Four Kings: Chase Young, Joey Bosa, Mike Vrabel and Nick Bosa Selected As Ohio State’s Greatest Defensive Ends

By Dan Hope and Matt Gutridge on July 10, 2023 at 1:15 pm
Chase Young, Joey Bosa, Mike Vrabel and Nick Bosa

Who are Ohio State’s four greatest players of all-time at each position? We’re asking Eleven Warriors readers to help us decide.

The fourth installment of Four Kings looks at a position where Ohio State has been particularly strong over the past decade: Defensive end.

Although Ohio State’s history of All-American defensive ends dates back to the 1940s, our readers decided that each of Ohio State’s three most recent All-American defensive ends – Chase Young, Nick Bosa and Joey Bosa – rank among the Buckeyes’ four best edge rushers ever. In fact, all four of Ohio State’s Four Kings at defensive end are active in the NFL, as the only one who isn’t still playing in the league – Mike Vrabel – is the head coach of the Tennessee Titans.

If you’ve been watching Ohio State football and/or the NFL for the past decade, you’re probably already familiar with those four names, but we’ll explain in further detail below why each of them were selected as the Buckeyes’ best defensive ends ever. Later, we’ll delve into some of the other Ohio State defensive end greats who also warranted consideration and Dan and Matt will share which DEs got their individual votes.

Chase Young (2017-19)

Young had arguably the greatest season by any defensive player in Ohio State history in 2019. He was the undisputed best defensive player in the country that year, winning both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik Award while earning unanimous All-American honors and winning the Big Ten’s Silver Football and Defensive Player of the Year awards after recording 16.5 sacks, the most ever by a Buckeye in a single season.

Also a team captain in 2019, Young led the way for what was Ohio State’s best defensive season by far in the past five years as the Buckeyes led the nation in yards allowed per game. He was Ohio State’s first and still-only defensive player to be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, finishing fourth in the final vote.

A second-team All-Big Ten honoree in his first year as a starter in 2018, Young had double-digit sacks in each of his last two seasons at Ohio State and finished his OSU career with 30.5 total sacks, the second-most in school history. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

Joey Bosa (2013-15)

The elder Bosa brother was a starting defensive end for all three of his seasons at Ohio State. He made an immediate impact as a true freshman in 2013, recording 13.5 tackles for loss with 7.5 sacks, then was a consensus All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in each of his final two seasons as a Buckeye.

Bosa also earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2014, when he recorded 21 total tackles for loss with 13.5 sacks with four forced fumbles as he helped Ohio State win a national championship. Bosa remained productive while being routinely double- and triple-teamed as a junior in 2015, when he recorded 16 tackles for loss with five sacks.

For his career as a whole, Bosa’s 26 sacks and 50.5 tackles for loss both rank fourth in Ohio State history. He was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft and has made the Pro Bowl in four of his first seven seasons in the league.

Mike Vrabel (1993-96)

With 36 sacks and 66 tackles for loss across four seasons in Columbus, Vrabel is Ohio State’s all-time leader in both categories.

A first-team All-Big Ten honoree in all three of his seasons as a starter for the Buckeyes, Vrabel was also the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and a first-team All-American in both 1995 and 1996. His 26 tackles for loss in 1995 still stand as the single-season school record today, while his 12 sacks in 1994 and 13 sacks in 1995 were single-season school records at the time.

Vrabel’s 36 career sacks are still tied for the third-most in Big Ten history. A third-round pick in the 1997 NFL draft, Vrabel went on to play in the NFL for 14 years. He became the first former Ohio State player ever to become an NFL head coach when he was hired by the Tennessee Titans in 2018, and he’s now entering his sixth season in that job.

Nick Bosa (2016-18)

In his only fully healthy season as a Buckeye, the younger Bosa was one of the best players in the country, earning first-team All-American and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year honors. He led the Buckeyes with 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2017 despite splitting snaps with three other future NFL defensive ends – Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes.

Bosa appeared well on his way to an all-time great season in 2018, recording six tackles for loss and four sacks in just two-and-a-half games, until he suffered a core muscle injury that would end his final year as a Buckeye prematurely. Despite that, and the fact that he was a backup coming off a torn ACL as a freshman in 2016, Bosa still tallied 77 total tackles with 29 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks in just 30 games for the scarlet and gray.

Due to the way his career ended, Bosa’s Ohio State career is remembered by many for what could have been. Yet what he accomplished when he was healthy – and what he has continued to accomplish in the NFL, where he was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2022 for the San Francisco 49ers, who selected him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft – was enough for him to earn a spot on Ohio State’s “Mount Rushmore” of edge rushers.

Honorable Mentions

Top 10 DEs by Votes
Defensive End Percentage of Ballots
JOEY BOSA 90.2% (552 VOTES)
NICK BOSA 54.1% (331 VOTES)
WILL SMITH 43.6% (267 VOTES)
Note: All percentages were multiplied by four
from their vote totals since each voter was able
to vote for up to four players.

The other defensive end who earned substantial consideration for a place among the Four Kings was Will Smith, who was included on more than 40% of reader ballots. A key defensive leader on Ohio State’s 2002 national championship team, Smith went on to earn Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American honors in 2003, leading to his first-round selection by the New Orleans Saints in the 2004 NFL draft.

Jim Marshall, a first-team All-American for the Buckeyes in 1958 who went on to a decorated NFL career of his own in which he started 270 consecutive games, was the sixth and final defensive end to receive more than 100 votes. The only other defensive end to make more than 10% of ballots was Vernon Gholston, whose 14 sacks in his first-team All-American 2007 season were a single-season school record until Young’s 16.5-sack 2019 campaign.

2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon finished eighth in the voting. Bob Brudzinski and Van DeCree, who were both All-Americans in the 1970s, rounded out the top 10.

Dan’s Picks

Chase Young, Joey Bosa, Mike Vrabel and Will Smith

The top three choices at this position were no-brainers. Young’s 2019 season was one of the most impressive I’ve seen from a college football player. Joey Bosa was a beast for three years and helped the Buckeyes win a national title. Vrabel is Ohio State’s most productive defensive end ever.

Basing my choices on what each player accomplished at Ohio State, I debated between Smith, Marshall and Gholston for the fourth spot. I ultimately sided with Smith because of his role in winning a national championship and his all-around excellence over his final two seasons as a Buckeye.

Matt’s Picks

Chase Young, Mike Vrabel, Joey Bosa and Jim Marshall

Another position and another difficult decision. Like Dan, deciding on the fourth player was hard. Leaving talented players like Nick Bosa, Will Smith, John Simon, Van DeCree, Jason Simmons and Matt Finkes out of my top four was not easy, but they fell a little short compared to the players below.

Jim Marshall played in an era with limited passing and when defensive ends were instructed to set the edge. Although tackles for loss and sacks were not an official statistic at the time, Marshall showed his worth in the NFL.

Mike Vrabel was a leading force during the reign of the Silver Bullets and set the standard for the modern player. Joey Bosa may not be quite as talented as his younger brother, but Big Bear made an impact for three full seasons as a Buckeye.

Saving the best for last: When I watched Chase Young play against Maryland during his freshman year in “garbage” time, he stood out. He was physically different from any other player on the field and he caught my attention when he ran four yards into the backfield, realized it was a run, took two steps back to the line of scrimmage and pulled the running back down for a one-yard loss. The man had it all and played to his uber-talented potential.

Photos of Joey Bosa and Mike Vrabel via USA TODAY Sports

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