Ohio State has clearly made an impression on NFL scouts by developing talent in their defensive backfield over the last several seasons, which is evidenced by the sheer number of cornerbacks and safeties on NFL rosters heading into the 2014 season. There are a handful of former Buckeye defenders across all positions poised to have an impact on their respective teams this season.
Donte Whitner signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent this offseason, and he's already established himself as a leader in Cleveland. Whitner graded out as the seventh-best safety in the league last season, managing two interceptions and six pass deflections while allowing a completion percentage of just 52.1%. Whitner told ESPN's Pat McManamon that he believes the culture can be changed in Cleveland, but that it has to happen on the field first. That's precisely the example Whitner will strive to set for the Browns.
Bradley Roby was drafted by the Denver Broncos 31st overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, and Roby has already made a positive impression. Roby covered Houston's Andre Johnson, a very talented veteran receiver, for much of the time he was on the field against the Texans and absolutely held his own. Roby credits practicing against Peyton Manning and Denver's receivers with aiding his development as a pro. Roby has three pass deflections and one forced fumble so far this preseason. He has been graded positively by Pro Football Focus premium stats in each of his three preseason appearances. Roby has made a case for playing time, and if he gets time on the field, he could be an impact player in Denver's secondary this season. He is currently second on the depth chart at the left cornerback position.
Malcolm Jenkins was the 14th overall pick in 2009, selected out of The Ohio State University by the New Orleans Saints. Jenkins signed with the Eagles as a free agent following the 2013 season. Jenkins is already establishing himself as a leader on the defensive side of the ball and is projected to start at safety. Jenkins has the versatility to cover and blitz. In his last season with New Orleans, Jenkins had one interception, three pass deflections, two quarterback hits, and two quarterback hurries.
Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. After seeing limited playing time in his first two seasons, Chekwa played 15 games in 2013. Chekwa had an opportunity to win a starting role with D.J. Hayden out, and he had a very strong start to camp, but has been sidelined with a knee injury. Chekwa is the second right cornerback on the Raiders depth chart.
Will Allen is a veteran safety who was drafted by the Buccaneers in 2004 and has also spent time in Pittsburgh and, briefly, Dallas. After an impressive 2012 season filling in for an injured Troy Polomalu, Allen was signed by Dallas with an expectation of competing for a starting job, but was waived by the Cowboys early in the 2013 season. The Steelers re-signed Allen after rookie safety Shamarko Thomas suffered an ankle injury, and this season Allen is competing for a backup spot on the roster.
C.J. Barnett, a strong safety with the ability to play cornerback also, was signed by the Giants following the 2014 NFL Draft as a college free agent. Barnett's special teams talents in particular had the potential to make a strong case for a roster spot, but Barnett didn't get any playing time in the Giants' most recent preseason game against the Jets. Barnett is currently listed fourth on the depth chart, behind Antrel Rolle, Cooper Taylor, and Nat Berhe, but Taylor may be heading to IR after suffering a sesamoid fracture in preseason action, and that may smooth the way for Barnett to lock up a roster spot.
Safety Christian Bryant suffered a season-ending injury against Wisconsin in his last season with the Buckeyes, which was a huge blow to the Buckeye defense. He was drafted by the Rams in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and began training camp on the PUP list. Bryant returned to action, seeing limited playing time in the preseason against the Packers and the Browns. Against the Browns, Bryant had one tackle, according to his NFL.com profile. Bryant is currently third on the Rams depth chart at the strong safety position.
Safety Kurt Coleman was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He signed with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. Coleman has two forced fumbles, seven interceptions, and 11 pass deflections over the course of his career. Coleman lost his starting job in Philadelphia last season, but had a strong start to the preseason with the Vikings and also has value on special teams. He is currently second on the depth chart at free safety, but has the versatility to play strong safety as well.
Nate Ebner was drafted by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He's a valuable special teams player and hasn't seen much defensive playing time. Ebner is currently third on the Pats' depth chart at strong safety, but has a very good shot of making the roster because of his contributions on special teams.
Anderson Russell is a safety who entered the league as an undrafted free agent following the 2010 NFL Draft, and has spent time in Washington, Miami, and Carolina. Anderson missed the 2013 season with an ankle injury and is considered to be a long shot to make the roster as he's competing with veteran players like Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud, but he has impressed the coaching staff in Carolina at times this preseason.
A.J. Hawk was drafted by the Green Bay Packers with the fifth pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, and has been a consistent contributor at inside linebacker for the Packers since that time, leading the team in tackles for six of his seven seasons as a pro. Last season he posted 118 combined tackles, 74 solo, as well as five sacks, five pass deflections, and one interception. Hawk is at the top of the depth chart at left inside linebacker heading into the 2014 season.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis is currently sidelined with an ankle injury suffered early in training camp, but he returned to practice with the Rams on a limited basis this week. Last season Laurinaitis had 116 tackles, with 85 solo, 3.5 sacks, nine pass deflections, and two interceptions. He's listed at the top of the Rams' depth chart at the middle linebacker position, and as long as his ankle heals to the point that he can hit the field, he stands to continue to be an impact player for St. Louis this season.
Ryan Shazier was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and he's had more ups than downs with the Steelers as he's adjusted to the speed of the pro game this preseason. Shazier missed Pittsburgh's first preseason game due to injury, but in week two of the preseason he exerted his will against the Buffalo Bills, with 9 solo tackles, one assist, and an interception. Last week against the Eagles Shazier had six solo tackles, two assists, and a pass deflection. Shazier is at the top of the depth chart for the Steelers at the left inside linebacker position and is definitely a former Buckeye to keep an eye on this season.
John Simon was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens and didn't see a ton of defensive snaps last season on a team with pretty well entrenched defensive starters ahead of Simon on the depth chart. Simon saw more consistent action on special teams for the Ravens, totaling three tackles on the season on special teams. This season, Simon's lingering behind Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw at the strong side linebacker position. Simon has two quarterback hurries and three tackles so far this preseason.
Etienne Sabino signed with the Giants as a college free agent following his senior season, but was waived prior to the regular season. Sabino is currently with the St. Louis Rams and is third on the depth chart at right outside linebacker. Sabino hasn't particularly stood out for better or worse this preseason and is a long shot to make the final roster.
The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Cameron Heyward with the 31st overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he's locked in as the starting defensive end on the left side. Heyward had six sacks, seven quarterback hits and a staggering 34 quarterback hurries during the 2013 season. Heyward also had five batted passes. So far this preseason, Heyward has one quarterback hit and one quarterback hurry.
Johnathan Hankins is a defensive tackle who was drafted by the New York Giants in the second round of the 2013 draft and had a strong rookie season in New York. Hankins graded out positively against the run, per Pro Football Focus, and had two quarterback hits, one quarterback hurry, and 12 total tackles last season. This preseason, Hankins has seven total tackles, four of which resulted in stops. Hankins also has one quarterback hurry. Hankins is second on the depth chart, backing up Cullen Jenkins.
Doug Worthington, a defensive end out of Ohio State who has spent time on the Washington, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh practice squads, was a mid-camp addition to the roster for the San Diego Chargers. So far this preseason, Worthington has one sack and one quarterback hurry. Worthington is currently listed third on the Chargers' depth chart, behind Corey Liuget and Tenny Palepoi.
Which former defensive Buckeyes are you most looking forward to watching in the NFL this season?