Michigan Football: Wolverines All-Time NFL Defensive Unit

Daniel O'BrienFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2011

Michigan Football: Wolverines All-Time NFL Defensive Unit

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    The University of Michigan Wolverines football program is one of the proudest in the country, and it's also been a breeding ground for some of the best NFL defensive stalwarts over the years.

    They've produced a handful of the most feared defensive backs in NFL history, but they boast their fair share of pass-rushers as well.

    Which Wolverines had the best NFL careers at each defensive position? Here is Big Blue's all-time NFL defensive unit.

Defensive End: Len Ford

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    After starting his professional career with the All-American Football Conference's Los Angeles Dons, Len Ford joined the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

    Ford brought home plenty of hardware for Cleveland. During his eight years with the Browns, he was one of the defensive pillars that led the Browns to three NFL championship victories and five championship game appearances.

    He also earned four Pro Bowl appearances, was named to the 1950's All-Decade team and was inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 1976. A resume like that made it easy for me to tab him Michigan's best NFL defensive end.

Defensive Tackle: Trevor Pryce

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    Trevor Pryce was a freight train force for two of the best defensive teams of the past 15 years. He spent time at tackle and end during his college and pro career, so for the sake of this lineup, he's a tackle.

    First, he was a key member of the Denver Broncos' Super Bowl squads of 1998 and 1999, and he spent most of his career with Denver. Then he brought his talents to Baltimore to become part of their fearsome unit.

    With 439 tackles and 91 sacks, Pryce cemented himself as one of the best defensive linemen of the past couple decades.

Middle Linebacker: Frank Nunley

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    Frank Nunley was drafted in the third round of the 1967 draft by the San Francisco 49ers and spent his entire 10-year career with them.

    The "Fudgehammer" was a steady presence at middle linebacker and helped the 'Niners rise to prominence in the NFC in the 1970s. Nunley and company ran the "flex" defense, a new, dynamic system at the time.

Outside Linebacker: LaMarr Woodley

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    After his All-American and All-Big Ten career at Michigan, Lamarr Woodley took the NFL by storm, helping the Pittsburgh Steelers continue their strong defensive tradition.

    He already has a Super Bowl ring, a Pro Bowl and 48 sacks under his belt in his young career. Woodley can do it all, whether it's rushing the quarterback, scooping up fumbles or dropping back in pass coverage.

    It's this kind of versatility that's made the Steelers one of the most feared defenses in the NFL every year.

Strong Safety: Keith Bostic

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    Keith Bostic followed up his standout career at Michigan with an equally impressive professional career. He was a leader and an enforcer for the Houston Oilers throughout the 1980s, turning up the pressure on opponents with his physical, hard-hitting style of play.

    His combination of strength and speed allowed him to be effective at both rushing the quarterback and roaming the secondary for interceptions. But most of all, he was an imposing presence and a punisher; he would probably get into some trouble if he played in today's era.

Free Safety: Rick Volk

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    This position was pretty much a toss-up between Dwight Hicks and Rick Volk, but I gave Volk the upset pick because of his longevity and versatility as a returner.

    Volk spent the bulk of his career with the Baltimore Colts, where he was a three-time Pro Bowler and led the Colts' defense to the legendary Super Bowl V victory. His clutch fourth-quarter interception in Super Bowl V was the turning point to help Baltimore stun Dallas and take the title.

    He finished his career with 38 interceptions for 574 return yards, and he also added 548 punt return yards.

Cornerback: Charles Woodson

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    Charles Woodson beats out Ty Law as the best NFL cornerback from Michigan because of his dynamic play and better resume. The 1997 Heisman Trophy winner faced high expectations entering his pro career, and he has been up to the task, proving to be an elite professional defender.

    Woodson is a seven-time Pro Bowler, he played in two Super Bowls and was the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He is a prolific cover corner who has a penchant for picking off passes and forcing fumbles. His cagey veteran skills helped lead the Green Bay Packers to the promised land last season.

Honorable Mention

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    Defensive End: Curtis Greer

    Defensive Tackle: Kevin Brooks

    Middle Linebacker: Larry Foote

    Outside Linebacker: Roger Zatkoff

    Free Safety: Dwight Hicks

    Strong Safety: Randy Logan

    Cornerback: Ty Law