Contrary to how it sometimes seems, not every difference-making football player at Ohio State will go on to have success in the NFL. In fact, it is a small group that even makes it onto a Week One roster.
However, just because a former player fades away from the spotlight, it does not mean that they deserve to be forgotten. Some of the most important moments and memories from the last 20 years can be attributed to the players whose careers ended with a bowl game.
This is a series acknowledging forgotten Buckeyes; an ode to the players without pictures and plaques hanging in The Horseshoe. These guys all played a pivotal role in historic Ohio State moments, and should be remembered for their special contributions to OSU football.
Ryan Pickett | DL (1998-2000)
For decades, the Ohio State football program has consistently produced talented defensive lineman. These lineman haven’t just been a presence for the Buckeyes; OSU has sent more guys to the NFL than we all probably realize. From Jim Stillwagon to Chase Young, and dozens in between, there were many potential Forgotten Buckeyes to choose from. Singling out just one was a challenge for this week’s installment.
Dan Wilkinson was a thought, but he was taken first overall in the NFL Draft. Will Smith was under consideration, but there is just so much more to his story than what was going to be captured in Forgotten Buckeyes. Vernon Gholston is likely too memorable — for unfortunate reasons related to his high draft pick and subsequent lack of NFL success. Jerome Foster was a rare four-year starter for OSU in the early eighties, Alonzo Spellman was a physical freak and first round draft pick in the early nineties, and Tim Anderson was an under-appreciated part of the DL rotation for Ohio State’s 2002 National Championship team. There are so many more that the defensive line could get its own series.
This former defensive tackle received the nod due to his 14-year (!) NFL career; one which flew significantly under the radar. Buckeye legends such as Lou Groza, Jim Marshall, and Cris Carter had longer stints in the league, but each of those players established very memorable legacies. Groza and Carter are in the Hall of Fame, and it’s a damn shame Marshall is not. Ryan Pickett will never have his jersey retired in Columbus or be considered for the NFL HOF, but he was an impactful player throughout the duration of his football career.
At barely 6-foot-2 and over 300 pounds, Pickett was not one of the tallest DE recruits Ohio State landed in the late nineties, but what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in overall size and strength. He attended high school in Zephyrhills, Fla., and came to OSU in 1998 with a reputation that matched his size. Recruiting rankings were a bit all over the place two decades ago, but he was named a prep All-American by multiple national outlets. Pickett also played baseball and basketball, which goes to show you what kind of athlete he was coming out of high school. A 300-pound center or first baseman would still be considered unique today, nearly 25 years later.
Pickett was part of a small recruiting class, joined by only 13 other players. His class was defense-heavy, and unfortunately enjoyed limited success during the end of John Cooper’s tenure with Ohio State. After an 11-1 record in 1998, the team went 14-10 in the two seasons that followed, Pickett then left after his junior year. Despite the lack of overall team success, he proved to be a strong anchor in the middle of the defense. That trend would continue on the field for many years to come.
Picket was a space-eater. Built to take on double teams and penetrate the line, that is exactly what he did. He was stronger in the run game than he was as a pass rusher, which is to be expected for a man his size. That being said, he possessed surprising agility for a 300-pounder, and enough speed to regularly chase skill position players to the outside. Pickett started all but three games during his time at OSU, and was able to play on the left or right side of the line. His stats will never jump off the page, but Pickett’s impact was felt.
It was nearly impossible to measure his production by looking at a box score. Advanced metrics were not as popular pre-2000. Scouting services and websites like PFF did not hand out overall grades as determined by studying all facets of the game. What Ryan Pickett did was make a game easier for the entire defensive line. Because of his presence, most opposing offensive lines were not able to line up and go head-to-head. Interior linemen had to actively think about where Pickett might go, and how they could work in tandem to prevent pressure. Coaches needed to determine whether they would lean more zone or gap scheme, depending on their personnel. The big man in the middle just made opposing teams think more.
Additionally, by taking on extra blockers, Pickett made more one-on-one matchups possible for the players on the edge. He was not surrounded by a ton of talent out there, but his play at least helped the development of a guy like Rodney Bailey, who went on to spend seven years in the NFL himself.
Following a disappointing junior year (from a team standpoint), Pickett declared for the 2001 NFL Draft. He was somewhat surprisingly taken by the then St. Louis Rams with the 29th overall pick. After settling in to a backup role his rookie season, which ended with the Rams playing in Super Bowl XXXVI, he transitioned to a full-time starter in 2002. He played a total of five seasons in The Lou, starting 75 games over that span. He would go on to start a total of 185 games in his under-appreciated career; let me say that again, that’s 185 games started in the NFL for a short defensive tackle who consistently hovered around 320-330 pounds as a professional. The longevity was impressive, and combined with production and versatility, led to a remarkable NFL run.
Pickett had 65 tackles from the interior in 2005, and became a hot commodity on the free agent market. He left St. Louis for the Green Bay Packers prior to the 2006 season, earning a $14 million dollar contract. Pickett remained both durable and versatile during his time in Wisconsin, playing different positions across the line. The Packers began using a 3-4 defense under Dom Capers, and he was able to play nose tackle or defensive end in their base defense.
In 2010, Pickett and the Packers reached the NFL mountain top. They defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV to win the storied franchise’s first championship in over a decade. Pickett combined with Clay Matthews Jr. to force a pivotal fumble which led to a Green Bay recovery in the fourth quarter, helping extend their lead to 11 points. He remained in Green Bay through the 2013 season, before finishing his career with a one-year stint for the Houston Texans.
Fourteen years, 207 games, and 185 regular season starts would end up being the final tally for Pickett in the NFL. He only accumulated 9.5 sacks during that time, but even that should tell you how valuable he was to the teams that he played for. The sacks could never do his production justice, and football coaches at every level knew that. Nobody plays 14 years in the NFL without providing tremendous positional value. Pickett was a monster in the NFL trenches, just like he was during his time with the Buckeyes.
Pickett has pretty much faded from the limelight since retirement — not that he ever really spent a lot of time in it to begin with. He was never an All-American at Ohio State, or a Pro Bowler in the NFL; he does not sit atop the list of any statistical categories either. All the big man did was show up every day and produce in the trenches for nearly two decades. He took a beating and took on blockers for the benefit of whichever team he was battling for. If he wasn’t schemed for, he would make players in the backfield pay. Pickett was undervalued by fans, but appreciated by other players and coaches. Here’s to fans appreciating his time in Columbus just a little bit more.