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 2: Chris Spielman, Linebacker
Apologies here to Michael Thomas, who was also drafted in the second round and earned recognition as the best wide receiver in football for a short period of time... But Chris Spielman was an iron-willed iron man for a decade in the NFL, and arguably belongs on his drafting team’s Mount Rushmore. The latter also handed out haymakers at WrestleMania XI, so is this really much of a debate? Spielman gets the nod as Ohio State’s most valuable second-round NFL Draft pick.
Spielman’s career as a Buckeye has been recognized, rehashed, remembered, and marveled at many times over, to the point where it almost serves no purpose in this piece. But we’ll go over the CliffsNotes anyway.
Born near the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the legendary linebacker once told his dad he wanted to play for TTUN. Poppa Spielman told his son that wasn’t going to happen, and Chris ended up in Columbus. He was banged up as a freshman, but entered the starting lineup as a sophomore in 1985 and proceeded to play nearly every down for the rest of his OSU career.
Spielman racked up an incredible 546 career tackles, good for third in Ohio State history. 283 of those stops were of the solo variety, setting a school record of which No. 36 has many. He totaled 205 (!) tackles in 1986 alone, had 29 against the Maize and Blue that year, earned All-Big Ten recognition three times, was a two-time All-American, and won the 1987 Lombardi Trophy.
Despite his ridiculous stats and ferocious will to win, Spielman was the fifth LB taken in the 1988 NFL Draft. He was drafted 29th overall by the Detroit Lions with the second pick of the second round. And the team’s selection paid immediate dividends. Spielman led the Lions with 153 total tackles as a rookie in ‘88 and received votes for AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. After growing up near the Michigan border, this former Massillon Tiger and Ohio State Buckeye became a Detroit mainstay and a leader for the city’s beloved football team.
Over the totality of his career in the Motor City, which lasted eight seasons, Spielman averaged 142 tackles per season and made four Pro Bowl appearances. He was also voted to three All-Pro teams and, more importantly, helped lead the Lions to four playoff berths and two NFC Central (now North) titles. Detroit even made it as far as the NFC Championship Game in 1991, a game they have not returned to since.
Spielman was among the best linebackers in the NFL during his Detroit run, and certainly among the league’s most durable. He missed just four games from 1988-1995, all during a single stretch of the 1990 season. That same year he put up his lowest tackle total – 108 in just 12 games – but still earned a Pro Bowl nod.
This former Buckeye also dabbled in television and wrestling, which is something no other (OSU) second-rounder can claim on their résumé. He rubbed elbows with Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor and kicked ass at WrestleMania... Which speaks nothing to his draft value, but should be a part of every Spielman conversation.
Speaking of... #TBT to #WrestleMania 11 w/ @OhioStateFB great @chris_spielman!— Ohio State Buckeyes (@OhioStAthletics) March 30, 2017
@landof10: https://t.co/DiQK6ZGH3g#GoBucks pic.twitter.com/zPJ7Es31ol
Spielman signed with the Buffalo Bills in 1996 and amassed 157 tackles during his first season with the team. He then suffered a neck injury the following year, which ultimately turned out to career-ending. He sat out out the ‘98 season to care for his wife and made a brief comeback attempt in ‘99 with the Cleveland Browns, but ongoing neck issues prohibited a returning to the field. “Spiels” was forced to call it a career, rather than going out on his own terms.
The legendary linebacker has maintained a presence in and around football since retirement, including gigs as a media personality, analyst, Arena League coach, and NFL team executive. Spielman was inducted into the College Football Hall of in 2009, but has yet to receive a call from the HOF in Canton, to at least one person’s surprise.
In terms of value, Detroit could not have asked or even hoped for more when they drafted Ohio State’s record-setting tackling machine. Spielman was named to the Lions’ 75th Anniversary Team, as well as their All-Time Team, before being inducted into the organization’s Pride of the Lions club in 2021.