“There’s a variety of things that kids look for. The success we’ve had recently and the exposure that this program has had for the right reasons has been really beneficial.”
The Ohio State Buckeyes have developed a dominance in the recruiting world that seems impossible to replicate. After winning the first College Football Playoff, Ohio State sent a dozen players to the pros last year and have signed top-five recruiting class after top-five recruiting class under Urban Meyer. The head coach compared the attention focused on the program following the national championship to a “positive advertisement for 30 days...That’s basically what it was.”
The success that former Buckeyes have had in the NFL, from running back Ezekiel Elliott’s NFL-leading 1,631 rushing yards to wide receiver Michael Thomas’s 1,137 receiving yards (the most of any rookie receiver), has been a crucial part of what makes Ohio State such an appealing prospect for recruits. It was certainly a factor in Ohio State earning the No. 2 recruiting class in the country this year.
Even without a national title the past two seasons, Meyer and company have kept up the positive PR surrounding the program, especially when it comes to the NFL. This week’s NFL Scouting Combine is no exception, as the Buckeyes send eight former players to Indianapolis for the NFL’s premiere pre-draft evaluation. Overall, Meyer’s teams over the past five seasons have earned 39 combine invites.
The program continues to highlight the connection of these former players to Ohio State. Last season, Meyer posed for a selfie with Elliott at the combine. Ohio State also kept up a “combine central” to keep track of how the 14 representatives from the program fared over the multi-day event. This year, the Buckeyes’ are tweeting out encouragement to players like linebacker Raekwon McMillan with the not-so-subtle #DevelopedHere hashtag.
The benefits of the Ohio State program are on full display starting with the combine, moving through Pro Day and the NFL Draft and leading to the NFL season itself. Meyer has successfully managed to elevate the program’s visibility to the nation’s top prospects on the biggest stages in football to create the ultimate recruiting pitch.
“All of those players had chances to make leaps in bowl practice. The spring will show how ready they are for increased roles.”
This time last year, a significant number of redshirt freshman at Ohio State found themselves in positions to earn major roles for the 2016 football season. Given the loss of 16 starters from the previous season, Urban Meyer had a lot of talent to replace, and naturally turned to the pool of 21 freshman who had redshirted in 2015. As a result, players like running back Mike Weber, cornerback Damon Arnette and defensive tackle Robert Landers earned significant playing time last season. And while Meyer is evaluating these redshirts for their new roles in spring practice, his assessment truly started during bowl preparation back in December, even calling out freshmen who he did not feel were practicing up to their potential prior to a game in which they would not participate. Last season, Dre’Mont Jones wound up earning a starting job at defensive tackle after being recognized as a standout in the previous season’s bowl preparation.
This past season, 12 of 23 freshmen played as true freshmen, compared to just four in 2015. Opportunities for those 11 freshmen who were redshirted are also much more slim heading into this season, with 15 returning starters on both sides of the ball, and most of them unlikely to lose their starting jobs. With so much depth returning at key positions, these redshirt freshmen will be competing mainly for backup roles in 2017.
Drue Chrisman will replace Cameron Johnston at punter, but beyond that, the outlook is somewhat murky. At the tight end position alone, Jake Hausmann, Luke Farrell and Kierre Hawkins all redshirted last season and will compete for time behind returning starter Marcus Baugh. Other positions, namely quarterback, linebacker and safety, are two-deep as it is, and redshirts like quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., safety Jahsen Wint and linebacker Tuf Borland will have a tough road ahead of them in spring practice to earn their backup roles.
“We just want to do our job. Make plays when plays present themselves. Whoever is in the game, we’re going to be accountable that they’re going to get it done.”
The deficiencies of the Ohio State passing game became painfully apparent in Ohio State’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson in December. Then-freshman wide receiver Binjimen Victor reeled in the longest play of the game--a 21-yard reception from J.T. Barrett--but production from the passing game was limited to just 127 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns.
Combined with the loss of Curtis Samuel, who led the team with 74 receptions on the season, Noah Brown, who was second on the team with 32, and Dontre Wilson, who finished his career with 27 catches on the season, the remaining receivers on the Ohio State roster accounted for just 122 receptions last year. Tight end Marcus Baugh had 24 receptions last season for 269 yards, leading returning pass catchers in both categories, and recorded a pair of touchdowns. The remaining receivers, 12 in all, accounted for five touchdowns on the season.
Behind a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the outlook looks somewhat more promising, however. While production at receiver was a problem last season, there is a wealth of talent, especially among the younger classes, that could make an impact on the field next season. Fifth-year James Clark is the only senior at the position, and played in every game last season. Terry McLaurin, Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon and Eric Glover-Williams are all entering their junior season with the Buckeyes. Campbell in particular garnered some attention by the end of the year after locking down kickoff return duties (Glover-Williams also shined on special teams last season). McLaurin himself recorded two touchdowns in blowout wins over Rutgers and Nebraska. Dixon, meanwhile, battled injuries last season, but managed a rushing touchdown against Rutgers nonetheless. K.J. Hill is the highlight of the rising sophomore class, having reeled in 18 catches for 262 yards last season, and is balanced by Victor, who lost his redshirt when called for duty against Rutgers. Austin Mack and Alex Stump combined for three catches last season, and will have to catch up to their fellow receivers in terms of production next season.
Given issues the past two seasons at receiver, the incoming freshman class brings the length that has been lacking in other classes. The four freshman all measure 6-foot-3 or taller, with four-star recruit Trevon Grimes expected to figure immediately into the rotation. Jaylen Harris, Elijah Gardiner and Brendan White could also see playing time come the fall.