If there was ever one position group to truly thank for Ohio State's 2014-2015 National Championship, it's got to be the slobs. Watching Ezekiel Elliott burst to the second level untouched was just as common as watching Cardale Jones sit in the pocket for ages until one of his downfield receivers broke open. Yes, to say the Buckeyes' offensive line was dominant would be an understatement. The ringleader behind it all? Left tackle Taylor Decker.
A four-star recruit out of Vandalia, Ohio, Decker originally committed to join Brian Kelly and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. But, like a lot of things, this changed once Urban Meyer took over in Columbus. It turns out the Ohio State staff originally overlooking the beastly 6'8, 315 lb offensive tackle wasn't a great idea, and thanks to Meyer's new-found interest, Decker was able to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a part of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
This dream quickly became a nightmare for Decker however, as in Decker's first career start at right tackle during the Buckeyes' 2013 season, Decker got to match up against a guy by the name of Khalil Mack. While University of Buffalo football may not be anything special, the first player to ever be named an All-Pro at two separate positions was very special. Allowing 2.5 sacks and a pick six may have been a bad start to Decker's Ohio State career, but luckily for Buckeye Nation, the worst was behind him.
While Columbus couldn't be more behind King Urban at the moment, there was a time where doubt lingered in the fan's heads. How could this great coach never have a running back surpass 1,000 yards and expect to play in the Big Ten? An easy answer to that: build the biggest and baddest offensive line in the entire country.
The offensive explosion began in 2013. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde each managed to surpass 1,000 rushing yards, and Decker's play was a big reason why. To have a player of Decker's skill and size playing right tackle is an embarrassment of riches, and it's worth remembering the 2013 Buckeyes lost their only two games essentially because they could not stop the offenses of Michigan State and Clemson. It wasn't until 2014 when Ohio State had a more potent passing offense that Decker really began to shine.
The records the Ohio State offense put up in 2014 are borderline absurd. The Buckeyes managed to top the offensive record book in: touchdowns, points scored, passing yards and passing touchdowns. The 3,967 rushing yards "only" finished second in Ohio State history...behind the 2013 squad.
The result of all this offensive firepower earned Decker second-team all-Big Ten Conference honors by both the coaches and media. However, much like how Ezekiel Elliott was left off the 2014 post season award ballots, the end of the Buckeyes' season showed how truly dominant Decker and the Slobs were.
It wasn't just that Ohio State wiped out Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon by scoring 59, 42 and 42 points in each, it was how.
While Oregon's defense may have not had the same level of dominance against the run as Alabama and Wisconsin did, the point remains the same: Ohio State embarrassed three of the top teams in the country with the ground game. While losing by double digits isn't ever fun, losing by double digits and getting the ball rammed down your throat again and again is probably the worst feeling a defense can experience. Thanks to Decker and the slobs up front, Ohio State road this unstoppable ground game straight to the National Title. The next step for the two year starting tackle was obviously the NFL...or so we thought.
"I had personal goals...I wanted to be a first team All-American, I wanted to have a tree in Buckeye Grove (where the school's All-Americans are honored). I wanted to be a captain."
Must be nice to set these types of lofty goals and achieve every last one of them. While the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes fell short in their attempt at repeating, it was a season of dominance from Decker. A consensus All-American and the Big Ten's Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the year, Decker rarely let a soul so much as sniff J.T Barrett or Cardale Jones from their blind side, and the Zeke attack ground game was as lethal as ever.
It should be no surprise that the best offensive lineman on one of the country's best teams over the past three years is expected to land in the first round of this spring's NFL Draft, but what specifically about Decker has scouts thinking he could be a staple in the league for years to come?
Strengths: Size, run blocking
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that a 6'8, 315 lb human possesses ideal size for stopping other large humans, but Decker has repeatedly demonstrated he has the ability to use this size to his advantage. Sometimes overly large lineman don't have the bend or athleticism to get low enough to make a difference at the point of attack, but Decker's repeated dominance in the running game shows this issue is not one he possesses.
Ohio State had really begun imposing their will on the Wolverines during the second quarter in the 2015 edition of "The Game", but it was the second half that made a relatively close game into a laughing stock. Here, Ohio State lines up with three receivers, one back and one tight end, ready to run the football right behind their main slob.
The Buckeyes have been blessed with having a tight end in Nick Vannett who is a good enough blocker to kick out most defensive ends, but the bonus effect of having this caliber of tight end is the angles it creates elsewhere on the line. Michigan's defensive tackle has enough to worry about in Buckeyes' left guard Billy Price, but once you add Decker to the equation? Game over.
Decker takes over the double team allowing Price to look elsewhere, but the best part about this play and Decker in general is how he finishes the block. There's nothing better than having a "nasty" offensive line who is not satisfied with just blocking their man. Getting nasty is finishing the play, and for linemen, finishing the play means putting the defender into the ground.
This is exactly what Decker is able to do here, helping Elliott gain another easy first down. It's plays like this that will forever save Decker from getting the dreaded "finesse lineman" label, but don't be fooled: once the game is over, the sasquatch has a soft side.
Weaknesses: Will play too high at times, pass blocking can be inconsistent
While Decker has demonstrated the ability to get low and drive his opponents into oblivion, he'll need to consistently do this at the next level. As gifted as Decker is, he won't be able to get away with playing too high against the bad boys of the NFL the same way he could against the Big Ten.
Additionally, as great as a run blocker as Decker was, his pass blocking was inconsistent at times. While the play calling with J.T Barrett combined with the slow decision making of Cardale Jones certainly didn't help matters for Decker, there is a belief that Decker was beaten too often in his pass protection. It's good to keep in mind that everything a projected first round pick does is going to be magnified, as Decker's "struggles" in pass protection were a total of 7 quarterback hurries, 3 quarterback hits, and only 2 sacks allowed per cfbfilroom.com.
Best Case NFL Comparison: Jared Veldheer
Carson Palmer's blindside protector, Jared Veldheer is essentially what Decker's ceiling looks like. At 6'8, 321 lbs, Veldheer is the same sized monster as Decker, but Decker will enter the league with more hype than the third round draft pick Veldheer. Veldheer faced a jump in competition coming from the D2 ranks of college, but the main knock on Veldheer was that he was a raw prospect at the time.
Decker isn't what some would call raw, as even if he fails to improve his pass protection a significant amount, Decker still projects as a league average right tackle. But, if Decker can really hone is technique and consistently play with the leverage that'll make his frame unstoppable, look out for the next Jared Veldheer.
Worst Case NFL Comparison: Alex Barron
Alex Barron, drafted in the first round out of Florida State back in 2005, served six years in the NFL before suffering injuries and practice squad demotions. At 6'8, 315 lbs, Barron also had ideal size for a NFL tackle, but his failure to progress as a pass blocker ultimately became his undoing. While saying that Decker could become Barron, the NFL's most penalized lineman from 2005-2009, is a stretch, the point is that if Decker struggles in pass protection in the pass friendly NFL, he wouldn't be the first great college offensive tackle to flame out relatively quickly.
NFL Draft Projection: Mid-first round
While mock drafts have seen Decker as high as the top 15 and as low as the late 20s, the consensus appears to be that Decker is going to hear his name called on day one of the NFL Draft. An ideal situation would be to a team with an established left tackle, where Decker could slowly learn the game at the less strenuous right tackle positon, before eventually moving over to the blind side.
Most "Taylor Decker" play: The Oregon Massacre
It's hard to find good highlights of offensive linemen due to the lack of coaches film college football provides to its fans, but it was hard to miss Decker on this physical romp during the national championship win over Oregon. Walling off future top ten pick DeForest Buckner was a good way to start the play, but the nastiness in Decker had him go ahead and get himself 10 yards downfield to throw his body in front of some more Ducks. Thanks for a great career Taylor.