Some surprise performances this year.
When I saw that Pete Werner had a team-high 13 total tackles in the Saints’ win over Washington, and I knew that I’d have no Buckeye Stock Market Report this week, I realized that I had to see how the rest of the pro Buckeyes were doing.
When the 32 NFL teams pared their rosters before the 2021 season began, there were 56 former Ohio State players who made their teams. Since then, of course, some have been cut, some relegated to a practice squad, and some injured (hope you’re healing, J.K.). Nevertheless, that number is huge and should serve nicely as a recruiting tool.
Although there were nine offensive linemen on NFL rosters when the season started, about all that I could tell you is whether they were starting; I certainly haven’t seen all of the games, and there aren’t any line stats to discuss. So, sadly, I’m limited to looking at backs and receivers.
Two Buckeye quarterbacks are playing on Sundays. Dwayne Haskins sits on the Pittsburgh Steeler bench, waiting for Big Ben to retire. (Any time now, I would think.) So far this year, though, Ben Roethlisberger has been the guy, and Haskins has no passing attempts. Justin Fields, on the other hand, has become the starter for the Chicago Bears. I’m sure that he’s found the going much tougher than his debut for the Buckeyes. Playing behind the Bears’ porous offensive line, Fields has been sacked 14 times and is currently completing only 51.4% of his passes. He’s hit on 37 of 72 passes for 458 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions. Stats that are a far cry from those that he amassed when he wore scarlet and gray. His greatness, though, will win out.
The past four premier Buckeye running backs are all playing in the NFL. (A fifth, Mike Weber, whether he was “premier,” or not, had a shot with the Giants during the preseason, but is not on their roster now.) As we all know, J.K. Dobbins, who was surely looking toward a big, breakout season with the Ravens, suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer signed Carlos Hyde for this season, and, playing in four of the five Jaguar games, Hyde has carried the ball 24 times for 108 yards and a respectable 4.5 yards per carry average.
Trey Sermon came on strong for the Bucks late last season, setting a rushing record against Northwestern, helping to beat Clemson, and then getting injured at the beginning of the national championship game. For the San Francisco 49ers this year, Sermon has picked up 135 yards on his 31 carries (4.35 per rush average) and a touchdown. Finally, Ezekiel Elliott has returned to form in a big way. Currently, Zeke, even though he shares his role with Tony Pollard, is third among NFL rushers with 452 yards and five touchdowns on 85 carries. That 5.3 per carry average and the long 47-yard run recall his performances in the first couple of years with the Cowboys. As a receiver out of the backfield, Elliott has caught nine passes for 55 yards and another touchdown. I’ve also been really impressed with Elliott’s blocking. He’s always been a good blocker, but he seems even more determined in his pass blocking this year, eager to stick his head on a blitzer.
With the Buckeye passing attack that we’ve seen over the last decade, or so, it’s not surprising that so many receivers are in the NFL. (Next year, there will be a couple more.) Since his arrival in New Orleans, Michael Thomas has been one of the league’s most dominant wideouts. A severe ankle injury has kept him out of action, but maybe, just maybe, he’ll be back on the field in a week or so. With Thomas sidelined, we look to Washington’s Terry McLaurin as the former OSU receiver getting the headlines. McLaurin has caught 29 passes for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Clearly, he’s the go-to guy on the Washington Football Team.
Parris Campbell sees a lot of action with the Indianapolis Colts and has pulled down nine balls for 111 yards. Additionally, Curtis Samuel (Washington), Luke Farrell (Jacksonville), Noah Brown (Dallas), and K.J. Hill (LA Chargers) all have multiple catches for the year.
Offensive stars: Ezekiel Elliott and Terry McLaurin
Flipping over to the other side of the ball, there are even more former Buckeyes playing on defense. If you’re a Buckeye fan, you’re probably accustomed to checking out how many sacks Chase Young and the Bosa brothers collect each week. So far this season, Nick Bosa leads the group with five sacks among his 14 tackles; Joey Bosa has 2.5, and Chase Young has only one.
Pittsburgh’s Cameron Heyward (27 tackles, one sack) and Sam Hubbard of the Bengals (24 tackles, 1.5 sack) continue to excel on defensive lines. Likewise, Vonn Bell (31 tackles), Eli Apple 21), and Marshon Lattimore (16) remain stalwarts in the secondary. Malik Harrison has started all five games at linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and has accumulated 16 tackles.
While all of these players are having good seasons, I want to direct my focus at two more recent Buckeye defenders: Jordan Fuller and Pete Werner. Werner was among a group of OSU linebackers who took grief from fans for four years. So, it’s gratifying to see that he’s worked his way to a starting linebacker position with the Saints. He’s now started the last three games and has 25 tackles – including the 13 last week and 10 the previous week. As for Jordan Fuller, what can I say? When he played at Ohio State, he was the cement holding the defense together. He was sorely missed in the 2020 season and his kind of leadership is missed again this season. It’s hardly a wonder then that Fuller has taken over that same leadership role with the Los Angeles Rams, where he calls the defensive plays. His 36 tackles are the most among former Buckeyes, and he’s headed for a great pro career.
Defensive stars: Jordan Fuller and (surprisingly) Pete Werner
Highly regarded high school players who are considering college scholarship offers should look at the professional success Buckeyes have achieved. In Columbus, they get the physical training, coaching, competition, and national spotlight that smooth their path to the NFL. Certainly, the prospect of playing in the NFL, every football player’s dream, ranks right along with the Buckeyes’ storied history, the team facilities, and first-rate coaches and teammates, when those four- and five-star recruits are deciding on their future team.