Although Ohio State’s 2017 NFL draft class is not as star-studded as its 2016 class, it is still loaded. The Buckeyes should have two top-ten picks and a third in Gareon Conley who was projected as a first round lock but is now linked to a sexual assault investigation. Outside of the first round the Buckeyes have Curtis Samuel, Raekwon McMillan and Pat Elflein who should all be selected on day two, then Noah Brown who is raw, yet has NFL potential.
Let’s see where we project these Buckeyes to go in the 2017 NFL draft:
Where he should go: Chicago Bears, first round, No. 3.
Other fits: San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
After two seasons of battling soft tissue injuries, Lattimore was able to finally stay healthy and secure a starting job. All he did in that one season was pick off four passes and do enough to earn a round one NFL grade, allowing him to leave school early. Lattimore is the best pure cover corner in the class and completely locked down his side across from Gareon Conley. He’s a fantastic athlete with great speed, quickness and fluidity who will find himself as a top-five pick in this draft.
If the 49ers pass on Lattimore, then the Chicago Bears would be the ideal fit for the Glenville alum. There have been rumblings of Lattimore’s stock falling, however it could be smoke from teams around the top-five who want to move in-or-out of their draft slot. Right now the Bears have a solid front-seven, but a pretty pathetic secondary, and Lattimore would make an instant impact at the left corner spot.
If the Bears decide to go quarterback or go with the more proven Marlon Humphrey of Alabama, then the Titans could fill the void left by the departure of veteran CB Jason McCourty. A team to keep an eye on would be the Buffalo Bills at No. 10, who just lost Stephon Gilmore in free agency.
Where he should go: New York Jets, first round, No. 6.
Other fits: Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans
Hooker is the rangiest and most instinctive free safety that has came out of college in a long time. In his lone year as a starter, Hooker burst onto the scene by making two spectacular interceptions in his debut, where he showed legitimate Ed Reed range and ball skills. He fits the mold as a single-high NFL free safety, where he can play centerfield and instinctively make plays in the passing game. He is inconsistent as a tackler, but he’s willing to come downhill and isn’t afraid of contact. Most pundits say he cannot tackle or is a liability against the run, but inconsistent is a better description of his tackling abilities. Hooker will have a lengthy and productive NFL career in this pass-heavy league.
With Hooker having questionable medicals at the combine and some teams possibly being higher on LSU safety Jamal Adams, Hooker could definitely fall into the Jets lap at pick No. 6. With the Jets secondary in shambles, there’s no better way to improve a secondary than having a terrific free safety. Todd Bowles already has a talented defensive line, now he just needs to address his leaky secondary. Marcus Gilchrist is in the starter at free safety right now, but he tore his patella tendon in Week 14. Hooker is an obvious upgrade here — if he’s available.
Although it would be extremely rare for a safety to go No. 2, the 49ers are in play and the Titans could also use an upgrade at free safety at No. 5. The overall consensus of mock drafts though, is the pick after the Jets, with the Los Angeles Chargers. That said, the Jets would be making a mistake if they pass on this ball-hawk.
Where he should go: Originally mocked to the Tennessee Titans at pick No. 18, Conley is going to most likely drop down — and possibly off — draft boards after he was named in a sexual assault investigation just two days before the NFL draft. The corner was getting top-10 buzz lately, but now it looks like it’s going to come down to a team trusting Conley and his agent. Will a team spend a day-two selection on a player who has the potential to be charged with a serious crime just a few days after the draft?
After doing in-depth investigating into #OSU CB Gareon Conley’s situation, teams do believe he’ll be drafted now. 3 GMs predict third round.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 27, 2017
Potential Fits: New England Patriots, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, Philadelphia Eagles,
From a strictly football standpoint, Conley is a fit in almost any defense, as he has been a two-year starter in Ohio State’s press-quarters scheme. His long arms allow him to excel in press-man. Conley also ran a very surprising 4.46 40 at the combine. He’s the definition of a solid corner who barely gets beat since he plays with such sound technique.
With Conley’s accusation coming out just two days before the draft, he has expectantly left Philadelphia and returned back to Ohio. It’s almost impossible for teams to learn the facts in such a short period of time, so there is a chance that he has been completely crossed off team’s draft boards, ala La’el Collins in 2015.
One team that comes to mind now who may know the most about Conley and the situation would be the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick has a lengthy friendship and history with Meyer and especially Ohio State defensive coordinator and former Rutgers’ head coach Greg Schiano. With the Patriots not having a selection (as of now) until pick No. 72 of the third round, they could roll the dice with one of their later round picks after they do an extensive background check with Meyer and Schiano; not to mention they’ll need a replacement for the departing Malcolm Butler. If there’s one coach who would take a chance on a first round talent who slips down to the fourth or fifth round due to a potential off-field issue, it would be Belichick.
Where he should go: New Orleans Saints, second round, pick No. 42
Other fits: Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers, New York Giants, Detroit Lions, Washington Redskins, New England Patriots
Coming from SEC country, McMillan arrived at Ohio State as one of Urban Meyer’s most highly touted and most important recruits at the time of his commitment — and he lived up to the extremely high expectations. Now, McMillan has faced criticism as an NFL prospect, with members of NFL draft media saying that he is not a three-down linebacker and he will have to be subbed off on passing downs. But he was never a liability in pass coverage and was never exposed on third down. The tape doesn’t lie and neither does his performance at the combine, where he ran a very solid 4.61 40 and about the positional average 3-cone for a linebacker at 7.15 seconds. McMillan has never been doubted on the football field before, and it seems silly to start doing so now.
The two-year starter looks like he could step in right away in a rotational role at his natural position of MIKE linebacker or evolve into a SAM linebacker in a 4-3. If the Saints don’t select a linebacker with their two selections in the first round, then McMillan should be in play for the second round. It’s clear Sean Payton has high regards for Meyer’s Buckeyes, selecting both Mike Thomas and Vonn Bell in last year’s draft. Payton was also in attendance at Ohio State pro day this season. If the Saints select a linebacker, look for another 4-3 team with minimal linebacker depth to take the former Buckeye on day two.
Where he should go: Buffalo Bills, second round, pick No. 44
Other fits: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings
Samuel is a playmaker. During his tenure at Ohio State, Samuel began his career as a running back behind Ezekiel Elliott, then as a sophomore he moved to a hybrid RB/WR role before settling in at H-Back, aka the “Percy Harvin position” in Urban Meyer’s offense. In that H-Back role, Samuel put up 771 yards and eight touchdowns on 97 carries, and 865 yards and seven touchdowns on a team-leading 74 receptions. As one can see, the Brooklyn native was the ultimate Swiss-Army Knife for Meyer.
When it comes to Samuel, the offensive philosophy is going to be very important. Samuel isn’t a typical outside receiver who can plug-and-play anywhere, as draft experts are having trouble completely pigeon-holing him as a slot receiver or a running back. He needs to go to a team that utilizes the slot receiver and an offensive coordinator that possesses creativity. Samuel can be utilized in a Tyreek Hill-like role where he will run most of the his plays out of the slot, but he can also line up in the backfield and give you a few carries per game.
As of now, it looks like Samuel will be selected in the mid-second round and he has a few potential suitors around that draft position. The Bills would be a very good fit for Samuel. They just lost Robert Woods and speedster Marquise Goodwin in free agency and he would also be able to be a potential change-of-pace back if they decide to move on from LeSean McCoy’s monster contract soon.
The Buccaneers and Saints would be great landing spots for Samuel, as they’re both lacking someone who replicates Samuel’s creative skill set.
Where he should go: Minnesota Vikings, third round, pick No. 79
Other fits: Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets
Elflein is the ultimate team-first leader that most coaches would love to build their offensive line around. After becoming one of the best guards in the nation, he decided in his final season to switch to center where he won the Rimington Award, which is given to the nation’s top center. He’s an incredibly strong run and pass blocker and possesses the versatility and nastiness that the NFL adores.
Like his former teammate and current Green Bay Packer Corey Linsley, Elflein is a day-one starter on a team that needs a center. He should fall somewhere in the middle of the third round, to a team like the Vikings, Ravens or Seahawks — or he could even replace Nick Mangold in New York. It isn’t so much scheme with that position as it is just a need for a team.
Where he should go: Los Angeles Rams, fourth round, pick No. 112
Other fits: Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans
Coming off a severe leg injury which forced him to miss his entire sophomore season, Noah Brown surprisingly decided to forgo his redshirt junior season to enter the draft. Brown has NFL size (6’2, 222 lbs) but is very raw as a route runner and lacks the ability to gain separation on intermediate routes to be a early contributor. Brown flashed with four touchdowns against Oklahoma, but didn’t do much the rest of the season.
Brown will not be expected to make an immediate impact, but rather for his size and potential. If he can add some quickness to his game and become a better route runner — especially on slant patterns where he could utilize his frame — he could eventually be a starter in the NFL. It wouldn’t hurt him to go to a rebuilding team where he won’t be pressured to contribute early. He has a similar body type as Kenny Britt, so he could be his eventual replacement in Los Angeles, or it wouldn’t be the worst thing for him to get mentored by Larry Fitzgerald before he rides off into the sunset. The potential is there, he just needs to put it all together now.
Undrafted Free Agent
Potential Camp Invites: Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills
The Aussie needs to prove to NFL coaches that he doesn’t need to punt rugby style in order to be a great punter. The Ray Guy Award finalist will definitely get a training camp shot and will be able to show off his coffin corner accuracy and leg strength.
Undrafted Free Agent
Potential Camp Invites: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints
Wilson battled injuries throughout his collegiate career and put up a surprisingly poor 4.59 40-yard dash at Ohio State’s pro day. Let’s hope Wilson gets a chance to prove himself in an NFL training camp, since he flashed as a dependable receiver on third down in his final season with the Buckeyes.