Buckeye Sports Bulletin writers James Grega, Ryan McGlade and Tim Moody each listed their top players at each position and the list that follows is the final tally we came up with counting from No. 6 to the best linebacker to play under Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer.
No. 6 – Jerome Baker
Filling in for an injured Dante Booker, Baker stepped up as a sophomore last season. He was second on the team in 2016 with 79 tackles. Baker did not shy away from the big moments. He returned an interception 68 yards for a touchdown at No. 14 Oklahoma. In an overtime win at eighth-ranked Wisconsin, Baker recorded 13 tackles. He capped off the regular season with a career-high 15 stops vs. No. 3 Michigan and had a key interception in that game to help spark Ohio State’s comeback and double-overtime win over the Wolverines. Given his performance last fall, Baker looks to be poised for another impressive year in 2017.
No. 5 – Zach Boren
As a team captain, Boren made the decision to switch from fullback to linebacker six games into the 2012 campaign. The position change came in the midst of Ohio State’s 12-0 season. In the half dozen games he played at linebacker, Boren registered 50 tackles total, good for an average of 8.2 tackles per contest. He had a career-high 12 stops in an overtime win at Wisconsin. His most memorable tackle, however, came against Michigan when he sacked Devin Gardner, which led to the iconic photo of him standing over the Wolverine quarterback. Boren’s efforts as a senior landed him a Big Ten Conference Sportsmanship Award in 2012.
No. 4 – Joshua Perry
Perry played in 52 total games as a Buckeye, 37 of which he started. The Lewis Center, Ohio, native ranks 16th all-time at Ohio State with 298 career tackles, 124 of which occurred during the 2014 national championship season. He broke the century mark again as a senior captain a year later, notching 105 stops. His production in 2015 led to him being named a first-team all-Big Ten Conference linebacker. Perry was no stranger to being in opponents’ backfields either. He ended his Buckeye career with 18 tackles for loss and 7½ sacks.
No. 3 – Darron Lee
Lee broke onto the scene during his redshirt freshman season of 2014. He started all 15 games that year, collecting 81 tackles, 16½ TFL and 7½ sacks. Lee also returned two key fumbles for touchdowns that season: one vs. Navy and the other against Michigan. The native of New Albany, Ohio, did not disappoint the following year. He had 66 tackles, 11 TFL and 4½ sacks while starting all 13 contests in 2015. Lee’s impressive two year-run in a Buckeye uniform was capped by the New York Jets selecting him with the 20th overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
No. 2 – Raekwon McMillan
Ohio State’s leading tackler the past two seasons occupies the second spot on this list. McMillan paced the Buckeyes with 119 tackles in 2015 and 102 last year. He finished with 270 career stops, 17 TFL and six sacks across three seasons, which included 40 games played and 26 starts. A team captain in 2016, McMillan tied his career high for tackles in a game with 16 against Michigan. He followed up that performance with 15 more stops vs. Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup. Additionally, McMillan was a first-team all-Big Ten selection and a second-team All-American as both a sophomore and a junior.
No. 1 – Ryan Shazier
Shazier takes home the honor of being the best linebacker during the Meyer era. Just like McMillan, Shazier led the squad in tackles as a sophomore (115 in 2012) and junior (143 in 2013). McMillan and Shazier join James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Chris Spielman and Pepper Johnson as the only players in OSU history to lead the team in tackles in consecutive years. Twenty of Shazier’s 143 stops in 2013 came against Indiana, marking the first time that’s happened since Hawk did so in 2004 vs. Wisconsin. Additionally, Shazier’s 315 career tackles is 15th on Ohio State’s all-time list, the highest mark for any Buckeye who has played under Meyer. Shazier, who completed his OSU career with 44½ TFL and 14 sacks, did his damage in 38 games, 28 of which he started. He was named a first-team All-American by The Associated Press, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and USA Today in 2013 when he was a team captain.
Honorable Mentions: Curtis Grant, Etienne Sabino and Chris Worley
James Grega: Ryan Shazier came on in 2011 and was one of the lone bright spots on that defense during a tough 6-7 season. His speed from the linebacker was unmatched by any Ohio State linebacker in Meyer’s time in Columbus. I had Darron Lee at No. 2, simply because of his versatility at the position. I thought he impacted the game much more than Raekwon McMillan could.
Ryan McGlade: Considering that Ryan Shazier had 143 tackles in 2013, the most by an Ohio State player since Chris Spielman had 156 in 1987, I had to give Shazier my first-place vote. From there, I went with Raekwon McMillan at No. 2 and Darron Lee at No. 3. This was almost like splitting hairs because they both affected the game in different ways. Lee, of course, was known for his impact plays while McMillan seemed to always be a steady, reliable force in the middle of the defense. I think what made the difference for me was the fact that McMillan led the team in tackles in back-to-back seasons.
Tim Moody: While I think it’s fair to rank Shazier first, I actually had him third on my list. Raekwon McMillan had a more significant impact over his entire career, which got him my top spot, while Darron Lee was perhaps the best game-changing linebacker I’ve seen at Ohio State, so he finished second. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of those three. I also gave a sixth-place vote to Etienne Sabino, who didn’t make the final cut.