Ohio State Players Have Had Various Degrees of Success when Leaving School Early for the NFL

By David Wertheim on January 11, 2018 at 3:05 pm
Ezekiel Elliott draft

Jerry Lai- USA TODAY Sports


Over the last decade or so, Ohio State has had many players decide to forgo years of eligibility and instead pursue their dreams at the next level. 

For some, it worked out very well. For others, it didn't. In this piece, we will analyze a few players across all ranges of the spectrum: from very good, to "meh," to not so good. Let's start with the good.

Joey Bosa

Bosa was an absolute stud at Ohio State. A two-time All American and the 2014 Big Ten defensive player of the year after recording 13.5 sacks, Bosa was taken with the #3 overall pick by the San Diego Chargers in the 2016 draft.

After a brief holdout, Bosa returned to the Chargers before the start of the 2016 season. Of course, that season was a good one. Bosa was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year, and recorded 10.5 sacks. This year was even better. Bosa had 12.5 sacks, and was named to his first Pro Bowl.

Oh, he also has the most sacks of any player in history through their first 20 games.

Ezekiel Elliott

Coming out of Ohio State where he rushed for 3,961 yards and 43 touchdowns, Elliott was the top running back taken in the 2016 Draft, grabbed with the #4 pick by the Dallas Cowboys, one spot after Bosa. 

Elliott's rookie season in the NFL was a memorable one. He led the league with 1,631 yards, scored 16 touchdowns, and was named to both the Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams.

This past season was difficult for Elliott, as he was suspended, then he wasn't, then he was again, then he wasn't, and then he finally was once and for all for six games, obviously costing him many opportunities to get the ball in his hands.

Nevertheless, when he was on the field, Elliott still led the league in yards per game (98.3), and scored seven touchdowns. He is poised to have a big year next season when he will be back out there for the entirety of the campaign, but now with something to prove.

Chris Gamble

One of the few Jim Tressel players to leave early, Gamble did a little bit of everything for the Buckeyes.

In 2002, the year the Buckeyes won the championship, Gamble had four interceptions on defense, including a memorable pick-six against Penn State. He also had 31 catches for 499 yards, scored a rushing touchdown, and returned both kicks and punts. 

For his efforts, he was taken by the Carolina Panthers in the first round of the 2004 Draft, #28 overall. Gamble spent his entire nine-year career with the Panthers, highlighted by an All-Rookie Team honor in 2004, and a second-team All Pro honor by Pro Football Focus in 2011. He finished third in the NFL in interceptions his rookie year, with six. 

While he didn't play offense for the Panthers, he was a mainstay on defense and punt returns for several years and had what most would consider as a "good" career.

Johnathan Hankins

Hankins was a three-year member of Ohio State's defensive line under three different coaches, as he played from 2010-2012. He was one of the few bright spots on Ohio State's 2011 team, recording 11 tackles for loss and three sacks, and was named a second-team All American.

Despite a lesser junior season, Hankins decided to go pro anyway and was rewarded with a second-round selection by the New York Giants.

After a forgettable rookie season, Hankins bursted on the scene his second year when he recorded seven sacks. After an injury-plagued 2015, he played in all 16 games in 2016 before heading to the Indianapolis Colts this year. He played in 15 games for the Colts this season, registering two sacks. He has two years remaining on his current contract. 

Thaddeus Gibson

Another Tressel product, Gibson was a player who attempted to capitalize on a big season. After redshirting, then relatively quiet freshman and sophomore years, Gibson had 13 tackles for loss and four sacks his junior season, and decided to leave after that.

He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, but lasted with the team for just two games before being waived on the team's bye week. After bouncing around a few NFL practice squads, Gibson signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League and eventually was traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, earning himself a decent three-year Canadian Football career. 

Gibson's final NFL line reads: three tackles, one forced fumble.

Tyvis Powell

The jury is still out on Powell, who is doing his best to carve a future spot on any NFL roster. 

Powell had a productive Ohio State career in his four years in Columbus. After redshirting, Powell recorded 48 tackles his freshman year before starting on the 2014 National Championship team. After the 2015 season, and after he received his degree, Powell elected to leave Columbus.

Powell was not drafted by an NFL franchise, but has been able to stay in the league bouncing around from practice squad to active roster and back. As of this moment, Powell is on the active roster of the San Francisco 49ers. That will likely change, however, as the 49ers attempt to complete their rebuild. 

Powell currently has six total tackles for two different franchises during his time in the NFL.

You can keep updated with Powell by checking on his LinkedIn page

Maurice Clarett

You knew this one was coming, right? 

After rushing for a then-freshman record of 1,237 yards, and winning a national championship, Clarett was dismissed from Ohio State after a series of troubling legal incidents. He was first suspended for the entire 2003 season after he was charged with filing a false police report. Clarett had filed a false claim that more than $10,000 in clothing, CDs, cash and stereo equipment were stolen from a car he borrowed from a local dealership in September 2003. He eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge.

After moving to Los Angeles when he was dismissed from Ohio State, Clarett sued—and won—for the right to enter the 2004 NFL Draft. 

Eventually, this decision was reversed and Clarett had to settle for the 2005 draft. In an unexpected move, the Denver Broncos decided to take Clarett in the third round. 

Unsurprisingly, since he hadn't played competitive football in two years, Clarett showed up to Broncos training camp weighing 248 pounds. Nevertheless, he signed a four-year contract with the team in July, 2005. However, he was cut on August 28, after not playing a single down in the NFL.

After his NFL career ended, Clarett had a series of legal troubles, including arrests for armed robbery, leading police on a chase, and carrying a concealed weapon. He served four years in prison.

Six years later, Clarett finally played meaningful professional football, albeit for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League. In the 2010 season, Clarett rushed for 154 yards on 37 carries. 

Now, Clarett is heavily involved with the community, going so far as to start a fundraiser to give every child a bike.

This year's prospects:

With Denzel Ward, Sam Hubbard, and Jerome Baker having been confirmed as early entrants in this year's draft, time will tell if any of them become stars at the next level. If the past is any indication, however, not all of them will.

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