Ohio State football: The 10 most valuable players of the past decade
The last decade has been business as usual for Ohio State football — a perennial among the nation’s top programs, OSU has managed a national title and 5 Big Ten conference titles in the past 10 years. No new Heisman winners have been added (Troy Smith is still the most recent), but OSU had 27 All-America selections since 2012.
With such a grand tradition, it’s eternally hard to single out specific stars. But as we prepare for 2022, here’s a look back at the most valuable Buckeyes of the past 10 seasons. It’s not necessarily the best players, but the ones who have mattered most to OSU’s continued success.
10) Cardale Jones, QB
Sometimes, it’s less about what you do than when you do it. Jones passed for 2,323 yards and 15 touchdowns as a Buckeye. But when OSU found itself on its 3rd string QB entering the B1G title game in 2014, Jones was the man. He won that one easily, and then led the Buckeyes through the CFP, taking down No. 1 Alabama and beating Oregon to win the national title. 2015 didn’t go well for Jones and he had barely played before, but when OSU needed him, he went out and won a national title. Good enough.
9) Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR
Like another name on this list, Smith-Njigba is still going strong, and is hard to fully evaluate. What isn’t hard to evaluate is the 2021 season that he had. With 95 receptions for 1,606 yards, Smith-Njigba set OSU records for both marks. Coming into the season as a third option behind Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Smith-Njigba outshone both. Now that he’s the clear No. 1 receiver, future returns are more uncertain, but another season anywhere close to 2021 will cinch Smith-Njigba’s spot on this list (and a potential national title sure wouldn’t hurt).
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8) Dwayne Haskins, QB
Gone too soon, Haskins provided perhaps the best single-season QB performance in OSU history in 2018, throwing for a school record 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. An ugly loss to Purdue kept OSU out of the CFP that season, but Haskins certainly wasn’t to blame. He finished 3rd in the Heisman voting, and passed for 499 yards in the B1G title game. It’s hard to compare a single season against a career of achievements, but when the season was that great, Haskins earned his spot on this list.
7) JK Dobbins, RB
Dobbins posted a trio of 1,000-yard seasons, racking up a 4,459 yards and 38 touchdowns at OSU. Dobbins bested Maurice Clarrett’s OSU freshman rushing marks, and had an even better season in 2019, eclipsing 2,000 yards on the ground, making him the first OSU player ever to do so. His 211 yards and 4 scores against Michigan were a nice capper on that season, and helps ensure that he’s remembered as the blazer who was a threat to bust a big play on any given carry for OSU.
6) Billy Price, G/C
Offensive linemen tend to only get noticed when they commit a penalty or miss a block. But Price, who started all 55 games from 2014 to 2017, is a rare exception. An All-American at guard, he moved to center as a senior, and won All-America honors there as well. Other guys on this list got a ton of the attention for that 2014 title, but the road graders like Price paved the way to make it all happen.
5) CJ Stroud, QB
Taking over as the first starting OSU QB without a college pass attempt in decades, all Stroud did in 2021 was launch a legitimate Heisman campaign and lead the most efficient offense in the nation. Yes, OSU missed the CFP, but Stroud is back in 2022 and is very much a preseason favorite for the Heisman this year. Turning a potential weakness into a massive strength earns Stroud his spot here — his bright future keeps him here.
4) Joey Bosa, DE
A made for the NFL guy, Bosa had the mix of strength and speed that made him almost unblockable. In 2014, he had a phenomenal sophomore season, totaling 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. He won the Nagurski Award for that campaign, and totaled 51 tackles for loss and 26 sacks in his OSU career. He was also the first of 5 Buckeyes to be chosen in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Paving the way for brother Nick, Bosa was phenomenal in Columbus.
3) JT Barrett, QB
Injuries knocked Barrett out of the 2014 postseason, and he split time in the 2015 season. But he still crushed the OSU record book, passing for 9,434 yards and 104 touchdowns. He also rushed for 3,263 yards and 43 more scores. OSU went 38-6 in games that Barrett started and managed to go 4-0 against Michigan, which is always a mark of particular pride in Columbus. Barrett was also a 3-time captain. Had he won his own national title, instead of just leading the Buckeyes to the edge of one and getting hurt, he might be the top guy on this list.
2) Chase Young, DE
How dominant was Young in his masterful 2019 season? Well, he finished his OSU career with 30.5 sacks, 2nd best all-time. But his 16.5 sacks in 2019 didn’t just set an OSU mark, it demolished the old record by a full 2.5 sacks. Young was the only unanimous selection for the Big Ten Network’s All-Decade team for the 2010s, which makes it clear exactly how much havoc he wreaked coming off the edge.
1) Ezekiel Elliott, RB
The tradition of great OSU tailbacks went on for decades before, but Elliott certainly deserves mention in that group as well as this one. As the predominant offensive force on the 2014 national title team, Elliott rushed for 3,961 yards and 43 touchdowns in 3 seasons as a Buckeye. Rushing for 230 and 246 yards in the 2014 CFP games earned Elliott a place in OSU lore — a pretty high place at that.