We are now on day seven of our 10-part series breaking down the best Ohio State players to play their position in the first five years under Buckeye head coach Urban Meyer. Safeties are the next ones on the list. With that, James Grega, Tim Moody and I ranked our top five safeties of the Meyer era at Ohio State.
No. 5 – C.J. Barnett
Barnett finished his Buckeye career with 224 tackles while playing in 45 games and starting 37 of them. He would have played/started more games had it not been for a season-ending injury in his redshirt freshman season of 2010 and an ankle injury that kept him out for three games of the 2012 season and the 2013 opener. Regardless, Barnett tallied eight career interceptions and 18 pass break-ups. The Dayton, Ohio, native was second on the team in tackles with 84 stops in 2013 and led the squad with 75 in 2011.
No. 4 – Christian Bryant
The man who lined up opposite Barnett for much of their time at Ohio State was Bryant. And much like Barnett, Bryant would have played in more than 36 games and started more than 27 contests if weren’t for a broken ankle he sustained vs. Wisconsin in the fifth game of the 2013 season, his senior year. For his career, Bryant totaled 171 tackles with 23 PBUs and two picks. He registered 70 tackles and 12 PBUs in 2012 when the Buckeyes went 12-0 in Meyer’s first year at the helm. His efforts that year earned him second-team all-Big Ten Conference honors.
No. 3 – Tyvis Powell
Known for enjoying the game of football to the fullest, Powell ended his career as a Buckeye with 195 tackles, eight interceptions and nine PBUs. As a redshirt junior in 2015, he paced the squad with three interceptions and was third on the team in tackles with 71. Only linebackers Raekwon McMillan (119) and Joshua Perry (105) had more stops than Powell. One of the Bedford, Ohio, native’s brightest moments as a Buckeye was when he intercepted Devin Gardner’s pass on Michigan’s two-point attempt to preserve a 42-41 Ohio State victory in 2013. A year later, Powell was named defensive MVP of the national championship game against No. 2 Oregon with a game-high nine tackles and a PBU.
No. 2 – Vonn Bell
A first-team Associated Press All-American in 2015, Bell was equally known for defending the pass and not shying away from contact. He recorded 176 tackles and 24 passes defended, including nine interceptions, across 42 games and 28 starts while wearing an OSU uniform. His 92 tackles in the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship season was the most by an Ohio State safety since Mike Doss had 107 in 2002, another year the program won the national title. He grabbed a team-high six interceptions in 2014, which included a pick in each of contests vs. Michigan, Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
No. 1 – Malik Hooker
Hooker may have only played one year as a starter but he sure made it count. As a third-year sophomore in 2016, Hooker had everyone’s attention in the first game of the season when he recorded two interceptions vs. Bowling Green. He finished the year with seven picks, three of which were taken back for a touchdown, including a pivotal pick-six vs. Michigan that helped spark OSU’s comeback double-overtime win. His 74 tackles was third among all Ohio State players last year, trailing McMillan (102) and linebacker Jerome Baker (83). Hooker’s breakout season last fall lead to him being named a unanimous first-team All-American.
James Grega: Despite playing just one year, it is hard not to go with Malik Hooker at No. 1 with the 2016 year he had. I have never seen a safety in person cover as much ground as he could in the Buckeye secondary. Vonn Bell is very underrated in my opinion and I expect him to have a very solid NFL career and Tyvis Powell has two of the most iconic interceptions in school history, picking off Devin Gardner in 2013 and then denying Alabama's last gasp in the 2015 Sugar Bowl. He always seemed to be in the right place at the biggest stage and he came in at No. 3 for me.
Ryan McGlade: Maybe because it was so recent, but Malik Hooker has been the best safety in the Urban Meyer at Ohio State. What he did in one season was absolutely incredible. And make no mistake about it, Vonn Bell is right on Hooker’s heels. To be known as a remarkable defender in the passing game as well as being one the team’s top tacklers as a safety is extremely impressive.
Tim Moody: All I can say about the safeties under Urban Meyer is I would go into game in any era with Vonn Bell and Malik Hooker on the back end and feel good about my chances.