Today I look at the top players from Ohio State in the NFL at each position.
Quarterback- Mike Tomczak
Ohio State hasn't been known for producing quality at quarterback but until someone like Justin Fields looks like the top quarterback to come out of the program, I'm keeping Mike Tomczak here.
In four years with the Buckeyes, Tomczak amassed 5,569 passing yards and 42 touchdowns.
An undrafted free agent in 1985, Tomczak signed with Chicago and served as Jim McMahon's back up as the Beas won Super Bowl XX. He's known winning his first 10 starts at quarterback, all with Chicago, which set an NFL Record. He played 15 seasons between four teams and passed for 16,079 yards and 88 touchdowns.
Other Notable Players- Kent Graham, Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor
Running Backs- Eddie George, Ezekiel Elliott
Here you have a workhorse and a back who can do a bit of everything.
Arriving on campus in 1992, Eddie George began his college career as the third running back on the depth chart. As a junior, he became the team's starting running back and went on to rush for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his senior year, he rushed for a school record 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns, an average of 148.23 yards per game, while also catching 47 passes for 417 yards and another score and was named the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner. He left Ohio State second in school history in career rushing yards and third in rushing touchdowns. Overall, he finished with 4,284 all-purpose yards, 45 touchdowns, and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
A first round pick in 1996 by the Houston Oilers, George was an instant impact for the team. He won the offensive rookie of the year and never missed a game because of an injury. In their Super Bowl loss to St. Louis, George had 130 total yards and scored two touchdowns in the game. He is only the second NFL running back to rush for 10,000 yards while never missing a start and holds the second longest streak of regular season starts. In five of his eight seasons with the Titans, George carried the ball over 330 times. His career totals include 10,441 rushing yards, 268 receptions, 2,227 receiving yards, and 78 touchdowns. George spent his final season in Dallas before retiring after 2004. He was a four time pro bowler and two time All-Pro during his eight seasons in Tennessee.
A highly touted recruit out of Missouri, Ezekiel Elliott spent his first year as the back up to Carlos Hyde and as a special teams gunner. He became the starter as a sophomore and came alive in the Buckeye's College Football Playoff National Championship run, rushing for over 200 yards in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin , the Sugar Bowl over Alabama, and the National Championship against Oregon. After a solid junior season, he decided to forgo his final year and enter the draft. He left school as Ohio State's second leading rusher behind only Archie Griffin.
Selected fourth overall in 2016 by the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott immediately became the fixture of the offense. In his first season, he lead the league in rushing yards, carries, and yards per games. Despite missing six games in 2017 due to suspension, he rushed for just under 1,000 yards. In 2018, he once again led the league in rushing while also serving as the Cowboys second leading receiver. In his three plus seasons in the league, Elliott has been a two time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, two time league rushing leader, and three time yards per game leader while rushing for 4,212 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Other Notable Players- Robert Smith, Raymont Harris
Fullback- Keith Byars
He played a longtime and did a little bit of everything.
In 1984, Keith Byars gained an OSU record 2,441 all-purpose yards, including a then school record 1,764 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns while finishing second in the Heisman Trophy voting. In his four years as a Buckeye, he finished with with 4,369 total yards, 3,200 rushing yards, and 50 touchdowns. His 50 touchdowns remain the second most in school history.
A first round pick in 1986 by the Philadelphia Eagles, Byars played fullback and tight end for 13 NFL seasons between the Eagles, Dolphins, Patriots, and Jets. He finished his career as a 1993 Pro Bowler with 8,983 all purpose yards and 60 total touchdowns (23 rushing, 31 receiving, six passing.)
Other Notable Players- Pete Johnson, Matt Snell, Ron Springs
Wide Receivers- Cris Carter, Paul Warfield
One guy has arguably the best hands from a receiver ever and the one was by far the best of his era.
Initially intending to play football and basketball at Ohio State, Cris Carter decided to focus on football after a strong freshman year. He quickly became known for great hands, running precise routes, and for acrobatic leaps. He had remarkable body control and footwork when making catches near the sidelines. Despite being ruled ineligible his senior season after signing with an agent, he left school as Ohio State's career receptions leader with 168.
A 4th round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1987 supplemental draft, Carter played three seasons in Philly before being released because of substance abuse problem. Minnesota picked him up for $100 in a deal that ranks right up there with the Louisiana Purchase. Carter quickly established himself as the league's best possession receiver. His boundary and one handed catches made him a popular highlight reel player. He even helped mold the team's next great receiver in Randy Moss. Carter spent his final season in Miami as he left Minnesota as their all time leader in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. At the time of his retirement, only Jerry Rice had better stats in those areas. He retired as an eight time pro bowler, a three time All-Pro, and a member of the all decade team of the 90's. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
At Ohio State, Paul Warfield starred as a running back and defensive back while also being an Olympic caliber track and field star. He finished his college career as a two time All-Big Ten running back and a 1963 All-American.
A first round pick in 1964 by the Cleveland Browns, Warfield converted to wide receiver and finished with 52 catches for 920 yards and nine touchdowns while helping Cleveland win the NFL Championship. In 1970, Warfield was traded to the Miami Dolphins for a first round pick. For most of his tenure in Miami, the Dolphins ran an offense which stressed running the ball. Warfield was considered a major threat on any given play due to his speed, fluid moves, grace, jumping ability, and hands. Even though he only caught 29 passes during the 1973 season, 11 of those receptions were touchdowns with four coming in the first half of the regular season finale. Three years earlier, when he arrived in Miami, he caught only 28 passes but he averaged 25.1 yards per catch. In his 13 NFL seasons, he caught 427 passes for 8,565 yards for 20.1 yards per catch, and scored 85 touchdowns. Warfield spent his final seasons in the World Football League and back in Cleveland before retiring after the 1977 season. He was an eight time Pro Bowler, four time All-Pro, 1964 NFL Champion, and two time Super Bowl champion. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.
Other Notable Players- Dante Lavelli, David Boston, Michael Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, Joey Galloway, Anthony Gonzalez, Terry Glenn, Mike Furrey, Chris Sanders, Michael Thomas
Tight End- Rickey Dudley
He was a solid receiving threat for nine seasons.
At Ohio State, Rickey Dudley was a part of one of the most talented Buckeye teams in history as he blocked for Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George and was the check down man on passing plays.
A first round pick in 1996 by the Oakland Raiders, Dudley was a solid second option for the Silver and Black as Tim Brown got most of the targets. After a disappointing year in Cleveland, he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 and helped them win their first Super Bowl. He retired after the 2004 season with 221 career receptions for 3,024 yards, and 33 touchdowns.
Other Notable Players-Ben Hartstock, John Frank, Jeff Heuerman
Offensive Line- Orlando Pace, Jim Parker, Nick Mangold, Bill Willis, Dick Schafrath
This assembled line has three Hall of Famers and could have more in time.
Nicknamed "The Pancake Man," Orlando Pace dominated opposing defenders and didn't allow a sack his final two years while being college footballs only two time Lombardi Award winner. The first overall pick in 1997 by the St. Louis Rams, Pace became a fixture on the blindside. In his 12 seasons with the Rams, he helped the team become "The Greatest Show On Turf" blocking for MVPs Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. He spent one final year in Chicago before retiring after 2009. Pace was a seven time Pro Bowler, four time All-Pro, a member of the 2000's All-Decade Team, and a Super Bowl champion. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
Playing guard and nose tackle, Jim Parker was a key component of Ohio State's 1954 National Championship and helped running back Howard "Hopalong" Cassidy win the Heisman Trophy. A first round pick in 1957 by the Baltimore Colts, Parker established himself as the league's premier pass blocker. after spending his first six seasons as an offensive tackle, he moved inside to guard were he continued to excel. At the time of his retirement in 1967, he was considered the best offensive lineman in league history. In his 11 seasons, he was a eight time Pro Bowler, 10 time All-Pro, a member of the 1950's All-Decade Team and the NFL 75th Anniversary Team, and two time NFL champion. Parker was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1973.
Nick Mangold started three years at center for the Buckeyes and was one of the most durable lineman in school history. A first round pick in 2006 by the New York Jets, Mangold replaced future Hall of Famer Kevin Mawae and allowed just 0.5 a sack as a rookie. He retired in 2017 as a seven time Pro Bowler and three time All-Pro.
Initially deemed too small for football, Bill Willis joined the OSU defense as a nose guard and help the Buckeyes win their first National title in 1942. Undrafted in 1945, Willis joined the Cleveland Brown's of the All American Football Conference as a guard and defensive tackle, becoming the first African American to sign with a professional football team. He played nine seasons and was three time Pro Bowler, four time All-Pro, four time All-AAFC, four time AAFC Champion, a 1950 NFL Champion, and a member of the 1940's All-Decade Team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Initially recruited to play baseball for the Cincinnati Reds, Dick Schafrath chose to attend Ohio State where he played offensive tackle and defensive end. A second round pick in 1959 by the Cleveland Browns, Schafrath gained 50 pounds to become a dominant offensive tackle and paved the way for Hall of Fame running backs Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell, and Leroy Kelly. In his 13 seasons, he was a seven time Pro Bowler, four time All-Pro, and a 1964 NFL Champion.
Other Notable Players- Jim Lachey, Bob Vogel, LeCharles Bentley
Defensive Line- Jim Marshall, Dan Wilkinson, Cameron Heyward, Will Smith
This group had long careers and made an impact in different ways.
Before his senior year. Jim Marshall left Ohio State to play for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL. A year later, he was traded to the Cleveland Browns in a rare NFL-CFL trade. He was traded again the following year to the Minnesota Vikings and stayed there for the next 19 seasons. While Marshall is remembered for the "Wrong Way Run," he had a fantastic career and finished with a then record 282 consecutive games played. He was a two time Pro Bowler, three time All-Pro, and helped Minnesota reach four Super Bowls.
Originally coming to Columbus to play offensive tackle, Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkenson lost nearly 50 pounds to play defensive tackle. In two seasons playing, he registered 90 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks. The first overall pick in 1994 by the Cincinnati Bengals, Wilkinson never fully lived up to his status, but had his moments in his 13 year career. In that time with Cincinnati Washington, Detroit, and Miami, he registered 388 tackles, 54.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, five interceptions, and a touchdown.
The son of former NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, Cameron Heyward recorded 162 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, and one interception in four years at Ohio State. A first round pick in 2011 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Heyward spent his first few seasons as a rotation player. By 2014 he was the fulltime starter and has become one of the best 3-4 defensive linemen in the league. In his eight plus years in the league, he has been a two time Pro Bowler and a 2017 All-Pro while registering 314 tackles, 45 sacks, 24 batted passes, and five forced fumbles.
As a four year letterman, Will Smith helped the Buckeyes upset Miami in the 2002 National Championship Game. A first round pick in 2004 by the New Orleans Saints, Smith immediately made an impact. In 10 seasons in New Orleans, he totaled 459 tackles, 67.5 sacks, 20 forced fumbles, and two interceptions while being a 2006 Pro Bowler and helping the Saints win their first Super Bowl in 2009.
Other Notable Players- Alonso Spellman, Ryan Pickett, Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, Chase Young
Linebackers- Chris Spielman, Randy Gradishar, Mike Vrabel
Ohio State has produced as many quality linebackers as rival Penn State.
A two time All-American, Chris Spielman was a tackling machine and won the Lombardi Award as a senior. A second round pick in 1988 by the Detroit Lions, Spielman became the Lions all time leading tackler. In his 11 seasons, he was a four time Pro Bowler and three time All-Pro while recording over 1,000 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles, and six interceptions.
For Buckeyes head coach Woody Hayes called Randy Gradishar the best linebacker he ever coached and finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1973. A first round pick in 1973 by the Denver Broncos, Gradishar made an instant impact as he averaged over 200 tackles a year for his entire career. In 10 seasons, he was a seven time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, the 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and helped the Broncos reach their first Super Bowl.
Playing defensive end, Mike Vrabel left Ohio State as the school's all time sack leader. A third round pick in 1997 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Vrabel spent four years in "Blitzburg" before signing with the New England Patriots. There he established himself as one of the most versatile players in history as he proved to be a great linebacker and also was use as a tight end on the goal line. In his 14 playing seasons, he was a 2007 All-Pro and Pro Bowler, three time Super Bowl Champion, and had 10 touchdown receptions on 10 catches.
Other Notable Players- Jim Houston, Pepper Johnson, AJ Hawk, James Laurinaitis
Secondary- Dick LeBeau, Malcolm Jenkins, Jack Tatum, Antoine Winfield
These men are among the best in history at their positions for different reasons.
Playing halfback and cornerback at Ohio State, Dick LeBeau helped the Buckeyes win the 1957 National Championship. A fifth round pick in 1959 by the Cleveland Browns, LeBeau was cut in training camp and signed with the Detroit Lions. He played 14 seasons and retired as the Lions all time leader in interceptions while making three Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010.
In his four years in Columbus, Malcolm Jenkins became one of the most accomplished cornerbacks in Big Ten history and won the Jim Thorpe award in 2008. A first round pick in 2009 by the New Orleans, Jenkins served as the team's nickel corner during their Super Bowl run and was an All-Pro strong safety soon after. After signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014, he came into his own as he made three Pro Bowls and helped Philly win their first Super Bowl. In his 10 plus seasons, he's recorded 798 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 88 passes defended, 17 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, and seven touchdowns.
Initially recruited to play running back, Woody Hayes moved Jack Tatum to defensive back and was named the National Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. A first round pick in 1971 by the Oakland Raiders, "The Assassin" quickly established himself as the enforcer on one of the best secondaries in NFL history. In his 10 seasons between Oakland and Houston, he was a three time Pro Bowler, two time All-Pro, and a Super Bowl Champion while accumulating 37 interceptions and a touchdown.
As a senior at Ohio State, Antoine Winfield was a first team All-American and won the Jim Thorpe award as the nation's top defensive back. A first round pick in 1999 by the Buffalo Bills, Winfield became one of the top run support cornerbacks in league history. In his 14 years between Buffalo and Minnesota, he was a three time Pro Bowl, a 2008 All-Pro, and tallied 1,054 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 14 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries, 27 interceptions, and five interceptions.
Other Notable Players- Nate Clements, Shawn Springs, Chris Gamble, Doug Plank, Tim Fox, Donte Whitner, Mike Doss, Todd Bell
Kicker- Lou Groza
Playing both offensive tackle and kicker, Lou Groza was an important piece of the franchise for 21 seasons.
Groza was professional football's career kicking and points leader when he retired after the 1967 season and helped the team win 8 Championships in his 21 years with the team. His accuracy and strength as a kicker influenced the development of place-kicking as a specialty and he could kick field goals from beyond 50 yards at a time when attempts from that distance were rare. He retired as a nine time pro bowler and his #76 has since been retired by Cleveland. Groza's play as a kicker lent the NCAAF to name the award for college footballs best kicker to be named after him. Groza was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Punter- Tom Tupa
While at Ohio State, Tom Tupa played both quarterback and punter for the Buckeyes.
A third round pick in 1988 by the then Phoenix Cardinals, Tupa left his mark on the NFL for a few reasons. While with the Browns he converted the first successful two point conversion in history. In his 18 seasons between seven franchises, he was a two time Pro Bowler, a 1999 All-Pro, and won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He averaged 43.4 yards per punt and also threw 12 touchdowns during his career.
Return Specialist- Ted Ginn Jr.
At Ohio State, Ted Ginn Jr. was always the fastest man on the field. He finished his career as a Buckeye with 125 receptions for 1,943 yards and 15 touchdowns in 37 games. He also rushed for 213 yards, returned 38 kickoffs for 1,012 yards, and gained 900 yards on 64 punt returns.
The ninth overall pick in 2007 by the Miami Dolphins, Ginn was a disappointment as a receiver but was always a stellar return man. In his 11 years and counting, he amassed 9,500 return yards and seven touchdowns while having 379 receptions for 5,281 yards and 31 touchdowns.