Since 1936, the first year in which an official pro football draft took place, 481 Ohio State Buckeyes have been selected in the NFL Draft. Two players – Russ Thomas and Bob Meyers – were actually drafted into the NFL twice, in back-to-back (but separate) years. And 14 of those 481 former Buckeyes were also taken in the AFL Draft, including the legendary Hall of Fame wideout Paul Warfield.
That makes 497 total draft picks for OSU since Gomer Jones was selected by the NFL’s Chicago Cardinals nearly a century ago.
Of the nearly 500 Buckeyes taken, hundreds have enjoyed successful pro careers, while others flamed out and/or never playing a snap after their time in Columbus. The Ohio State football program has produced NFL Hall of Famers, Pro Bowlers, Players and Rookies of the Year, ten-year tackling dummies, one-and-doners, monumental busts, and everything in between.
All of these former OSU football players share one thing in common, which is their affiliation with THE greatest university on the planet. Conversely, one thing that sets them all apart is their varying degrees of success (or lack thereof) in the NFL.
Another way to look at it is in terms of value. Each of these players produced value – positive or negative – for the team which drafted them. And that is what I am going to look at in the weeks leading up to the 2023 NFL Draft. I am going to attempt to identify the seven best Scarlet and Gray values, picking only one player from each round (length of the modern draft, and going in reverse order).
Before we get started, “best” and “most” must be sorted out. Best value is not the same as most valuable. And most valuable is not same as best value. Warfield, Eddie George, Orlando Pace, Jack Tatum, or Jim Parker would inarguably be among the most valuable (former) Buckeyes at the professional level. All became team captains, Pro Bowlers, eventual Hall of Famers, you name it. But they were also taken within the first 20 picks of their respective drafts, whereas Dick LeBeau made the NFL Half of Fame as a fifth-rounder.
I might argue that LeBeau was the better overall value because of where/when he was drafted. But going round by round means I do not have to choose between Pace or LeBeau, which is a good thing because there are already plenty of difficult decisions ahead... Without further ado, let’s go bargain shopping.
Round 4: Cris Carter, Wide receiver
Carter, a homegrown Buckeye from Troy and then Middletown, Ohio, is in the running for most valuable Ohio State (NFL) draft pick ever. And similar to Dick LeBeau, who was cut by the team which drafted him, Carter is on this list as a bit of a technicality.
Because the latter never heard his name called during the “traditional” NFL Draft. Instead, the legendary wide receiver was taken in the fourth round of the 1987 supplemental draft, which he entered after being ruled ineligible prior to his senior season in Columbus. Carter also became a Hall of Famer with his second NFL team, again mirroring the career path of LeBeau.
A two-sport star in high school, Carter initially wanted to play both football and basketball for OSU but walked away from hoops once he experienced immediate success on the gridiron. Not entirely though, as he would later show off the bunnies in Foot Locker Slam Fest events — which, by the way, were the pinnacle of all sports and entertainment.
Carter exploded onto the scene in Columbus for a team that was anything but explosive when it came to their passing game. As a freshman in 1984, he was on the receiving end of 28% of the Buckeyes’ total passing yards (648 of 2,321). Carter also caught 8 of the team’s 13 receiving touchdowns, which became a signature of his game. Just look up “All he does is catch touchdowns.”
During his sophomore and junior seasons, Carter upped his yardage share to 40 and 45%, essentially acting as a one-man aerial show for Ohio State. He continued to catch TD (19 combined) and was on the verge of establishing untouchable records for the Buckeyes until his college career came to a screeching halt. Carter was ruled ineligible for the ‘87 season due to his relationship with a sports agent, ending his time in Columbus and forcing him to enter the NFL’s “other” draft.
The Philadelphia Eagles took Carter in the fourth round of the supplemental draft, and he had little trouble finding the endzone early for his new team. But he also found trouble off the field and was a surprise cut after just three seasons. Carter later admitted to having a substance abuse problem and thanked then-Eagles coach Buddy Ryan for helping him turn his life around. The talented wideout was then given a second opportunity in Minnesota and made the absolute most out of it.
After a slow(ish) start for the Vikings, Carter experienced a true breakout in 1993. He finished his seventh professional season – a later ascent than most – with 86 receptions for 1,071 yards and 9 TD. That ‘93 season marked the beginning of an eight-year stretch during which the former Buckeye averaged 97 receptions for 1,182 yards and 11+ TD, putting him in the argument for WR of the decade (remember, Jerry Rice fell off after 1996).
Furthermore, Carter’s consistent production made him perhaps the most valuable waiver pickup of all time, in addition to his extreme ROI relative to draft position.
Carter retired after the 2002 season, finishing his career with 1,101 receptions for 13,899 yards and 131 total TD. His TD mark currently ranks eighth all-time, although he was fourth upon retirement. The Vikings’ career leader in just about every receiving category was also voted to eight Pro Bowls, named the 1999 Walter Payton Man of the Year, and eventually had his No. 80 jersey retired by the team.
Despite Carter’s gaudy numbers and near-universal recognition as one of football’s best WR, he did not become an immediate shoe-in for the NFL Hall of Fame. He was oddly passed over a number of times before finally earning the distinction in 2013. Regardless of wait time, Carter was enshrined in Canton and will likely be remembered as one of the game’s most prolific touchdown-scorers for many years to come.
This former Buckeye has maintained a presence in and around the game since retirement, and he is (still) an active supporter of the Scarlet and Gray. Although Carter’s OSU career came to a premature end, his football legacy has stood the test of time. And quite a legacy it is for a fourth-round supplemental draft pick.