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Which former Buckeye had the best NFL career?

If you’re looking for the best pro career from an OSU alum, you need to go back quite while.

Detroit Lions v Cleveland Browns
Lou “the Toe” Groza, kicking for the Browns against Detroit in 1964.
Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images

So, my buddy Stewie plunks himself down on the stool next to me and says (out of nowhere), “Chase Young is going to have the best NFL career of any Ohio State player in history.”

Well, for Stewie, “history” begins with the Bucks’ 2014 championship. He’s comparing Young with the Bosas, Michael Thomas, Zeke, and probably some defensive backs like Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward. Granted, Chase Young had a great rookie season, often dominant, in fact. But it was just one season.

Stewie’s statement, though, got me thinking about who, among former OSU players, really did have the best career. Endlessly debatable, of course, but here are my personal picks.

(Share your personal top-three best NFL Buckeyes list in the comments at the bottom of the article!)

No. 3 Jack Tatum

When I was a kid, my favorite player was Jack Tatum. He played so hard. The “Assassin.” Tatum shut down opposition passes over the middle between 1971 and 1980, 136 career games. Playing nine of his 10 pro seasons with the Raiders, Tatum appeared in three Pro Bowls. He still has the NFL record for longest fumble return — 104 yards — when he picked up an errant Scott Hunter lateral that bounced into the Lambeau Field end zone and raced to the other end for a touchdown. He’s in the College Hall of Fame, but not the pro HOF, still a disappointment to me.

Oakland Raiders v San Diego Chargers
“The Assassin” Jack Tatum, 1974
Photo by James Flores/Getty Images

No. 2 Orlando Pace

At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, Pace set the prototype for the giant blind side tackle. A great pass blocker, he could also move and open gaps for the run. Pace played 12 of his 13 NFL seasons with the St. Louis Rams, and, to my biased mind, explains Kurt Warner’s remarkable success and the Rams’ unlikely championship in 2000 and other Super Bowl appearance in 2002.

The most surprising stat in Pace’s pro career: he had only nine holding penalties in 169 games! The great Buckeye tackle was elected to the pro Hall of Fame in 2016, a year before Warner.

2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinment Ceremony
Orlando Pace at his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction, 2016
Photo by: 2016 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

No. 1 Lou Groza

My first choice for top pro career, however, is Lou Groza. Growing up in Columbus, I had only the Browns to watch on Sundays — on black and white TV. But the Browns were a top team all through the 50s and early 60s. Groza played for 21 years, all of them with Cleveland, appearing in 268 games (twice Tatum’s total). We think of Lou “the Toe” as a kicker; after all, the annual collegiate award for outstanding place kicker is the Lou Groza Award (won by Mike Nugent in 2004!), but he was much more than just that.

Playing before the coming of the soccer-style side-footed kickers of the 60s, Groza kicked the ball straight on, with his toe, and wore a special shoe that was squared off in front on his right foot.

Over his career, he amassed 264 field goals, 810 extra points, one touchdown, and 1,608 total points. During his long career, though, he was exclusively a place kicker in only his final six seasons. Before that, he started on the Browns’ offensive line: one year at center, one at right tackle, and 12 at left tackle. Groza was first-team all-pro as a lineman four times and played in nine Pro Bowl games.

Groza’s membership in pro football’s Hall of Fame dates back to 1974, the year of his election. Because of his longevity, his dual career as kicker and lineman, and his immortality with the Lou Groza Award, I give the Toe the nod over Chase — at least for now.

There are obviously dozens of former Buckeyes that belong in this conversation. What is your top-three best NFL Buckeyes list? Let us know in the comments below.