The 5 best NFL players of all time from Iowa State football

From Charles Heileman in 1939 to T.J. Tampa in 2024, Iowa State football has had 139 players selected in the NFL Draft.

There are no Iowa State alumni in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but a few have enjoyed prolonged periods of elite success at the next level.

Here's a look at the best NFL careers of all time from former Cyclone stars:

More: Four potential breakout players in Iowa State football's 2024 campaign

Former Iowa State football great Matt Blair
Former Iowa State football great Matt Blair

Matt Blair (LB, 1974-85)

After a terrific career at Iowa State, which saw him be named Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the 1971 Sun Bowl and a 1973 All-American, Blair was selected in the second round, 51st overall, by the Minnesota Vikings in 1974.

Blair earned by far the most recognition of any Iowa State alum during his NFL career. He notched six Pro Bowl nods (1977-82) and one first-team All-Pro (1980) selection in his 12 seasons, finishing his career with 160 games played, 130 games started, 23 sacks, 16 interceptions and 20 fumble recoveries.

He ranks third in NFL history with 20 blocked kicks on special teams, the most notable being his blocked punt against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl IX that resulted in a touchdown — the Vikings' only points in the 16-6 loss.

Blair was also an integral part of Minnesota's 11-2-1 1976 squad that sported the league's second-ranked defense and returned to the Super Bowl. The former Cyclone during that season tallied two interceptions and five fumble recoveries, as well as two fumble recoveries in the Vikings' 24-13 NFC Championship victory over the Los Angeles Rams.

Blair was inducted into the Iowa State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor in 2012.

He died on October 22, 2020, at the age of 70.

More: Former Iowa State, Minnesota Vikings football star Matt Blair remembered as a kick-blocking pioneer

Keith Sims (G, 1990-2000)

Sims' Cyclones career was stellar, making him the 39th overall pick by the Miami Dolphins in the 1990 draft and an Iowa State Hall of Fame inductee in 2006.

The guard was an integral piece of the unit that blocked for Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. Sims earned three consecutive Pro Bowl selections from 1993-95, as well as second-team All-Pro honors in 1994.

Sims played his last three seasons for Washington after eight seasons in Miami. Overall, Sims started in 133 of his 142 career games, as well as all seven of his playoff games.

More: Iowa State football schedule 2024: Ranking the Cyclones' six most compelling games

Marcus Robertson (DB, 1991-2002)

Robertson totaled 257 tackles, six interceptions and nine forced fumbles during his ISU career, good enough for the Houston Oilers to pick him in the fourth round, 102nd overall, in the 1991 NFL Draft. Iowa State inducted Robertson into its Hall of Fame in 2009.

He mostly played free safety during 12 professional seasons, with his best campaign coming in 1993 when Robertson was named first-team All-Pro. That year he notched 82 total tackles, seven interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries for a league-leading 107 fumble-return yards and one TD.

Although he never replicated that production again, Robertson remained a steady starter for more than a decade. He remained with the organization when it transitioned from the Houston Oilers to the Tennessee Titans and was a key piece of the team's run to Super XXXIV, although he missed the game after getting injured during an interception in the AFC Championship Game.

Robertson played his final two NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks before retiring at age 33. Overall, he started in 144 of his 162 career games and finished with totals of 24 interceptions and 72 passes defensed.

Robertson remains involved in professional football. He began as the Titans’ director of player development, and he and his staff received the Winston and Shell Award in 2006 for innovation and commitment to player development.

The former Cyclone then shifted to the sidelines and is currently the defensive backs coach for the New Orleans Saints. He was also a coaching staff member for the Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions.

Oakland Raiders offensive guard Kelechi Osemele (70) blocks San Diego's Damion Square in 2016.
Oakland Raiders offensive guard Kelechi Osemele (70) blocks San Diego's Damion Square in 2016.

Kelechi Osemele (T, 2012-20)

Osemele vaulted up draft boards after his 2011 Cyclones season garnered him All-American honors from Sports Illustrated, as well as a first-team All-Big 12 selection. He was chosen in the second round, 60th overall, by the Baltimore Ravens in 2012.

Osemele started all 16 regular-season games as a rookie and all four playoff contests en route to the franchise's Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. The ex-Cyclone had back surgery during his sophomore campaign, missed 13 games over the next three seasons and was not resigned by Baltimore, making him a free agent. He eventually landed with the Oakland Raiders in 2016 on a five-year, $60 million deal.

In 2018, Osemele was the second-highest-paid left guard in the NFL.

He played the best football of his career in the silver and black. Osemele was named to the Pro Bowl in 2016 and 2017, and earned first-team All-Pro honors in 2016 for a Raiders offense that had the sixth-best rushing offense in the league.

Injuries then piled up for Osemele. He played in just 19 games over his final three seasons and was traded from Oakland to the New York Jets in 2019, and later signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020 before retiring.

San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy warms up before the NFC Championship Game against Detroit on Jan. 28, 2024.
San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy warms up before the NFC Championship Game against Detroit on Jan. 28, 2024.

Brock Purdy (QB, 2022-23)

"Mr. Irrelevant," the 262nd and final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, has already etched himself onto the list of greatest NFL players from Iowa State.

Purdy's three All-Big 12 selections and 32 Cyclones program records weren't enough to garner significant interest from pro scouts, but just as he did when he began his ISU career, the Arizona native rose from the bottom of San Francisco's depth chart to starter and never looked back.

In just two seasons leading the 49ers' talented roster, Purdy has taken the franchise to consecutive NFC Championship Games and Super Bowl LVIII. In 25 career games, he's thrown for 5,654 yards, 44 TDs and just 15 interceptions.

He has a 17-4 regular-season record as a starter, and his only playoff loss when playing a full game came in the Super Bowl against back-to-back champion Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in overtime.

When it's all said and done, Purdy could be Iowa State's greatest NFL product.

Gus Martin is a Digital Producer/Content Director for The Des Moines Register. Follow him on X at @GusMartin_DMR.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: The 5 best NFL players of all time from Iowa State football

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