For the longest time, the Big Ten has been known for physical defensive play and running between the tackles on offense. Often considered the boring conference, the Big Ten sticks to its roots of pounding the football up the middle and playing that sluggish style that grinds out victories.
With this being the case, you would think the Big Ten would have a ton of success producing at the next level. Truthfully, there aren't many great runners who have produced at a high level in the NFL. This may have to do with the wear and tear they suffer in college, or just the lack of great speed that is needed to play with the big boys.
Here are the handful of NFL runners who have made the Big Ten proud.
Note: Runners such as Franco Harris, Ahman Green, Roger Craig, Lydell Mitchell and Curt Warner were not included in this article due to not being officially part of the Big Ten. Penn State was independent at the time and Nebraska was still part of the Big 8 and Big 12.
Bill Brown was a second-round pick in the 1961 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears and was later traded to the Minnesota Vikings before the 1962 draft. What a mistake that was.
Brown played 14 seasons in the league, 13 of them with Minnesota. Playing in shorter seasons, Brown doesn't have off-the-wall statistics, but he was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and held many Vikings records once he retired.
Some of the franchise records that still stand today include most games started by a running back with 111. He finished his career with 5,838 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns, and he caught 286 passes for more than 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns.
The former Viking great was an aggressive runner who enjoyed the physicality of the game.
Rashard Mendenhall has a real chance to move up this list as long as he can remain healthy. He missed most of last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers with a torn ACL, but with the pace he is on, he has a chance to become a special player.
Only five seasons into the league, Mendenhall has rushed for 3,549 yards and 29 touchdowns. He is also one of the better receivers in the league, as he has caught 77 passes for 661 yards. Although not contributing much his rookie season, he did win a Super Bowl ring in 2008.
Mendenhall is now with the Arizona Cardinals and looks to regain form after such a serious injury. If he can continue to be that workhorse and pick up the pace he was on in his first couple of seasons, he should have no problem being considered one of the best backs in the league.
Robert Smith spent all eight years in the backfield for the Minnesota Vikings. It took him a while to get going, but he finished his final four seasons clearing the century mark.
Smith ran for 6,818 yards and 32 touchdowns in his career, while hauling in 178 passes for 1,292 yards. He reached the Pro Bowl twice and was even an All-Pro selection in 2000. When he retired, Smith was also the all-time leading rusher for the Vikings, which was later passed by current running back Adrian Peterson.
The former Buckeye was a productive runner late in his career and could have continued playing, as he retired at 28 years old after having his best season of his career with 1,521 rushing yards.
Smith remains an underrated running back in NFL history.
Oh, what could have been?
Larry Johnson was terrific for Penn State and began to make his mark for the Kansas City Chiefs early in his career. After setting an NFL single-season record with 416 touches in 2006 and rushing for more than 1,700 yards for the second straight season, Johnson demanded a new contract. This eventually led to camp holdouts and bad blood between Johnson and the franchise.
After taking the NFL by storm in four years, Johnson was never the same and later dealt with injuries, bad situations and being released by four different teams.
Although he never really reached his true potential, Johnson still rushed for 6,223 yards, 55 touchdowns and was a two-time All-Pro. However, we will always be left wondering what could have been accomplished if he had been able to stay healthy and not hit the wall after two phenomenal seasons.
Mike Alstott was one of the last productive fullbacks in the NFL from a rushing standpoint. Racking up 5,088 yards and scoring 71 total touchdowns, he was the real deal at a position that is falling off the face of the earth.
Alstott played all of his 11 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was named to six Pro Bowls. He was also a four-time All-Pro selection and won a Super Bowl ring during the 2002 season. At 6'1", 248 pounds, Alstott was bigger and stronger than everybody on the field, often running guys over and powering his way into the end zone.
Whether it was running up the gut or catching the ball out of the backfield, there was never a fullback as productive as this guy was. More than a blocker and somebody who did all of the dirty work, Alstott was a true offensive weapon.
Mike Pruitt played for three different teams from 1976-1986 and rushed for more than 7,000 yards and 51 touchdowns. He spent majority of his time with the Cleveland Browns but also played for the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs.
Pruitt was a back-to-back All-Pro in 1979 and 1980, as well as a two-time Pro Bowl selection those same years. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four of his 11 years and was a nice receiver, hauling in 270 passes for 1,860 yards.
Pruitt's performance in 1980 when he rushed for 1,034 yards was a big reason the Browns were tied for first in the AFC Central that season.
The former Purdue running back is ranked third on the Cleveland Browns' rushing yards list (6,540) and was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
Eddie George was a first-round pick by the Houston Oilers and spent eight of his nine years with the team now known as the Tennessee Titans.
Truly the face of the franchise for many years, George was hot out of the gate, winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 1996. He also rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons.
He reached the Pro Bowl four times, scored 68 touchdowns on the ground and is one of 27 running backs to rack up at least 10,000 rushing yards.
George was a role model on and off the field and was a workhorse for much of his career, carrying the ball more than 300 times in eight straight seasons. He was a joy to watch, and he will remain the top running back the Big Ten has produced for quite some time.