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Second-year players out of Ohio State make NFL headlines in Week 15

From Eli Apple having a career day, to Michael Thomas passing 1,000 receiving yards, it was a good week for Buckeyes in the NFL.

New York Jets v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

As the postseason inches closer, former Ohio State players continued to impress and outdo themselves in Week 15 of the NFL. Specifically, second-year players had a hell of a week, and made lots of headlines, for more than just their on-field performances.

Michael Thomas hit a new career milestone, Eli Apple and Jeff Heuerman claimed new career-high stats, Ezekiel Elliott is more than ready for his return from suspension, and more. Plus, Ryan Shazier made his first public appearance, since his injury, at the Steelers-Patriots game Sunday afternoon, and was welcomed with thunderous applause.

Here’s how Buckeyes in the NFL fared in Week 15:

Thomas reaches another career benchmark

Second-year wideout Michael Thomas has been an instant success for the New Orleans Saints, and continues to set new personal, franchise and league bests.

In Week 15, Thomas hauled in nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown, good for his second 1,000-yard season. With two games still to play, the Buckeye receiver is well on his way to besting his 1,137-yard rookie season.

Bosa gets some tips from an NFL veteran

Following a Saturday night matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, two of Ohio State coach Larry Johnson’s pupils met up, with the younger of the two, Joey Bosa, receiving some tips of the trade.

Tamba Hali of the Chiefs (and Penn State alum under Coach Johnson) took some time after the game to work on Bosa’s pass-rush technique. The Buckeye, in just his second year in the NFL, has 11.5 sacks so far in 2017 and claims 22 in his career. There aren’t many players out there who do things better than Bosa, but he was eager and all ears when a 12-year league vet took an interest in helping his game.

Apple active again for the Giants

After missing time to take care of his mom following brain surgery, Giants’ CB Eli Apple was then benched due to missed practices and a rumored attitude problem in the locker room. He was active in Week 15 for the first time in weeks, and had a career-high game finishing with seven solo tackles (nine total) against the Eagles.

It’s been a strange year, not just for the Buckeye CB, but for the New York Giants organization as a whole. From having one of the worst records in the NFL (2-12) to firing head coach Ben McAdoo a week after benching the longest tenured starter in franchise and league history, it’s been a bumpy road.

Following the Nov. 11 game against the 49ers, it was reported that Apple nearly walked out of the team facility after a position meeting that was particularly critical (read: honest) of the Buckeyes’ performance. Dealing with a struggling organization and a position group that has seen multiple conflicts, all in addition to the personal situation of caring for his mom, would be understandably overwhelming.

It wasn’t just his near walk-out that has kept Apple in the headlines. During last week’s NFC East matchup against the Cowboys — a game in which Apple was inactive — the Buckeye took to Twitter to show his former Ohio State teammate and now-Dallas rusher Rod Smith some love on a stellar performance.

Firing up more than just Giant fans, interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo remarked, “I told him I was disappointed. We’ll decide exactly what we do with it.”

Apple’s first performance back on the field should do enough to quell any questions people may have about his dedication and commitment to his craft — whether he’s all-in for the Giants is yet to be seen, but he’s at least making a case for a roster spot should the team make any changes in the offseason.

Elliott set to return next week

After finally serving his six-game suspension, Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott will be back in action for the team’s Week 16 game against the Seahawks. Following his suspension being upheld — and without additional options to appeal -- Elliott left the United State in an effort to refocus his energy and get away from the headlines.

(The move felt very Kayne West circa 2009 after the first Taylor Swift debacle. It worked for the rapper, who returned to a clean slate to build upon.)

It seems Elliott’s time away was well spent, with the running back looking to be in top shape ahead of his return. During the legal process, and the first half of the season, Elliott’s weight became a topic of discussion as the player known for rocking a crop top wasn’t leaving any gain to the imagination. In Ian Rapoport’s most recent update, you can see a picture of a shirt-less Zeke and some very chiseled abs.

Rapoport also noted that Zeke has been documenting his six weeks away from the league, and will release a full-length documentary about his journey.

Smith continues TD streak for the Cowboys

There is one guy who might not be so eager to see Zeke back at practice Monday morning, running back Rod Smith has seen a big increase in targets and carries in Elliott’s absence. This week in primetime against the Raiders, Smith claimed a short-yard trip to the endzone, marking his fourth game in a row with a rushing touchdown (for five total scores on the season).

Plays of the Week

Jeff Heuerman

The former Buckeye tight end had a career-high game coming off of just one catch on Thursday Night Football. Heuerman caught a big pass from Broncos (sometimes) QB Brock Osweiler for a 54-yard touchdown. It marked the longest catch and most yardage in a game in the TE’s two-year career, as well as only his second career TD.

Ryan Shazier

Before his back injury two weeks ago, Steelers’ LB Ryan Shazier was almost a weekly fixture among the Players of the Week, and even though he isn’t back on the field, he’s still making the list. With little news out of the Shazier camp since undergoing spine stabilization surgery last week, it was encouraging to see the Buckeye in a suite for the Steelers game. Even better, the incredible reaction from fans and teammates when they showed No. 50 on the big screen.

There still hasn’t been a definitive report as to the extent of his injury or recovery, or to the extent to which he can move his lower body, but attending a football game so soon after surgery is a good sign. Regardless of the prognosis, he seems to be in good spirits and surrounded by an excellent support system — from family, friends, and fans alike.

Other Notables

  • Despite finishing 2017 on IR, Colts OG Jack Mewhort will be looking for a new contract during the offseason. With his injury issues the past two years, a four-year or longer deal seems unlikely, but the Buckeye is being projected to land a 3-year deal with Indianapolis worth upward of $21 million.
  • It was a good week for some former Ohio State defenders, with several nearing career-high games, including Kurt Coleman (10 total tackles), Marshon Lattimore (5 total tackles) and Darron Lee (7 total tackles). Steelers’ DE Cameron Heyward also recorded a sack against Patriots’ QB Tom Brady in Week 15.
  • Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins had a big game in a Week 15 win against the Giants with 9 total tackles and a blocked kick.
  • Packers’ center Corey Linsley was snapping to a familiar face on Sunday, with Green Bay welcoming QB Aaron Rodgers back to the field after a broken collarbone sidelined him for a good portion of the season.
  • Safety Tyvis Powell has bounced around between practices squads so far this season, but was signed off the PS by the San Francisco 49ers just two days before their Sunday matchup.
  • Despite nursing an injury, rookie Pat Elflein was still able to be a big contributor for the Vikings on Sunday in a win over the Bengals.

Injury Report and Inactives

  • A couple of Buckeyes were sidelined with injuries in Week 15, Texans’ WR Braxton Miller (concussion) and Saints’ WR Ted Ginn Jr. (rib).
  • Chargers QB Cardale Jones was a healthy scratch again this week.