Ohio State has become nothing short of a defensive back factory for the NFL. Just last season, the Buckeyes sent another pair of first round-caliber corners to the league in Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette. This year, Kerry Coombs will be looking to recreate the magic in his second stint in Columbus as he takes the reins over Shaun Wade and a group of talented but inexperienced DBs.
There should be no issues with the defensive secondary this season, as there are more than a few guys in that room who can step up and become more than serviceable Big Ten starters. However, what if Coombs had the option of bringing in one former Ohio State corner to join this year’s roster? There’s no shortage of options to choose from, so who gets the nod?
You could start your search all the way back in the late 90s, where guys like Shawn Springs and Antoine Winfield Sr. were patrolling the Buckeye backfield. Springs was a consensus All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, while Winfield was also a consensus All-American and Jim Thorpe Award recipient. Both guys would go on to be first round NFL Draft picks.
The 2000s feature some enticing options as well, highlighted by Chris Gamble and Malcolm Jenkins. Gamble was a two-way player, and an essential member of the 2002 National Championship team that finished 14-0. He was an electric player as both a corner and a receiver, intercepting seven passes and catching 40 passes for over 600 yards in his career. Jenkins, before moving to safety in the NFL, was a consensus All-American cornerback at Ohio State, winning the Thorpe Award in 2008.
As we move into this past decade, the Buckeyes reign as DBU really begins to take off. The first half of the decade features players like Chimdi Chekwa and Bradley Roby. Chekwa was a First Team All-American who intercepted six passes during his Ohio State career, and Roby was a three-year starter who picked off eight passes in that time. Fun fact, Roby was the only defensive player in the country in 2012 to score touchdowns in three different ways, returning a fumble, a blocked punt, and an interception all for scores.
The most recent half-decade has seen a truly incredible run of talent at the cornerback position, including guys like Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward, and now most recently Okudah and Arnette.
Lattimore and Ward, specifically, are likely to be popular choices for this exercise. Lattimore was a one-year wonder at Ohio State, but boy was it one hell of a year. After suffering injuries early in his collegiate career, he made the most of his one full season as a starter in 2016, intercepting four passes with nine pass breakups and making the First Team All-Big Ten. Ward was another guy who only had one full year as a starter, but made the absolute most of it, breaking up 15 passes and picking off two as he too was named First Team All-Big Ten. Both guys were taken within the first 11 picks of their respective NFL Draft.
Of course Okudah and Arnette are still options even though they just left. If you want to bring back Okudah for one more year in Columbus I'm certainly not going to stop you, but I think my choice would be Lattimore. With Wade and Lattimore on the outside this year and either Cam Brown or Sevyn Banks in the slot, Ohio State’s pass defense would be nearly impenetrable. I was very tempted to go with Okudah, but I'll let him enjoy his first year in the league before I force him back to the Buckeyes.
So, let’s hear it.