Taking Stock Of Buckeyes In NFL

Ohio State alumni such as Nick Mangold and Donte Whitner have become Pro Bowlers since leaving Columbus, but others have had a harder time of it. The latest crop of high picks hopes to change that.

Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby ended a recent drought in first-round NFL draft picks from Ohio State. Next they will hope to buck a downward trend in performance by former Buckeyes in the NFL.

Only two of the 17 Buckeyes selected in the previous four drafts have been a full-year starter at any point in their careers so far -- Kurt Coleman and Cameron Heyward. After the Philadelphia Eagles made him a seventh-round choice in 2010, Coleman eventually won the starting job and held it for two seasons. He has since moved on to the Minnesota Vikings, though, after notching 221 tackles and seven interceptions as an Eagle. Heyward started 13 games last season, logging five sacks, and his future appears to be bright.

As Coleman, who based on his draft status certainly can be considered an overachiever already at this point in his career, exited the Eagles, Malcolm Jenkins signed with Philadelphia after starting 63 games in four seasons with the Saints, who chose him in the first round in 2009. Jenkins is part of a pretty successful draft class that also includes linebacker James Laurinaitis and wide receiver Brian Hartline. Laurinaitis, a second-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, has started all 80 career games and is regarded as a productive player and leader for a team on the upswing while Hartline has become a surprise starter after the Miami Dolphins chose him in the fourth round. Hartline has started 53 of 76 career games and made 259 catches for 2,769 yards and 10 touchdowns.

After the 2009 class, one has to go back to 2006 to find more than one consistent impact player from Ohio State. That large group of draftees (nine) includes four players who have started at least 89 games in their careers. Center Nick Mangold leads the way with 126 starts (every game of his career) while linebacker A.J. Hawk has started 123 of 126 career games and can claim 832 tackles and one Super Bowl championship to his name.

Also from the '06 group, Safety Donte Whitner, who was thought by some pundits to be a reach when the Buffalo Bills picked him No 8 overall in the draft, has turned out to be one of the best Buckeyes in the NFL over the past decade. He has two of the eight Pro Bowl appearances (Will Smith has one and Mangold the other five) and has been a productive player for both the Bills and the San Francisco 49ers. This season Whitner takes his 679 tackles and 113 starts back to his hometown of Cleveland, where he will suit up for the Browns. Rounding out the group of successful players from the '06 OSU draft class are offensive lineman Rob Sims, who has started 98 games for the Seahawks and Lions, and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who can lay claim not only to nearly 6,000 receiving yards and 36 touchdowns but also a Super Bowl MVP award.

Smith is the headliner of the 2004 group of 14 players and can lay claim to being one of the top three Buckeyes to enter the NFL in the past 10 years thanks to his 67.5 sacks. Though he is nearing the end of the line, the No. 18 overall pick in 2004 is hoping to find a role with the New England Patriots this season after starting 120 games for the Saints. The next-best player from '04? That is easily cornerback Chris Gamble, who started 117 games and retired last year with 27 career interceptions.

The 2004 group also had a handful of solid players who were starters for a couple of years or so, including offensive linemen Shane Olivea and Alex Stepanovich. Safety Will Allen was a starter at the beginning of his career with Tampa Bay and remains a key special teamer for the Steelers while Ben Hartsock carved out a niche as a blocking tight end for multiple teams. Wide receiver Michael Jenkins started 79 games for the Atlanta Falcons but his production fell short of expectations for a first-round pick. The career of Ted Ginn Jr. could be described similarly, though No. 9 overall pick of the 2007 draft can claim six career touchdowns on returns and has remained a useful weapon in the league thanks to his blazing speed.

Of course, while Jenkins and Ginn might have hoped to become big stars when they were first picks, their impacts in the league have been much greater than some of the busts of the past 10 years.

In that category, no one stands above Vernon Gholston, the college defensive end who shot up draft boards after posting workouts at the NFL combine that led some to believe he could be a pro linebacker. The New York Jets took that bet, spending the No. 6 pick in 2008 on Gholston, and they were not rewarded. Gholston never recorded a sack or a start in his NFL career.

Other disappointing showings include those of Beanie Wells and Anthony Gonzalez, first-round picks in 2009 and 2007, respectively, who could not stay healthy, and Brian Robiskie, a second-round pick in 2009 who has started only 14 games and caught 43 passes but remains part of the league after recently signing a free agent contract with the Titans, his fifth team.

Overall, 41 of the 58 Ohio State players drafted from 2004-13 have started at least one NFL game. Eleven have started 50 games or more, and three made Pro Bowls. The success rate skews to the earlier part of the survey, as draft status would generally indicate it should.

What is in store in the next few years for Buckeyes in the NFL?

Players like Heyward, Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Mike Adams and DeVier Posey still appear to have a chance to make big marks on the league with the 2014 draftees hopping to do the same. Undrafted prospects Jake Ballard and Mike Brewster have also flashed the potential to have an impact on the league as well.

It will be interesting to see how the next 10 years compare to the last.

Follow on Twitter @marcushartman


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