NFL Draft 2019

The best 20 current NFL players from THE Ohio State University

Ohio State is a professional football factory. But who are the best Buckeyes playing in the NFL today?

Only two universities have had more guys play in the NFL than THE Ohio State University. The Buckeyes boast 479 NFL players, including eight Hall of Famers and 50 active players, both fourth most among all schools. They’re one of the all-time great college football programs, and they’ve been a professional football factory sending guys to the pros, too.

You could fill an entire NFL roster with only Ohio State players. Just the last few years alone, you could build an incredible defensive backfield. The Bosa bros are all the pass rush you need while Ezekiel Elliott and Michael Thomas man the offense. You even have a quarterback now with Dwayne Haskins! Names like Jim Parker, Paul Warfield, and Jim Marshall dot Ohio State’s long time history, while players like Orlando Pace, Cris Carter, and Eddie George revitalized the school’s tradition in the 90s and into the new millennium.

Now there’s been another recent influx of Ohio State talent headed to the NFL. So just who are the best 20 active Buckeye alumni in the NFL? Let’s rank their careers thus far, counting them down from 20 to 1…

20. DE Nick Bosa — 2019 pick 1.??

Nick Bosa is so good he’s already a top 20 Ohio State player in the NFL, even though he hasn’t even been drafted yet. Bosa appears to be the number one prospect in the 2019 draft class and looks like a lock to go in the top five picks, maybe even number one overall. Bosa’s older brother Joey has been a star in the NFL, and little brother Nick looks like he could be even better.

Nick Bosa played only three games in 2018, but he was an absolute monster as a sophomore. He recorded 16 tackles for a loss and had 8.5 sacks, tallying 17.5 sacks for Ohio State in only 29 games played. Bosa was named First Team All Big Ten and helped the Buckeyes win the 2017 Big Ten Championship, and he looks like he’ll be quite a prize for any team lucky enough to snag him in the 2019 draft.

19. SS Vonn Bell — 2016 New Orleans Saints, pick 2.61

Vonn Bell was only the eighth Buckeye selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, but that’s not really a knock on his ability considering that team was so loaded with talent. Bell had 115 tackles in three seasons along with three interceptions, and he came into his own as a strong safety his junior season.

Bell played multiple roles for Ohio State, and he’s done a little bit of everything for New Orleans. Bell has taken snaps at linebacker, corner, and both safety positions, though he’s primarily a strong safety. He’s turning into quite a defensive weapon for the Saints.

18. CB Eli Apple — 2016 New York Giants, pick 1.10

Eli Apple was one of five Buckeyes taken in the first round in 2016. He started as a freshman on the national championship team, then was named Defensive MVP for Ohio State the following season. Apple was taken tenth overall by the Giants and came to the New York with plenty of hype, a new Apple for the Big Apple.

Unfortunately, the hype died off quickly. Eli Apple was deemed a draft reach by some, and he began his rookie season as the Giants’ third corner. New York fell apart the following season and Apple took a heap of the blame. Teammates called Apple a cancer, and he was traded the following season to the New Orleans Saints. Apple rehabbed his career starting 10 games for the Saints and hopes things are back on track going forward.

17. CB Gareon Conley — 2017 Oakland Raiders, pick 1.24

Gareon Conley was the second Ohio State cornerback taken in the first round in 2017, drafted 13 picks after teammate Marshon Lattimore. Conley had six interceptions for the Buckeyes but some doubted how well he’d hold up in the pros without someone like Lattimore across from him. It took Conley a year to settle into the NFL, but he’s doing just fine.

Conley started 14 games his sophomore season in the NFL and had 15 passes defended along with three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. It looks like he’ll do just fine even without Lattimore.

16. LB Darron Lee — 2016 New York Jets, pick 1.20

Darron Lee did a little bit of everything for the Buckeyes. A linebacker by trade, Lee racked up 146 tackles in two seasons as a starter, including 17 for a loss. He added three forced fumbles and three interceptions, along with 11 sacks and two fumble recoveries returned for a touchdown in 2014, the Buckeyes’ national championship season.

Lee was the second linebacker selected in the 2016 draft, taken 20th overall by the New York Jets. He took over a starting role by midseason and hasn’t looked back. Lee has 238 tackles in three seasons with the Jets, and in 2018 he intercepted three passes and returned one for a touchdown. He could be like a star in the making.

15. DT Jonathan Hankins — 2013 New York Giants, pick 2.49

You may not even know the name Jonathan Hankins, but he’s carved out a perfectly lovely career for himself. Hankins played three seasons along the defensive line for the Buckeyes, starting in two of them and named First Team All American his final season. He recorded 16.5 tackles for a loss along with five sacks and was taken in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants.

Hankins became a starting defensive tackle his second season in the NFL and picked up seven sacks. He has 12 sacks for his career and has battled through injury and bounced around the league a bit, playing four seasons for the Giants, one in Indianapolis, and one in Oakland.

14. CB Bradley Roby — 2014 Denver Broncos, pick 1.31

Bradley Roby was the penultimate pick of the first round in the 2014 NFL Draft. Roby started for most of three seasons with the Buckeyes. He had eight interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns, and added 178 tackles as a quality run stuffer in addition to his coverage duties.

Roby has been hit or miss in the NFL. He didn’t become a full time starter until 2018, but that was partly because Denver had such an elite secondary that Roby was just their third or fourth corner much of that time. Roby left the Broncos in March and will play his trade for the Texans for the 2019 season.

13. OT Taylor Decker — 2016 Detroit Lions, pick 1.16

Decker started his career on special teams for the Buckeyes but turned into a pretty special player himself. He started at right tackle in 2013, then moved to left tackle as a junior, the only returning offensive line starter on a team that plowed holes for Ezekiel Elliott all season en route to a national championship. Not a bad little turnaround.

Taylor Decker was one of five Ohio State players selected in the first round of the 2016 draft, and this time he didn’t start on special teams or at right tackle. He grabbed that left tackle job and hasn’t looked back, protecting Matthew Stafford’s blind side for the Lions for three seasons as a pro — though he certainly does a little less run blocking and a little more passing in Detroit.

12. FS Malik Hooker — 2017 Indianapolis Colts, pick 1.15

Malik Hooker was one of three Buckeyes defensive backs to be selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, along with Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. Lattimore and Conley locked things up at cornerback, but Hooker was the free safety that played center field and took away anything over the middle. Hooker had an awesome seven interceptions his final season as a Buckeye, incredibly returning three of them for touchdowns.

Unfortunately, a torn ACL ended Hooker’s rookie season early, but he came back strong as a sophomore in 2018 and helped lead the Colts’ remarkable turnaround on defense. He’s become a mainstay as free safety and leader of the Indianapolis D.

11. CB Denzel Ward — 2018 Cleveland Browns, pick 1.4

Denzel Ward is only a rookie, but you can bet he’ll be flying up this list soon. He’s already worthy of a top ten spot. Ward came into the draft with huge fanfare. He only intercepted two passes at Ohio State but that’s because no one was willing to throw the ball anywhere near him. Ward was a consensus All American, then boosted his stock even farther with a 4.32 40.

The Browns got this pick as a throw in after trading down in the Deshaun Watson deal the year before, and Ward looks worth the wait. He intercepted three balls and recovered two fumbles as a rookie, already making the Pro Bowl in his first season, and he looks like a franchise cornerstone for the Cleveland defense.

10. PK Mike Nugent — 2005 New York Jets, pick 2.47

Yes, that’s a place kicker ranked in the top 10 Ohio State players currently in the NFL. Mike Nugent has earned his spot. Nugent was a two time consensus All American for the Buckeyes. He won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker and was the first kicker ever to earn team MVP in 2002, which just so happened to be a year the Buckeyes won a national championship. If that doesn’t tell you how valuable Nugent was, nothing will.

The Jets didn’t need much convincing. They spent a top 50 pick on a kicker and saw him nail 75 field goals his first three seasons in the NFL before injuring his quad and subsequently losing his job. Nugent has bounced around the league since. He played seven seasons with the Bengals and has also played for the Cardinals, Bears, Cowboys, Raiders, and Bucs. Such is the life of a kicker. Nugent has made 253 field goals in his career, making 81% of them.

9. CB Marshon Lattimore — 2017 New Orleans Saints, pick 1.11

Lattimore never quite lived up to billing at Ohio State. He redshirted his freshman season when the Buckeyes won the national championship, then missed half his redshirt freshman year injured before finally hitting the mark the following season and turning pro. He’s been much more successful in the NFL.

The New Orleans 2017 draft class turned the franchise around and sent the team on back to back deep playoff runs, and Marshon Lattimore was one of the crown jewels. He’s started every game he’s played in two seasons since being drafted, and he’s racked up seven interceptions and forced five fumbles. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and looks like he’ll be playing a long, long time.

8. RB Carlos Hyde — 2014 San Francisco 49ers, pick 2.57

Before Ezekiel Elliott, there was Carlos Hyde. Hyde broke out as a junior at Ohio State with 970 yards and 17 TDs, then exploded his senior season with 1521 rushing yards and 18 scores as the focal point of the best rushing attack in Buckeyes history. Hyde was named First Team All Big Ten and was the third running back selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Hyde has yet to break a thousand yards in a season in the pros, but he’s been productive throughout his career. He’s scored 29 career touchdowns along with 3300 rushing yards in five seasons with a solid 4.0 yards per carry. Hyde has been a workhorse at times but has struggled with injuries throughout his career. He’ll get his chance with the Kansas City Chiefs this fall.

7. WR Ted Ginn Jr. — 2007 Miami Dolphins, pick 1.7

Ted Ginn Jr. was absolutely electric in three seasons with the Buckeyes, doing a little bit of everything. Ginn returned eight kicks for touchdowns, racking up almost 2000 return yards and averaging over 14 yards per punt return and 26 yards on kickoffs. He added three rushing touchdowns and caught 15 more including nine his final season as he became Ohio State’s deep threat. Ginn was a three time First Team All American, and the Dolphins took Ginn and his blazing speed with the ninth pick in the 2007 draft.

Ginn has never quite lived up to the college hype, but he shows up on the highlight reel a handful of times every season. Ginn has almost 10,000 combined return yards and seven return touchdowns. He’s never caught more than 56 balls or had 800 yards in a season, but he has 31 career receiving touchdowns and has always been able to take the top of the defense, even if he can’t always put the ball away on those bombs. He’s still faster than pretty much everyone on the field.

6. OG Andrew Norwell — 2014 Carolina Panthers, undrafted

Andrew Norwell was a four star recruit and the 59th best high school player in the country in 2010 according to Rivals. He went on to start every game from his sophomore to his senior year at Ohio State, helping the Buckeyes to their best rushing attack ever in 2013, and he was First Team All Big Ten two seasons in a row before graduating.

Despite all that, Norwell went undrafted in 2014 due to concerns about his athleticism. Maybe teams should’ve focused on the film. The Panthers gave Norwell a chance and inserted him into the starting lineup midway through his rookie season. Norwell was Pro Football Focus’s number nine ranked guard as a rookie. He moved up to fifth, then third the next two years and helped lead the Panthers to Super Bowl 50, then left Carolina in 2018 for a massive contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Andrew Norwell is now the highest paid guard in the entire NFL. Not bad for an undrafted dude.

5. DE Joey Bosa — 2016 San Diego Chargers, pick 1.3

The older Bosa was an absolute monster pass rusher in college. He had 26 sacks in three seasons with the Buckeyes, including 13.5 in 2014 when Ohio State won the national championship. Joey Bosa was the top non quarterback in the 2016 draft, selected one pick ahead of teammate Ezekiel Ellliott as the top pass rusher in the draft. And he has certainly lived up to billing.

Bosa had 10.5 sacks in only 12 games as a rookie, then added 12.5 more his second season with the Chargers, making the Pro Bowl for the first time. A foot injury sidelined Bosa for the first ten weeks of the 2018 season, but he returned with a vengeance, racking up 5.5 more sacks in seven games back. That gives Bosa 28.5 sacks in 35 games as a pro so far — and he’s only still just getting started.

4. DE Cameron Heyward — 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers, pick 1.31

Cameron Heyward played all four seasons for the Buckeyes. He had 37.5 tackles for a loss along with 15.5 sacks, a three time Big Ten champion and a consensus All American. He was the second to last pick of the first round in the 2011 NFL Draft, joining the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Heyward has been with Pittsburgh ever since. He came off the bench his first two seasons but broke through with five sacks his first season as a starter in 2013. He’s slowly gotten better and better, totaling 20 sacks the last two seasons alone and 45 in his career. Heyward made the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons and was named First Team All Pro in 2017. Just another longtime Steelers defender doing good work year after year.

3. DB Malcolm Jenkins — 2009 New Orleans Saints, pick 1.14

Malcolm Jenkins played mostly cornerback for the Buckeyes, playing in 50 games across four seasons with Ohio State. Jenkins had 11 interceptions for the Bucks, returning two for a touchdown, and he won the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior, given to the nation’s most outstanding defensive back.

Jenkins began his NFL career as a corner but moved pretty quickly to safety, settling in as mostly a free safety. He’s continued to be a huge playmaker in the NFL, with seven defensive touchdowns in his ten year career. Jenkins started five seasons with the Saints before signing with the Eagles, and he’s been there ever since. He is a two time Super Bowl champion, once with each franchise, and he’s made three Pro Bowls in the last four years.

2. RB Ezekiel Elliott — 2016 Dallas Cowboys, pick 1.4

Zeke was an absolute monster in college. He ran for over 1800 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore, leading the Buckeyes to a national championship. Then he bested those numbers the following season, topping 1800 yards again and going for 23 touchdowns, and he did it in two fewer games.

The Dallas Cowboys snatched Ezekiel Elliott up with the fourth pick in the 2016 draft and unleashed him upon the NFL, and Zeke continued to eat. He led the league with 322 carries and 1631 yards for the league’s most fearsome rushing attack, finding the endzone 16 times as a rookie. Elliott was suspended for six games in 2017 over accusations of domestic violence but almost reached 1000 rushing yards anyway, and he bounced back to lead the league again with 1434 yards in 2018. He’s led the NFL in rushing yards per game all three seasons as a professional and is almost certainly the best runner in the entire league.

1. WR Michael Thomas — 2016 New Orleans Saints, pick 2.47

Thomas certainly looked good at Ohio State. He had 54 catches for 799 yards and 9 TDs as a sophomore, then nearly matched those numbers exactly with 66 receptions for 781 yards and 9 TDs as a junior. Of course he helped the Buckeyes win a national championship that first year too. That consistency would travel with him to the NFL, but even better than anyone might have expected.

Thomas matched those 9 touchdowns as an NFL rookie and added 92 catches for 1137 yards. He upped his production to 104 catches for 1245 yards as a sophomore and then took it even further in 2018, grabbing a league high 125 balls for 1405 yards and 9 more scores. Add it all up and you get 321 catches in Thomas’s first three seasons, the most by any NFL player in their first three seasons by 33. He looks on track for a Hall of Fame career.

Originally published as a freelance opportunity for Follow Brandon at @wheatonbrando for sports, television, and culture. Visit Brandon’s writing archives here. Thanks to Luke Goodman for his Buckeyes expertise.