The 2017 NFL Draft starts Thursday in Philadelphia and is sure to feature many Big Ten stars finding out where their professional careers will begin. Programs such as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska are among the top schools in the nation at producing NFL talent. Which players have been the best NFL draft picks from those schools?
Ohio State has had the third-most players play in the NFL, behind only Notre Dame and Southern Cal. The Buckeyes have had 74 more players reach the NFL than rival Michigan, which is fourth in the country.
Eight former Buckeyes also are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Three of them won’t appear on this list because they weren’t part of the traditional NFL draft. Lou Groza and Bill Willis were not drafted, while Cris Carter entered the league through the supplemental draft in 1987. Dante Lavelli returned from serving in the military during World War II and joined the Browns in 1946.
Two themes dominate this list of the best Ohio State draft picks: offensive linemen and the Cleveland Browns. Ten Ohio State alums have played in at least five Pro Bowls, and seven of them spent at least part of their careers as offensive linemen.
The hometown Browns drafted three players on this list, and both Groza and Lavelli became Hall of Fame talents in Cleveland. From 1953-64, the Browns selected six Buckeyes who went on to play in at least two Pro Bowls.
Cleveland hasn’t looked to Columbus for NFL draft picks much since then, and the two most recent high picks — Craig Powell at No. 30 in 1995 and Brian Robiskie at No. 36 in 2009 — were busts.
There are a lot of great Ohio State players who became really good NFL talents but didn’t make this list. It’s a tough group to crack.
Here are the 10 best picks in the history of the NFL draft from Ohio State, based on a combination of career accomplishments and when they were selected.
Honorable mention: Joey Bosa, San Diego Chargers, and Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (No. 3, No. 4 in 2016)
So speaking of Cleveland’s weird aversion to drafting Buckeyes, the Browns had the No. 2 pick last year. They traded down, sending the pick to Philadelphia. Bosa and Elliott were the best rookies in the NFL last season, and if their careers continue the way they started, the more curious that decision will likely look.
10. Eddie George, Houston Oilers (No. 14, 1996)
Before Zeke, there was Eddie George. He became an instant star in the NFL, rushing for 1,368 yards and earning offensive rookie of the year honors.
He made the Pro Bowl the next four seasons, punishing defenses for nearly 6,900 yards in his first five years. George finished his career with 10,441 yards, enough to currently sit in the all-time top 30. He’s not going to make the Hall of Fame, but it was a fine career.
9. Antoine Winfield, Buffalo Bills (No. 23, 1999)
The Buckeyes have produced a bunch of quality NFL defensive backs who were first-round picks, including Shawn Springs, Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Clements and Donte Whitner. Go back a little further and add Jack Tatum and Tim Fox to the list. They should have at least two drafted in the first round of the 2017 draft.
Antoine Winfield was a late first-round selection, but he became one of the top corners in the league. He was a three-time Pro Bowl selection after moving on to Minnesota.
8. Chris Spielman, Detroit Lions (No. 29, 1987)
Chris Spielman was one of the top defensive players in the nation at Ohio State, but slipped to the second round of the draft. He played in four Pro Bowls and narrowly edged Randy Gradishar for a spot in the back of this top 10. Spielman had more than 1,000 tackles in eight years with the Lions before a productive final two years with the Bills.
7. Jim Tyrer, Dallas Texans (No. 22 in AFL draft, 1961)
The Chicago Bears grabbed Jim Tyrer late in the NFL draft (14th round), but he joined the Dallas Texans of the AFL and was an All-AFL player eight times. He was a key cog for the franchise as it moved to Kansas City and eventually won Super Bowl IV. After the AFL-NFL merger, he made the Pro Bowl in 1971 and 1972.
6. Jim Marshall, Cleveland Browns (No. 44, 1960)
Jim Marshall spent one season with Cleveland before being traded to Minnesota. He spent 19 years as a starter for the Vikings, setting the NFL record for consecutive games played (270) that Brett Favre eventually broke.
He was part of Minnesota’s “Purple People Eaters” defense and played in four Super Bowls. Marshall also made the Pro Bowl twice. That’s quite the return on a fourth-round pick, though the Browns squandered it by trading him, along with four other players, for second- and 11th-round picks that did not pan out. Conversely, it’s one of the best trades the Vikings have ever made.
5. Nick Mangold, New York Jets (No. 29, 2006)
Nick Mangold was the last of five first-round picks from Ohio State in the 2006 draft. All became good NFL players. Whitner made three Pro Bowls. Santonio Holmes won a Super Bowl MVP.
A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter were solid starting linebackers. Mangold, the longtime Jets center, ended up being the best of the five. He went to seven Pro Bowls and earned first-team All-Pro status twice.
4. Jim Parker, Baltimore Colts (No. 8, 1957)
Jim Parker made the Pro Bowl five times as a tackle and three times as a guard. He was also a nine-time first-team All-Pro, and selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
He won a national championship with the Buckeyes in 1954 and then two NFL titles with the Colts in 1958 and 1959. Parker’s number is retired by the Colts.
3. Dick LeBeau, Cleveland Browns (No. 58, 1959)
Dick LeBeau had a fantastic career as a player. The Browns made an outstanding pick in the fifth round, but cut him during his rookie year. He signed with Detroit and intercepted 62 passes for the Lions in 14 seasons. LeBeau also made the Pro Bowl three times.
After his playing career, LeBeau became one of the great defensive minds in the history of the sport. He’s coached in six Super Bowls as an assistant, five as the defensive coordinator. LeBeau is credited with creating the “zone blitz” defense.
LeBeau is officially in the Hall of Fame as a defensive back, but his contributions to defensive football had to play a role in him finally earning enshrinement in 2010.
2. Paul Warfield, Cleveland Browns (No. 11, 1964)
The Browns did a good job of drafting Buckeyes in the 1950s and 1960s, but holding onto them was another matter. Paul Warfield made the Pro Bowl three times and won the 1964 NFL title with the Browns, but cemented a Hall of Fame resume after a trade to the Miami Dolphins.
Warfield was a two-time first-team All-Pro with the Dolphins, and won the Super Bowl in 1972 and 1973. He’s still 15th in NFL history with 85 touchdown receptions, despite being 193rd in career receptions.
1. Orlando Pace, St. Louis Rams (No. 1, 1997)
It’s hard to be a good “value” pick as the No. 1 selection. Teams that have the first pick are looking for someone to become an annual Pro Bowl participant at a high-priority position and help lead the franchise to a championship.
Orlando Pace did all of that for the Rams. St. Louis gave Bill Parcells and the New York Jets four picks, including No. 6, to move up and draft Pace.
He made seven straight trips to the Pro Bowl and three first-team All-Pro teams. The Rams won the Super Bowl in 1999 and nearly won again two years later. One of the best offensive tackles of all time, he earned his place in Canton in the Class of 2016.