The NFL regular season is back in full force, which means few more roster changes and 39 (!) active roster Ohio State players in the league — one Buckeye was signed to a practice squad and one was added to a PUP list. The insurgence of so many rookies was sure to edge out some of the older players, with 11 total Buckeyes ending up waived ahead of the season opener -- including two undrafted free agents from 2016.
Thursday Night Football
The kickoff to the NFL regular season was filled with “THE Ohio State University” intros from both sides of the ball. Opening with a Super Bowl rematch between the Denver Broncos (Bradley Roby, Jeff Heuerman [inactive]) and Carolina Panthers (Corey Brown, Kurt Coleman, Ted Ginn Jr, Andrew Norwell), Roby and Brown even swapped jerseys after the Broncos 1-point victory.
Despite being regular targets for Cam Newton at the end of 2016, the Panthers got their star receiver back, Kelvin Benjamin, meaning both Corey Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. were each only targeted once in the season opener. Kurt Coleman was effective on defense, but only recorded three tackles.
In what would have been his first official NFL game, Jeff Heuerman was inactive for the Broncos’ season opener with a hamstring issue. Secondary star Bradley Roby recorded five tackles against the Panthers despite a few missed grabs of Kelvin Benjamin.
Six first-year Buckeyes not only made their NFL regular season debut in Week 1, but they also earned starting roles to begin their careers. It’s not that often rookies get a chance to help their team immediately, but Ohio State produced such high level talent in the 2016 draft class, they proved to be pro-ready.
Eli Apple had the tough task of covering legend Dez Bryant in his first regular season game, and despite struggling with coverage early, he broke up a Bryant reception in the endzone and made a nice open-field tackle on Jason Witten in the fourth quarter.
Taylor Decker showed why he was a first round pick to Lions fans in Week 1, making enough of a difference for the team to finally display a run game. The Buckeye led the line in what allowed a touchdown run by Theo Riddick. He did account for one false start penalty, but all-in-all had a solid rookie debut.
Ezekiel Elliott is the only Buckeye rookie to get a touchdown in his first NFL game, but he did much more than that. Especially with a rookie quarterback, Elliott was expected to take on a lot of the workload for the Cowboys and he didn’t disappoint, finishing the day with 20 rushing attempts for 51 yards and a score.
Ezekiel Elliott’s first career NFL touchdown: pic.twitter.com/PZRUyUzDqE— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) September 11, 2016
Darron Lee saw his first regular season action in Week 1 and had a very up and down performance. He started out rough with a few missed tackles, but near the end of the game started getting into a rhythm and had a couple good open field tackles. The linebacker went down hard in the fourth quarter with a right knee injury, but was able to walk off the field under his own power.
Braxton Miller saw a few targets at the start of the second half of Sunday’s game, but had some issues with route running and overthrown passes, and ended with only one 6-yard reception. He didn’t stand out as much as Houston’s other rookie receiver Will Fuller which could eventually impact his snap count.
Michael Thomas made his first NFL start against the Raiders in the regular season opener, and recorded 58 yards on six receptions. Two of his catches set the Saints up for a touchdown on the next play, one late in the game, but the wideout didn’t personally get into the endzone.
Michael Thomas is so damn fun to watch already. I'll take him as OROY if this game is any indication. Brees loves him on any route. #Saints— Jerod Brown (@jerodbrown62) September 11, 2016
Michael Thomas just saved the #Saints but it won't show up in the boxscore— Jeff Mans (@Jeff_Mans) September 11, 2016
Adolphus Washington made his NFL regular season debut against the Ravens, and not only made his first career start, but also had a quarterback pressure nearly taking out Joe Flacco.
There were a few Buckeyes who were active for Week 1 but didn’t see much, if any, playing time, including Vonn Bell, Joshua Perry and Tyvis Powell.
I think the Saints have used every defensive player today except Vonn Bell and Erik Harris.— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) September 11, 2016
Not all rookies got playing time in Week 1, as Joey Bosa (hamstring) and Nick Vannett (ankle) missed the season opener, along with Cardale Jones who was listed as inactive.
Plays of the week
The former quarterback opened the 2016 regular season as the starting wide receiver for the Browns. With a bit of a resurgence thanks to his relationship with new head coach Hue Jackson, Pryor had a good opening, that included this crazy reception. Pryor was frequently covered by former Ohio State player and teammate Malcolm Jenkins.
The rookie proved why he was starting on special teams in Week 1, when he returned a kickoff for 65-yards — the kick was off the foot of Buckeye Mike Nugent, who also was in on the tackle of Marshall leaving the veteran slow to get up.
AHEM. The correct video of that Jalin Marshall 65 yard punt return. Beast: pic.twitter.com/VSTq4jpcgo— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) September 11, 2016
Despite being signed to the Buccaneers practice squad early last week, Evan Spencer was placed on the reserve/retired list on Friday.
Former Steelers rookie cornerback Doran Grant has signed on to the Buffalo Bills practice squad, leaving the former Ohio State pipeline to Pittsburgh with only two Buckeyes left on roster (Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier).