Across the Shield: Joey Bosa Wins Defensive Rookie of the Year, Ezekiel Elliott Named FedEx Ground Player of the Year & Nobody Could Guard Mike Thomas

By Kevin Harrish on February 7, 2017 at 10:10 am
Joey Bosa poses with his NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year trophy.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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The way former Buckeyes performed this NFL season could hardly have been predicted by even the most optimistic Buckeye fans.

In their first seasons in the NFL, Joey Bosa established himself as one of the top edge rushers in the league, Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing, Michael Thomas was the most productive rookie receiver since Randy Moss and Taylor Decker routinely graded out as the Lions' top offensive lineman.

It wasn't just the rookies – he veterans took care of business as well. Nate Ebner won his second Super Bowl ring, Ryan Shazier made his first Pro Bowl, Bradley Roby and Malcolm Jenkins led the league in pick-sixes, Ted Ginn Jr. torched defenses deep and Terrelle Pryor became a legitimate weapon at wide receiver.

This season, the Buckeye highlight tape didn't end on Saturdays.

"I lose track of them," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said last week. "I'm watching the Pro Bowl, a Buckeye carries the ball, a Buckeye is blocking for him, and a Buckeye tackles him."

We can't possibly touch on everything former Buckeyes did in the NFL this season – we might not have enough server space – but we take a look back at some of the highlights.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Remember when Joey Bosa almost didn't play this season?

After a lengthly contract dispute, Bosa did eventually end up on the field – much to the displeasure of quarterbacks around the league.

Despite missing 25 percent of the season, Bosa led all rookies in sacks with 10.5 (four shy of the NFL record) and had the second-most sacks per game in the entire league, behind only Atlanta's Vic Beasley.

Though, sack numbers don't tell the whole story. Bosa was affecting plays even when he wasn't getting to the quarterback. The former Buckeye had more pressures in his first 12 games than any player in the past 11 years.

And that is how you win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Hero in a Half Shirt

The only person who might have had a better rookie than Bosa? His former college roommate.

Most people expected Ezekiel Elliott to be good – he was one of the most complete running backs ever to enter the draft and would be running behind the league's best offensive line. Expectations were sky high for the former Buckeye, yet he still shattered them.

Not only was Elliott the top rookie running back, he was the league's best. Elliott was the NFL rushing leader in his just his first season, rushing for 1,631 yards on 322 carries, just shy of Erick Dickerson's rookie rushing record of 1,808. He also led the league in rushes for over 20 yards and accounted for more first downs than anyone else in the league. 

Shockingly, he did not win the NFL Offensive MVP award, as he was snubbed by teammate Dak Prescott, but Prescott called Elliott on the stage and suggested they split the trophy in half because "without Ezekiel Elliott, I don't win Rookie of the Year."

Elliott was named to the Pro Bowl and also finished tied for third in the league MVP vote, picking up six of 50 votes.

Can't Guard Mike

This may shock you, but another former Buckeye had an unimaginable rookie season.

There were five receivers taken ahead of Michael Thomas in the 2016 NFL Draft, and none of them put up numbers anywhere close to his. The former Buckeye led all rookies in receptions (92), receiving yards (1,137), touchdowns (9) and catches of 20+ yards (18).

The most incredible part is, Thomas put up all those numbers with just 121 targets, giving him a completion percentage of 76 percent – second-best in the NFL. For this reason, Football Outsiders said Thomas had the best rookie season of any wide receiver since Randy Moss.

Any other year, perhaps Thomas is in consideration for Rookie of the Year honors. This year, however, he just had the third-best performance out of his former teammates.

Slobs

They may not be as flashy as uncatchable running back, an unguardable receiver or an unblockable edge-rusher, but it would be a shame to forget about the absurd amount of offensive line talent Ohio State has put into the NFL.

In 2017, six former Buckeyes were regular starters on the offensive line – Andrew Norwell (Panthers), Jack Mewhort (Colts), Corey Linsley (Packers), Taylor Decker (Lions), Alex Boone (Vikings) and Nick Mangold (Jets).

Super Ebner

Nate Ebner has one of the most interesting stories of any former Buckeye football player.

Ebner had never played a down of football until he walked on to Ohio State's team in 2010. From there, he was selected in the NFL Draft, made an NFL roster and established himself as one of the most valuable special teams players in the league.

Oh, and he was an Olympian in 2016.

This season, Ebner's story got a little better as the former Ohio State walk-on has his second Super Bowl ring.

Ebner had 19 special teams tackles this year, which is tied for best in the NFL.

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