The Buckeyes’ season came to a crushing end on New Year’s Eve in the shutout loss to eventual National Champions the Clemson Tigers by 31-0 in Urban Meyer’s worst defeat of his tenure as head coach. Since their exit from the playoffs that closed out the year, the news from both a player and coaching stand point has been breaking on almost a daily basis since.
Player departures for the draft
The quality of players in each recruiting class during Meyer’s time so far with Ohio State has the knock-on effect of being one of the teams that every year seems to have a significant number of key underclassmen head to the NFL via the draft process. The Buckeyes have also been at the forefront for the current trend that is seeing so many more third-year sophomores as part of that group, and again are having to accept that reality.
That has again been the case, led by standout and breakout safety Malik Hooker, in only his first season as a full-time starter. Hooker originally cryptically said that essentially, as of right now, I’m 100% returning to school, essentially confirming nothing. Within a couple days of the playoff loss though, Hooker made it known that he would head to the NFL. It makes some sense, given his incredible year in which he exceled as a ballhawk in coverage and looks a near-certain first round selection. He’s very much a work in progress however in his frequency of missing tackles in run support and getting caught out by play-action fakes at times. The upside is unquestionably huge though.
Hooker was shortly after followed by a pair of juniors in linebacker Raekwon McMillan and cornerback Gareon Conley. Of the two, it is arguably Conley who is the more appealing prospect and who had the better season of the two, as another member of one of the most talented secondaries in the country, which included contributing 4 interceptions and a further 8 pass breakups on the year. His length and ball skills make him an early round target in the draft, likely on day two (rounds 2-3). McMillan on the other hand looks to have a fairly limited ceiling. Though capable of making a big impact in run defense and breaking into the backfield with his physical, imposing size and style of play, he struggles in space and proves to be a liability in coverage for the most part. He broke out as a freshman on the 2014 National Championship side, but hasn’t really shown much progress or development in the two years since.
The most recent duo to also announce their plans to enter the 2017 draft were wide receiver Noah Brown and do-it-all receiver and runner Curtis Samuel. Brown could have used another season, after a year in which he flashed early, in particular against Oklahoma, but was anonymous much of the time, though an underwhelming pass game overall did not help his cause. However, for a receiver with only 33 career catches to skip his final two years of eligibility is a questionable move. That said, he has all the physical tools to be a strong NFL player, and should be another Buckeye to hear his name called during the day two period of the draft.
Samuel played a Percy Harvin type role for Meyer, surpassing 700 yards in both receiving yards (865) and rushing yards (771). He’s far more impressive in the pass game out of the two though, where he shows impressive instincts in space and sharp route running to create space from himself. As a runner, he has his struggles on conventional carries, and was disappointing in that area against better opposition such as Michigan and Wisconsin. Still, he is the type of explosive, dynamic and versatile playmaker that every NFL team wants these days and could be a second round selection at the latest.
Update: News broke post-writing of this article on January 11th, that another redshirt sophomore would be entering the draft, this time Conley and Hooker's teammate in the secondary, cornerback Marshon Lattimore. While overall experience, along with medical checks (having missed time with injury) will be factors, he might be as talented a corner as there will be in this 2017 group at the position and could be selected in the top half of the first round.
Returning, and coaching additions
There was some good news for Ohio State fans with a number of draft-eligible players choosing to stay in school for next season. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was no real surprise, and though he could have been a solid mid-round selection, TE Marcus Baugh likely made a sensible decision to play out his senior year in 2017. The significant news though was that a very talented pair of edge rushers with plenty next level potential, will be back. Both Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes will be part of next season’s roster. Holmes was right to return, with plenty natural skills but still proving very raw and inconsistent at this stage. He can greatly improve on his stock with another year of experience. It would have been more understandable for Lewis to leave as a likely early round pick as with many of those listed above. But with a skill set and aggressive game that reminds quite a bit of Florida State’s Demarcus Walker, he has the potential to do similar to the Seminole senior, who appears to have massively improved where he will be selected thanks to his dominance in his final year.
Also announced on January 10th was that former Indiana head coach, who left the Hoosiers before their bowl game, with take over as offensive coordinator, a role that he served a while back for the Oklahoma Sooners, and keeps him in the Big Ten conference going forward. He has done a good job in working with the likes of Nate Sudfeld and Richard Lagow in recent years and it will be interesting to see what he does for Barrett’s game.
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