How well represented is Ohio State in the NFL? Currently, nearly 50 former Buckeyes are on a roster, with a number of others available for teams to sign as free agents. Those numbers will grow next month when the 2020 NFL Draft takes place in Las Vegas.
With how many former Ohio State players are in the NFL, it got me thinking about what a starting lineup of Buckeyes in the NFL would look like. Both sides of the football are going to be loaded with talent, and it’s not crazy to think that a starting lineup of Buckeyes would be a threat to make the playoffs.
Let’s start on the offensive side of the football.
Quarterback - Dwayne Haskins Jr. - Washington Redskins
The options of former Ohio State quarterbacks in the NFL is pretty slim right now, which makes naming Haskins as the starter a no-brainer. After winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and being named a Heisman Trophy finalist following his lone season at starter in Columbus, Haskins had a bit of a rough start in the NFL. Haskins had to deal with head coach Jay Gruden getting fired early in the year, leaving Bill Callahan as Washington’s interim coach.
Haskins finished his rookie season with seven touchdown passes and seven interceptions, but he’s primed for bigger things after the Redskins hired Ron Rivera as head coach. If Rivera can have the type of impact on Haskins that he had on Cam Newton, the Redskins will be a contender in the NFC East.
Running back - Ezekiel Elliott - Dallas Cowboys
Haskins shouldn’t have to do all that much at quarterback with someone like Ezekiel Elliott lining up behind him. After rushing for over 3,600 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2014 and 2015, Elliott hasn’t slowed down in Dallas. In four years with the Cowboys, Elliott has rushed for at least 1,350 yards in three of those seasons, and is a two-time NFL rushing leader.
Elliott is a workhorse running back that can take some of the pressure off of Haskins, allowing him time to develop and become more comfortable at quarterback in the NFL. If these two were able to team up, I think we’d see a lot of similarities to how Elliott and Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott operate now.
H-back - Curtis Samuel - Carolina Panthers
It was a tough decision between Samuel and Parris Campbell, but don’t worry, we have a role for Campbell on this team. With Christian McCaffery at running back in Carolina, Samuel gets in a lot of the same ways that Ohio State used him. Samuel caught 74 passes for 865 yards and seven touchdowns in 2016.
Last year, Samuel caught 54 passes for 627 yards and six touchdowns for a Carolina team that had to deal with an injury to Cam Newton for most of the year. Expect Samuel’s role to expand with the addition of offensive coordinator Joe Brady. The versatility that Samuel displays is a perfect compliment for Elliott in the backfield.
Wide receiver - Michael Thomas - New Orleans Saints
Everyone had a feeling that Michael Thomas was going to be good coming out of Ohio State, but I’m not sure anyone knew he was going to be this good. It’s criminal that Thomas never had more than 58 catches or 800 yards in a season at Ohio State, but it’s hard to complain too much when Thomas and the Buckeyes won a national title in 2014.
In just four seasons with the Saints, Thomas already has 470 catches for 5,512 yards, and 32 touchdowns. Thomas is coming off a season where he set the NFL record with 149 catches. Pretty much all that is missing for Thomas is a trip to the Super Bowl, but with Drew Brees returning, it’ll be hard to bet against Thomas and the Saints to make it there this year.
Wide receiver - Terry McLaurin - Washington Redskins
I would say that familiarity with Dwayne Haskins helped Terry McLaurin to adjust quickly to the life in the NFL, but the speedster did his early-season damage with Case Keenum, McLaurin kickstarted his NFL career by recording a touchdown reception in each of his first three games.
It was a slow start for McLaurin at Ohio State, but he really made a name for himself in his senior season, hauling in 11 touchdown receptions. The impression that McLaurin left in his final year in Columbus, as well as in the workouts leading up to the draft, led to him being taken in the third round by Washington. With Haskins and McLaurin, Washington has some serious building blocks on offense.
Tight end - Jeff Heuerman - Denver Broncos
Ohio State hasn’t gotten a ton of production out of their tight ends over the last decade, so it was a little tougher to find a clear-cut pick here. Nick Vannett was also an option, but Heuerman had a slightly better body of work. After playing for Seattle and Pittsburgh over the past few years, Vannett actually signed with Denver, which should make for a fun battle between the two in the Mile High City.
Heuerman’s NFL career got off to a rough start when he tore his ACL in 2015, but he has rebounded since then. The tight end’s best season came in 2018, when he hauled in 31 passes and two touchdowns. While Heuerman’s not quite at the level of some of the other Buckeyes already named, he’s certainly a valuable part of the team.
Offensive tackle - Taylor Decker - Detroit Lions
Detroit took Taylor Decker with the 16th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and since then Decker has been a staple on the offensive line of the Lions. Decker has started at least 15 games in three of his first four years in the NFL, and he could demand big money after the 2020 season when he becomes a free agent.
Offensive guard - Andrew Norwell - Jacksonville Jaguars
Andrew Norwell anchored the Ohio State offensive line in a time when they really focused on the run. Norwell was named first team All-Big Ten in 2012 and 2013, but his showing in college wasn’t enough to get him drafted in the 2014 NFL Draft. That didn’t stop Norwell from making it at the professional level, though.
The Carolina Panthers took a shot by bringing in Norwell as an undrafted free agent, and it turned into a genius move. Norwell not only was a part of the Carolina team that made Super Bowl 50, but he was named first team All-Pro in 2017. The success of Norwell led to the Jacksonville Jaguars signing him to a five-year contract following the 2017 season worth $66.5 million dollars, with $30 million guaranteed.
Center - Corey Linsley - Green Bay Packers
There’s not many more prestigious jobs on the offensive line in the NFL right now than being the center for Aaron Rodgers. Linsley started off as a guard at Ohio State before moving to center in 2013. In six years in the NFL, Linsley has started 86 games for the Packers, including all 16 regular season games in each of the last three years.
Offensive guard - Pat Elflein - Minnesota Vikings
The decision on who would fill the other guard spot got a little easier when the Minnesota Vikings decided to move Pat Elflein to guard following last season. Elflein made the PWFA All-Rookie Team in 2017, but he was slowed by shoulder and ankle injuries, which cost him the first three games of 2018. Last year Elflein started 15 games at guard for the Vikings.
Offensive tackle - Jamarco Jones - Seattle Seahawks
This was the most difficult decision, since offensive line depth of former Buckeyes in the NFL isn’t all that great. Isaiah Prince was also an option, but he has seen even less time on the field than Jones. After landing on IR in 2018, Jones was able to get on the field for the Seahawks in 2019.
As of now, Jones is listed as an offensive tackle, but most of the action he saw last year for Seattle was as a guard, with the former Ohio State offensive lineman starting three games for the Seahawks. Jones figures to be a factor in the race for starting positions on Seattle’s offensive line, but it’s not yet known what spot that might be at. Until then we’ll operate under the assumption that Jones is a tackle.
Kicker - Mike Nugent
Currently, there is no former Ohio State kicker on a NFL roster, so we’ll go with the one who played most recently. Mike Nugent kicked for New England for four games in 2019, making five of his eight field goal attempts. Over his 15-year NFL career, Nugent has made 255 of 319 field goal attempts, with a career-long of 55 yards.
Kickoff returner - Parris Campbell - Indianapolis Colts
Not putting Ted Ginn Jr. at this spot feels odd, but Ginn is currently a free agent, and has only returned two kickoffs over the last two years. While there’s no doubting the speed that Ginn still possesses, there is an option who has been more active recently.
Parris Campbell amassed 900 kick return yards at Ohio State, and has picked up some of those duties with the Indianapolis Colts, who drafted Campbell in the second round last year. Campbell did deal with some injuries in his rookie season, but did return seven kicks for 175 yards. With the speed that Campbell possesses, expect to see him continue with that role for the Colts in 2020.
So there you have it, my starting NFL offense that is made up of former Buckeyes currently in the NFL. Do you agree with the offensive starters? Disagree? Are we missing anyone? Feel free to respond in the comments, and keep an eye out for our defensive starters, which should be dropping soon.