Ohio State Football: The Top 25 Buckeyes in NFL History

Adam StangContributor IJanuary 24, 2011

Ohio State Football: The Top 25 Buckeyes in NFL History

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    Al Bello/Getty Images

    As one of the premier college football programs in history, The Ohio State University has produced many fine amateur athletes. Though stars in college, how did Buckeyes do as professionals and who were the best players?

    The top 25 Ohio State football players in history can be broken down as follows:

    2 DL

    3 RBs

    3 DBs

    4 WRs

    5 LBs

    8 OL

    Interested? Read on to find out which Buckeye was the greatest of them all.

25. FB/TE Keith Byars

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    College: 1982 - 1985

    NFL: 1986 - 1998

    Statistics (189 games)

    865 rushing attempts, 3,109 yards, 23 rushing touchdowns

    610 receptions, 5,661 yards, 31 receiving touchdowns

    Awards

    1 Pro Bowl

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Byars was a versatile player who could run, block and catch. He snagged 610 career receptions (54th all-time) including 81 in 1990, good for third best behind Jerry Rice and Andre Rison.

    Sports Illustrated named Byars as the best NFL player to don #41.

24. RB Robert Smith

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    College: 1990 - 1992

    NFL: 1993 - 2000

    Statistics (98 games)

    1,411 rushing attempts, 6,818 yards, 32 rushing touchdowns

    Awards

    2 Pro Bowls

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Jason Sehorn called Smith "Eddie George with another gear."

    The stats support that opinion. Smith averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry during his career. 

    Smith retired following the 2000 season in which he rushed for 1,521 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Had he not retired so early, Smith could be much higher on this list.

23. CB Antoine Winfield

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    College: 1995 - 1998

    NFL: 1999 - present

    Statistics (170 games)

    792 tackles, 23 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles

    Awards

    2 Pro Bowls

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Peter King of Sports Illustrated has rated Winfield as the 31st best player in the NFL.

    Winfield is deserving of that ranking. Though diminutive in stature, he is a sure tackler.

    He's no slouch in coverage, either. Winfield made the USA All-Fundamentals team for "his ability to cover receivers man to man."

22. WR Joey Galloway

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    College: 1991 - 1994

    NFL: 1995 - present

    Statistics (198 games)

    701 receptions, 10,950 yards, 77 receiving touchdowns

    Awards

    4X Pro Bowl alternate

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Galloway has played 16 seasons, 6 of which he gained 1,000+ receiving yards. Due to longevity and good play, he has amassed solid career numbers. His 15.6 yards per reception is particularly impressive.

    As former coach Jon Gruden said, "guys don't come on this planet like Galloway very often."

21. LB Pepper Johnson

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    George Rose/Getty Images

    College: 1982 - 1985

    NFL: 1986 - 1998

    Statistics (193 games)

    983 tackles, 25.5 sacks, 14 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles

    Awards

    2 Pro Bowls

    1X First-Team All-Pro

    2X Super Bowl champion

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    I quote Craig Santucci:

    "Johnson was a damn good player. A two time Pro Bowl linebacker who loved to hit you in the mouth, while filling a hole. He was big, nasty, and athletic."

    That merits his inclusion on this list.

20. OT Jim Lachey

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    College: 1981 - 1984

    NFL: 1985 - 1995

    Awards

    3 Pro Bowls

    3X First-Team All-Pro

    Super Bowl champion

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    As a member of "The Hogs," Lachey was a key contributor to the 1991 Washington Redskins Super Bowl Championship team.

    An outstanding tackle, Lachey was named to the NFL's "Stars of the '90's team."

    [Information cited from redskins.com]

19. DE/LB Jim Houston

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    College: 1957 - 1959

    NFL: 1960 - 1972

    Awards

    4 Pro Bowls

    NFL champion

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    The four-time Pro Bowl selection was a key player for the 1964 Cleveland Browns championship team.

18. LB Mike Vrabel

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    College: 1993 - 1996

    NFL: 1997 - present

    Statistics (206 games)

    505 tackles, 57.0 sacks, 11 interceptions, 19 forced fumbles

    10 receptions, 10 receiving touchdowns

    Awards

    1 Pro Bowl

    1X First-Team All-Pro

    3X Super Bowl champion

    2000 - 2009 Sports Illustrated All-Decade Team

    New England Patriots 50th Anniversary Team

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    The veteran is a solid linebacker and veteran leader.

    The real reason he makes this list is due to his versatility. NFL Network rated Vrabel as the 7th most versatile player of all-time. He has 10 catches to his name, all for touchdowns.

17. C Nick Mangold

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    College: 2002 - 2005

    NFL: 2006 - present

    Awards

    3 Pro Bowls

    2X First-Team All-Pro

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Mangold has the potential to be one of the greatest centers in NFL history having been selected to three Pro Bowls in his first five seasons.

    This ranking is a bit high at the moment but I wager he continues his high level of play.

16. DE Jim Marshall

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    College: 1957 - 1958

    NFL: 1960 - 1979

    Awards

    2 Pro Bowls

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Marshall is best known for his "Wrong Way Run." That play blights what was actually a very successful career.

    He was very durable, starting 282 consecutive games for the Minnesota Vikings. He is credited with 127 sacks and a record 30 fumble recoveries.

    Marshall was a member of the "Purple People Eaters," a nickname for Minnesota's outstanding defensive line.

15. LB Chris Spielman

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    College: 1984 - 1987

    NFL: 1988 - 1999

    Statistics (148 games)

    1,181 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 6 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles

    Awards

    4 Pro Bowls

    1X First-Team All-Pro

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Spielman was a tackling machine, averaging well over 100 tackles per season for his career. He helped lead the Detroit Lions to two division championships.

    Spielman holds the record for most career tackles in Detroit Lions history.

14. RB Eddie George

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    College: 1992 - 1995

    NFL: 1996 - 2004

    Statistics (141 games)

    2,865 rushing attempts, 10,441 rushing yards, 68 rushing touchdowns

    Awards

    4 Pro Bowls

    1X First-Team All-Pro

    1996 NFL AP Offensive Rookie of the Year

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    George was a durable workhorse back. In his first 8 years, all with the Tennessee Titans, he never missed a start while amassing 10,009 rushing yards. The only other running back to rush for 10,000 yards before missing a start was the legendary Jim Brown.

    George is the all-time rushing leader in Tennessee Titans history.

13. T Bob Vogel

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    College: 1960 - 1962

    NFL: 1963 - 1972

    Awards

    5 Pro Bowls

    1X First-Team All-Pro

    Super Bowl champion

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Vogel protected Johnny Unitas for ten years, earning five Pro Bowl invitations. He played in two Super Bowls (III and V).

12. DB Dick LeBeau

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    College: 1956 - 1958

    NFL: 1959 - 1972

    Statistics (185 games)

    62 interceptions

    Awards

    3 Pro Bowls

    Inducted into Hall of Fame

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Before becoming a great defensive coordinator, LeBeau was a great defensive player. His 62 interceptions were ranked third best at the time of his retirement, though he's slipped to eighth since.

    Johnny Unitas respected LeBeau, saying that he was "a good corner." 

11. DL Bill Willis

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    College: 1942 - 1944

    NFL: 1946 - 1953

    Awards

    3 Pro Bowls

    3X First-Team All-Pro

    NFL 1940s All-Decade Team

    Inducted into Hall of Fame

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    During one practice, Willis overwhelmed the center four consecutive times, disrupting QB Otto Graham. The coaches thought he must have been offside but he wasn't. He was just that quick.

    Willis helped break the color barrier in football a full year before Jackie Robinson did the same in baseball.

    [cited from profootballhof.com]

10. WR Dante Lavelli

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    College: 1942

    NFL: 1946 - 1956

    Statistics (123 games)

    386 receptions, 6,488 receiving yards, 62 receiving touchdowns

    Awards

    3 Pro Bowls

    7X League Champion

    NFL 1940s All-Decade Team

    Inducted into Hall of Fame

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Lavelli, nicknamed "Glue Fingers," helped the Cleveland Browns revolutionize the passing game. He and Otto Graham teamed up to put on an offensive display that dazzled fans, including Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney. Rooney said that "It was like watching a basketball game on a football field."

9. OL Dick Schafrath

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    College: 1956 - 1958

    NFL: 1959 - 1971

    Awards

    6 Pro Bowls

    4X First-Team All-Pro

    NFL Champion

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Schafrath was a dominant offensive lineman, earning trips to six consecutive Pro Bowls. He made life easier for everyone, including Jim Brown.

    Interestingly enough, three of Brown's four highest season rushing totals came once Schafrath began making his annual Pro Bowl trip. Coincidence?

8. OT Orlando Pace

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    College: 1994 - 1996

    NFL: 1997 - present

    Awards

    7 Pro Bowls

    3X First-Team All-Pro

    Super Bowl champion

    NFL 2000s All-Decade Team

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Pace played a big role in the success of "The Greatest Show on Turf," which featured some of the best offensive output in history.

    In addition to being selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls, Pace was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.

7. S Jack Tatum

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    College: 1968 - 1970

    NFL: 1971 - 1980

    Statistics (136 games)

    37 interceptions

    Awards

    3 Pro Bowls

    Super Bowl champion

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Nicknamed "The Assassin," Tatum is one of the most feared hitters in NFL history. 

    Due to his hitting prowess, Tatum will not soon be forgotten; this perhaps being the ultimate compliment.

6. LB Randy Gradishar

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    College: 1971 - 1973

    NFL: 1974 - 1983

    Statistics

    2,049 tackles, 20 sacks, 20 interceptions

    Awards

    7 Pro Bowls

    2X First-Team All-Pro

    1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    The underrated linebacker finished his career with the most tackles in NFL history. 

    Though underrated by the media, Gradishar is well respected by his peers. Merlin Olsen said that Gradishar was one of the five best linebackers he "played against or had a chance to cover in [his] broadcasting career."

    In 2008, Gradishar was selected to Pro Football Weekly's All-Time 3-4 defensive team.

5. WR Cris Carter

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    College: 1984 - 1986

    NFL: 1987 - 2002

    Statistics

    1,101 receptions, 13,899 receiving yards, 130 receiving touchdowns

    Awards

    8 Pro Bowls

    2X First-Team All-Pro

    NFL 1990s All-Decade Team

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Carter had great hands, helping him become one of the greatest receivers in history. In terms of sheer numbers, he's right near the top placing 3rd in career receptions, 4th in touchdown receptions and 8th in receiving yards.

    Carter is the all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in Minnesota Vikings history.

4. OT Jim Tyrer

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    College: 1958 - 1960

    NFL: 1961 - 1974

    Awards

    9 Pro Bowls

    6X First-Team All-Pro

    3X League champion

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Tyrer is considered to be the greatest left tackle in AFL history. With nine Pro Bowls and six consecutive First-Team All-Pro selections, that claim is hard to dispute.

    Tyrer helped the Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowl IV, the first and only Super Bowl win for the franchise.

3. WR Paul Warfield

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    College: 1961 - 1963

    NFL: 1964 - 1977

    Statistics

    427 receptions, 8,565 receiving yards, 85 receiving touchdowns

    Awards

    8 Pro Bowls

    2X First-Team All-Pro

    3X NFL champion

    NFL 1970s All-Decade Team

    Inducted into Hall of Fame

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    NFL Network rated Warfield as the 71st greatest player of all-time. He was a graceful player who averaged over 20 yards per reception.

    His numbers may not seem like much today but don't let that fool you. He was one of the greatest wideouts of all-time.

2. OL Jim Parker

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    College: 1954 - 1956

    NFL: 1957 - 1967

    Awards

    8 Pro Bowls

    8X First-Team All-Pro

    2X NFL Champion

    NFL 1950s All-Decade Team

    NFL Anniversary 75th All-Time Team

    Inducted into Hall of Fame

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    NFL Network rates Parker as the 32nd greatest player of all-time. He was one of the greatest lineman to play the game, protecting Johnny Unitas. 

    Parker played ten full seasons, earning eight Pro Bowl invitations. His versatility on the line was impressive; he was selected to the Pro Bowl as a tackle five times and three times as guard.

1. OT/K Lou Groza

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    College: 1942

    NFL: 1946 - 1967

    Awards

    9 Pro Bowls

    4X First-Team All-Pro

    NFL 1950s All-Decade Team

    Inducted into Hall of Fame

    What makes him one of the best Buckeyes in NFL history?

    Groza was in the NFL for an astounding 21 seasons. Though known for his kicking skill, he was also a great offensive tackle, earning nine trips to the Pro Bowl.

    His kicking numbers don't look like much today; he made less than 55% of his kicks. Even so, Groza was the first great kicker and put special teams on the map.