, 5 rushing) Iowa scored and was involved in 107 of the 130 points scored. For his efforts, he was named a consensus first-team All-American, Heisman Trophy winner, Big Ten MVP, Maxwell and Walter Camp Award winner, and AP Athlete of the Year. Kinnick later enlisted in the Naval Air Reserve but tragically died on a training mission flight. In 1972, Iowa’s stadium was officially named Kinnick Stadium to honor the legend who set the tone for the program’s success ahead.