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Ezekiel Elliott has career best NFL rushing day as Rookie of the Year seems inevitable

The Ohio State great was one of a number of ex-Bucks in action.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The NFL postseason is no longer an option for several former Ohio State players, but as the playoff picture begins to fill in, there will still be a decent load of Buckeyes playing for their chance at a Super Bowl. In Week 15, and with only two more weeks to play in the regular season, a few Buckeyes suited up on Saturday for the first time since college, and others continue to make strides in their careers.

‘Saturday Night Football’

It doesn’t happen often, but once the college football season is over, the NFL utilizes the open slate on Saturday for one of their games. This week’s Saturday night matchup was the New York Jets (Darron Lee, Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith) against the Miami Dolphins — the Jets suffered another loss, 13-34.

Adding four more total tackles to his rookie season, linebacker Darron Lee has been effective in his first year in the league. After Week 15, Lee has 59 total tackles — 38 solo — 1.0 sacks and 3 stuffs for 10 yards. He’ll be a big factor for the Jets defense heading into next season, and will be used to replace some of the aging factors.

Devin Smith has yet to see any offensive snaps or targets in just his second game back from IR. He’s seen some time on special teams — an area he struggled last season -- and will at least get some game experience under his belt before finally heading into the offseason healthy. Next season could be a make or break year for the wideout.

Jalin Marshall was inactive this week, after finally being removed from the injury report. The rookie missed the last two games following a concussion. Ready to go just a day before the Week 15 night game, the team chose to keep him on the sideline.

What rookie wall?

A few weeks ago, Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott was asked post-game if he was worried about hitting a wall late in the season -- like some rookies do. Zeke quipped he didn’t believe in a rookie wall, and proved it in Week 15, with a season best game in a ‘Sunday Night Football’ win over Tampa Bay.

With more than enough experience in primetime games with several Dallas games flexing to SNF, Zeke was right at home under the lights. He rushed for a career-best 159 yards and a touchdown — which was followed by a celebration that included the Buckeye and a large Salvation Army donation bucket.

The rookie was the early top-recipient of votes for the Pro Bowl and has already surpassed numerous franchise and league records. With two weeks left in the regular season, Elliott has amassed 1,551 rushing yards (351 receiving) and 13 rushing touchdowns. He has always excelled at getting to the next level of the defense with breakout runs, like this 42-yard burner from Sunday.

He also continued to prove he has some of the best hurdling skills in the league -- with a little thanks to his Mom, the college track star.

No more Nuuuuuge

The Cincinnati Bengals finally cut ties with legendary Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent after a missed field goal and point after attempt against the Browns. It was no surprise the team was going to move on after the kicker’s mediocre season, which saw a dramatic increase in missed kicks, but a midseason cut wasn’t expected.

The 34-year-old missed only 11 extra points in his entire 12-season career, but six of those were in 2016 — second worst in the NFL. Nugent was taken in the second round of the 2005 draft by the New York Jets, and settled with the Bengals in 2010, making up the majority of his tenure in the league. His Week 14 game against Cleveland could be the last of his career.

Small milestones

Tight end Jeff Heuerman (Broncos) missed his entire rookie season and has been slow to jump into Denver’s offense. After a string of games without any targets, he saw four Sunday, catching two for a career-high 40 yards.

Defensive back Vonn Bell (Saints) has been consistent his rookie season, contributing between three and nine total tackles a game. Sunday against the Cardinals, he tied his career-high with nine total tackles — seven solo — and one forced fumble. He has 76 total tackles, 1.0 sacks and two forced fumbles so far this season.

Plays of the week

Michael Thomas

The rookie receiver has been a huge asset to the Saints his first year in the league and is expected to do big things. After a week of limited practice due to a foot injury, Thomas went on to snag 52 receiving yards and a touchdown. He continues to remind people why they say, “You can’t guard Mike”.

Ryan Shazier

The Steelers ended up squashing the hopes of Bengal fans everywhere with a win over their division rival on Sunday. Shazier was a critical factor, especially with him teammates going down and out with injuries all day. He came up big in the second half with a sack — giving him 3.5 sacks on the seasons.

Joey Bosa

Just a week after a scary neck injury knocked the rookie defensive end out, the rookie was back to doing what he does best — sacking quarterbacks. Bosa now has 7.5 sacks on the season and 31 total tackles.

Other notes

  • The Carolina Panthers (Corey ‘Philly’ Brown, Kurt Coleman, Ted Ginn Jr., Andrew Norwell) are headed to Washington for this week’s Monday Night Football matchup.
  • This was not a good week for Buckeyes with injuries as three more were added to IR. Braxton Miller (shoulder), Jack Mewhort (knee), and Mike Adams (back) now join Cam Heyward (pectoral) and Nick Mangold (ankle) on the sideline for the rest of the season.
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis was waived off IR last month by the Saints and had a workout earlier this week with the Kansas City Chiefs.
  • Tyvis Powell (Seahawks) and Cardale Jones (Bills) were both inactive this week. John Simon (Texans) is still out with a back injury, but is still trying to get back by Week 17.