After having a week to digest the starting offense we created that is comprised only of Ohio State Buckeyes in the NFL, we are back with the defensive side of the football. When you look at the group as a whole, it would be one of the most dominant units in the NFL. Let’s start with the defensive line and work our way through the rest of the starting lineup.
Defensive End: Joey Bosa - Los Angeles Chargers
There isn’t a question on who the defensive ends on this team would be, but that question would get a little tougher if we included Chase Young, who is projected to be one of the first players drafted in this month’s NFL Draft. Joey Bosa started Ohio State’s recent run of insanely talented defensive ends, registering 26 sacks and 51 tackles for loss as a Buckeye. The older Bosa brother was a two-time consensus All-American, and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2014 after notching 13.5 sacks.
Bosa was taken with the third pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Chargers. Even though Bosa held out for most of training camp in his rookie season due to a contract dispute, it didn’t take him long to make plenty of noise on the field, recording 10.5 sacks in 12 games in 2016 on his way to being named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Bosa has registered at least 10.5 sacks in three of his four years, and has been named to the Pro Bowl in 2017 and 2019.
Defensive Tackle: Cameron Heyward - Pittsburgh Steelers
Heyward was one of the defensive stars of the last few years of the Jim Tressel era in Columbus. The son of former NFL fullback Craig “Ironhead” Heyward closed out his Ohio State career by being named First Team All-Big Ten in 2010. During his Ohio State career, Heyward clogged the middle, finishing with 163 tackles, 37.5 of which were for loss.
Heyward snuck into the bottom of the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, getting drafted to play in the city where he was born. As his career has gone on, Heyward has gotten better and better, being named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last three years. In five of the last six years, Heyward has recorded at least seven sacks, and is the leader of the defense of the Steelers.
Defensive Tackle: Johnathan Hankins - Las Vegas Raiders
Opposite Heyward at defensive tackle is Johnathan Hankins, who was taken by the New York Giants in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft after being named a First Team All-American and All-Big Ten member in 2012. After four years with the Giants, Hankins moved on to Indianapolis for a year, but now has looked to have found a home with the Raiders, as he is entering his third season with the franchise. Hankins’ best season came back with the Giants in 2014, when he was credited with seven sacks.
Defensive End: Nick Bosa - San Francisco 49ers
After Joey Bosa moved on to the NFL, Nick Bosa had big shoes to fill at Ohio State, but the younger Bosa brother was more than up to the task. In a little over two years in Columbus, Bosa recorded 17.5 sacks, included four sacks in three games in 2018 before he was sidelined for the rest of the season due to injury.
The San Francisco 49ers have to be thanking their lucky stars that the Arizona Cardinals became infatuated with quarterback Kyler Murray, because it allowed Nick Bosa to fall to the second pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. It didn’t take long for Bosa to assert his dominance, as he registered seven sacks in his first six games. Bosa went on to be named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and he was a critical part of the 49ers making the Super Bowl.
Linebacker: Jerome Baker - Miami Dolphins
Baker flew under the radar a bit at Ohio State, recording 159 tackles and 17.5 tackles for loss in a little over two years of action in Columbus. There was no question about Baker’s talent, but he wasn’t able to earn any honors while in the scarlet and gray. Even though others around the Big Ten and the rest of the country got more attention, Baker still led the Buckeyes in tackles in 2017.
Luckily for the Miami Dolphins, who took Baker in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Baker has become a force at linebacker in his two seasons with the team. Baker was credited with 126 tackles in 2019, and is the leader at linebacker for the Dolphins. As he continues to progress, it’s likely we’ll see Baker being named to the Pro Bowl in the next couple years.
Linebacker: Raekwon McMillan - Miami Dolphins
McMillan was one of the most sought-after linebackers in the country coming out of high school. The Georgia product’s Ohio State career couldn’t have gotten off to a better start, as he was a freshman on Ohio State’s 2014 national title team. After sharing time at linebacker in his freshman year, McMillan went on to record at least 100 tackles in each of his next two seasons in Columbus before declaring for the NFL Draft.
After such a strong start to his college football career, McMillan’s NFL career didn’t kick off with nearly as big of a bang. McMillan tore his ACL in his first preseason game, ending his rookie year before it had a chance to begin. The linebacker has rebounded since then, notching 177 tackles over the last two years. Between Baker and McMillan, the Dolphins should be set at linebacker for quite some time.
Linebacker: Darron Lee - Free Agent
The final linebacker in our starting lineup is currently a free agent, but he shouldn’t have a problem being able to find a team to give him a shot. Darron Lee came to Ohio State as a quarterback, but it was widely known that wouldn’t be the position he would be playing in the scarlet and gray. Lee transformed into one of the most disruptive linebackers in the country, and was a huge part of the defense on Ohio State’s national title team in 2014.
Lee went on to be drafted by the New York Jets in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Life in the pros hasn’t exactly been smooth for Lee, as he was suspended for PEDs before being traded to the Chiefs following the 2018 season. Lee played sparingly for the Chiefs in 2019, but he was able to add a Super Bowl title to the national title he won with the Buckeyes.
Cornerback - Marshon Lattimore - New Orleans Saints
How stocked has Ohio State been at cornerback recently? Marshon Lattimore only played in 16 games for the Buckeyes, but he just might be the best former Ohio State cornerback in the NFL right now. Lattimore did pretty much all of his damage at Ohio State in 2016, picking off four passes.
Even though there was limited tape on Lattimore, it didn’t keep the New Orleans Saints from taking the cornerback with the 11th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The gamble by the Saints has worked out swimmingly, as Lattimore was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017. Lattimore has eight career NFL interceptions, five forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. In 2017 and 2019, Lattimore was named to the Pro Bowl.
Cornerback: Denzel Ward - Cleveland Browns
This was a tough call to go with Denzel Ward over Bradley Roby, but I’ll give the edge to Ward, as he is entering the prime of his career. After appearing in 15 games in his first two years in Columbus, Ward broke out in 2017 for the Buckeyes, recording 37 tackles and two interceptions. Ward was the final first round draft pick of Kerry Coombs’ first stint at Ohio State, getting taken by the Cleveland Browns with the fourth pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The gamble by the Browns to take Ward with the fourth pick has worked out so far, with Ward being named to the Pro Bowl in 2018. After picking off three passes in his rookie year, Ward added two more interceptions to his total last year, returning one of those interceptions 61 yards for his first career NFL touchdown.
Safety: Malcolm Jenkins - New Orleans Saints
It’s heard to believe that it has been 15 years since Malcolm Jenkins started his college football career in Columbus. Jenkins was one of the best to play in the secondary at Ohio State, earning First Team All-Big Ten honors three times as a Buckeye. Jenkins picked off 11 passes and made nearly 200 tackles while in college.
Jenkins was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and was part of the Saints team that defeated Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. The safety from New Jersey moved closer to home when he signed with the Eagles in 2014. Jenkins was able to win another Super Bowl with the Eagles, but this offseason he was able to agree to a deal that will see him return to New Orleans.
Safety: Vonn Bell - Cincinnati Bengals
The signing of Jenkins by New Orleans made another Ohio State safety expendable, leading to former Buckeye Vonn Bell signing with the Cincinnati Bengals. In his Bell’s first stint in the Buckeye State, the safety from Tennessee earned First Team All-American honors in 2015. In three years with Ohio State, Bell was able to nab nine interceptions.
During his four years in the NFL, Bell has only been able to intercept one pass, but he has made an impact in other ways, forcing seven fumbles, and recovering seven fumbles. There’s no doubt Bell will quickly become a fan favorite with the Bengals because of his Ohio State ties.
Punter: Cameron Johnston - Philadelphia Eagles
After trying his hand at Australian rules football, Johnston came to Ohio State in 2013 and saw the field immediately, earning the job as starting punter for the Buckeyes. Johnston was the leading punter in the Big Ten as a freshman, and was a one of the most reliable punters in the country throughout his four years in Columbus.
Johnston signed with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, but didn’t get his first NFL action until 2018, when he won the starting punting job for the Eagles. In two years punting for Philadelphia, Johnston has averaged 47.2 yards per punt while downing 52 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Special Teams: Nate Ebner - New York Giants
After not joining the Ohio State football team until his junior year, Ebner has put together quite a career. Ebner is not only a three-team Super Bowl champion, but he is thought of as one of the best special teams players in the NFL. After playing for the New England Patriots since 2012, Ebner signed this offseason with the New York Giants.
Long snapper: Jake McQuaide - Los Angeles Rams
Jake McQuaide has carved out quite a career in the NFL. After playing for the Buckeyes, McQuaide signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent, and all he has done since is start every game. The former Ohio State offensive lineman has been selected to the Pro Bowl twice, and last year appeared in a Super Bowl.
There you have it, our starting defense made up entirely of Ohio State Buckeyes in the NFL. What are your thoughts? Did we miss anyone on defense? Let us know in the comments!