Ohio State’s Top 10 NFL Players of the 2023-24 Season

By Dan Hope on February 12, 2024 at 10:10 am
C.J. Stroud and Chris Olave
Maria Lysaker – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State was well-represented by NFL standouts once again during the 2023-24 NFL season.

With the season now complete following Sunday’s Super Bowl, it’s time for a look at the 10 former Ohio State players who had the best seasons in the league.

Fifty-nine players from Ohio State played in at least one NFL game this season, giving us plenty of Buckeyes to choose from in compiling the 10 best. Before we dive into the top 10, the following Buckeyes are among those who warrant honorable mentions for their performance during the 2023 season:

  • Pete Werner, LB, New Orleans Saints recorded a career-high 93 tackles in a productive third NFL season.
  • Jerome Baker, LB, Miami Dolphins continued to be a top defensive playmaker for the Dolphins, recording 78 tackles with two interceptions, including a pick-six.
  • Chase Young, DE, San Francisco 49ers tied his career-high with 7.5 sacks during the regular season and recorded a sack in the Super Bowl.
  • Sam Hubbard, DE, Cincinnati Bengals continued to be a rock-solid defensive end, recording 58 tackles with six sacks and two fumble recoveries.
  • Tyquan Lewis, DE, Indianapolis Colts had the best season of his NFL career, recording nine tackles for loss with four sacks and three pass breakups.
  • Joey Bosa, OLB, Los Angeles Chargers recorded 6.5 sacks in nine games before a foot injury ended his season early.
  • Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Seattle Seahawks started his rookie season slow but finished strong, catching 63 passes for 628 yards and four touchdowns.
  • Curtis Samuel, WR, Washington Commanders caught 62 passes for 613 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown.
  • Noah Brown, WR, Houston Texans caught 33 passes for a career-high 567 yards and two touchdowns in 10 regular-season games.
  • Dawand Jones, RT, Cleveland Browns made the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team after performing well in nine starts before a season-ending knee injury.
  • Paris Johnson Jr., RT, Arizona Cardinals started all 17 games for the Cardinals as a rookie.
  • Ezekiel Elliott, RB, New England Patriots had 955 yards from scrimmage as he ran for 642 yards and three touchdowns and added 51 catches for 313 yards and two more scores.
  • Cameron Heyward, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers had a quiet season on the field by his standards as he missed six games with a groin injury, but won one of the NFL’s most prized awards when he was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year on Thursday.
  • Cameron Johnston, P, Houston Texans had the NFL’s fourth-highest net punting average (44.0 net yards per punt) while downing more than 45% of his punts inside the 20-yard line.

10. Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears

Regular Season Stats: 227-350 passing (61.4%), 2,562 yards, 16 TD, 9 INT; 124 carries, 657 yards, 4 TD

Fields might not have played well enough in 2023 to stop the Chicago Bears from drafting a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick, but he played well enough that he should be starting for one NFL team or another in 2024 – and well enough to earn the first spot in our top-10 countdown.

Fields had his best season as a passer so far in his NFL career, setting new career-highs for completion percentage, passing yards and passer rating (86.3). He continued to be one of the NFL’s best running quarterbacks, ranking second among all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards behind only league MVP Lamar Jackson.

9. Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Commanders

Regular Season Stats: 79 catches, 1,002 yards, 4 TD, 1 FR TD

McLaurin topped 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth year in a row, becoming the first player in Washington Commanders history to achieve that feat.

As has been the case throughout his NFL career so far, McLaurin was a bright spot for a struggling team, providing consistent production even as the Commanders cycled through multiple quarterbacks (Sam Howell and Jacoby Brissett) and won only four of their 17 games.

8. Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets

Regular Season Stats: 95 catches, 1,042 yards, 3 TD

Wilson was expected to benefit in his second NFL season from the New York Jets’ offseason addition of future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Instead, Wilson spent the year catching passes from Zach Wilson, Trevor Siemian and Tim Boyle after Rodgers tore his Achilles on the first drive of the Jets’ season opener.

Despite that setback, Wilson still topped 1,000 yards for the second year in a row to start his career while ranking 14th in the league with 95 catches, the second-most in a single season in Jets history. If Rodgers returns healthy next season and Wilson gets the chance to play with an elite quarterback, it’s easy to envision him emerging as one of the NFL’s top wideouts in 2024.

7. Jonathon Cooper, OLB, Denver Broncos

Regular Season Stats: 72 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 FR, 2 PD, 1 TD, 13 QB hits

A seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Cooper has proven to be a steal for the Denver Broncos, emerging as their top pass-rusher in 2023. Cooper led the Broncos with 8.5 sacks while also tallying up 72 total tackles, making his first career interception and forced fumble and running for a rare edge rusher touchdown on a fumble recovery.

Cooper’s 72 tackles were the seventh-most of any NFL edge defender in 2023. In his first year as a full-time starter, Cooper also recorded 55 total quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus.

6. Jordan Fuller, S, Los Angeles Rams

Regular Season Stats: 94 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 3 FF, 8 PD

After missing most of the 2022 season with a hamstring injury, Fuller resurged with an excellent season in 2023. He led all NFL Buckeyes in total tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles for the 2023 season while serving as one of the top defensive leaders on a Los Angeles Rams squad that made a surprising run to the playoffs, though he was unable to play in the Rams’ only postseason game due to an ankle injury.

Fuller’s performance in his fourth NFL season should set him up to cash in with a valuable contract, whether in Los Angeles or elsewhere, as he hits free agency for the first time in his pro career.

5. Denzel Ward, CB, Cleveland Browns

Regular Season Stats: 34 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 1 FF, 11 PD
Playoff Stats: 2 tackles, 1 PD

The Cleveland Browns led the NFL in total and passing yards allowed per game during the regular season, and Ward’s excellence in coverage as the Browns’ No. 1 cornerback was a big reason why. 

Ward limited opponents to 35 catches for 488 yards and three touchdowns on 68 targets across 14 total games, per PFF, and his 11 passes defended were the most of any former Ohio State player in the NFL this year. He was selected as a Pro Bowler for the third time in six years, solidifying his standing as one of the league’s top cornerbacks.

Denzel Ward vs. Cardinals
Denzel Ward played a key role in the Cleveland Browns leading the NFL in total defense in 2023. (Photo: Scott Galvin – USA TODAY Sports)

4. Taylor Decker, LT, Detroit Lions

Regular Season Stats: 15 starts at left tackle, eight sacks allowed in 569 pass-blocking snaps
Playoff Stats (3 games): 3 starts at left tackle, zero sacks allowed in 119 pass-blocking snaps

No player has been a more reliable stalwart for the Detroit Lions over the past eight seasons than Decker. His continued excellence as the anchor of the Lions’ offensive line played a key role in their most successful season in over 30 years as they won their first division title since the 1993 season and their first two playoff games since the 1991 season.

Pro Football Focus gave Decker an overall grade of 81.1 for the season, the eighth-best among offensive tackles who played at least half of their team’s total snaps this season. 

3. Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans Saints

Regular Season Stats: 87 catches, 1,123 yards, 5 TD

Olave built upon a strong rookie season with an even better sophomore campaign, catching 15 more passes for one more touchdown and 81 more yards, finishing the season 17th in the NFL in receiving yards.

The best of a loaded group of former Ohio State receivers in the NFL this season, Olave was a fixture on the highlight reel with some of the most spectacular catches across the entire league in 2023, cementing his standing as one of the NFL’s top young wideouts.

2. Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers

Regular Season Stats: 53 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 16 TFL, 2 FF, 1 FR, 4 PD, 35 QB hits
Playoff Stats (3 games): 12 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 TFL, 12 QB hits

Bosa could easily be the No. 1 player on this list for the second year in a row. While he didn’t put up quite the numbers that he did as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2022, he remained one of the league’s elite defensive players in 2023, reaching double-digit sacks for the third year in a row while leading the NFL with 47 total quarterback hits between the regular season and postseason.

Bosa made the PFWA’s All-NFC team for the third year in a row and was selected as a Pro Bowler for the fourth time in five NFL seasons. And he played some of his best football of the year in the San Francisco 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl, recording two sacks in their NFC Championship Game win over the Lions and six total tackles with two tackles for loss in their overtime Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Nick Bosa
Nick Bosa was one of the NFL’s best defensive ends once again in 2023. (Photo: Kyle Terada – USA TODAY Sports)

1. C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans

Regular Season Stats: 319-499 passing (63.9%), 4,108 yards, 23 TD, 5 INT; 39 carries, 167 yards, 3 TD
Playoff Stats (2 games): 35-54 passing (64.8%), 449 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT; 4 carries, 10 yards

No NFL quarterback from Ohio State has ever had a better season than C.J. Stroud did in his first NFL season. His rapid rise to stardom in his first year out of Ohio State was one of the biggest stories of the entire 2023 NFL season, and he leads our list of Ohio State’s top NFL players of 2023 as a result.

Stroud shattered the single-season passing records for a quarterback from Ohio State by throwing for 4,108 yards – the third-most ever for an NFL rookie QB – and 23 touchdowns. His 23-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio was the best in the league in 2023, as was his average of 273.9 passing yards per game among quarterbacks who started more than half of their team’s games.

Stroud became the first quarterback who completed his college career at Ohio State to make the Pro Bowl (albeit as an alternate) and the first quarterback from OSU to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. And he led the way for a Houston Texans team that won just three games in 2022 to win the AFC South title and make the divisional round of the playoffs.

Ohio State quarterbacks have long been stigmatized for their lack of success in the NFL, but Stroud tossed that narrative aside in just one NFL season and was the driving force behind one of the league’s biggest team turnarounds.

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