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Ohio State’s 2016 NFL Draft class set the bar incredibly high

Aside from the impressive number of first and second round picks, the 2016 NFL rookies have dominated at the next level.

Oakland Raiders v San Diego Chargers Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images

It seems like just yesterday that Ohio State was sending a handful of players to New York for the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and watching almost a dozen more get picked in the later rounds or signed as undrafted free agents. It wasn’t just that the Buckeyes set a new record for the most players taken in the first three rounds (10), it was that this group of rookies would go on to set a new standard in the NFL across multiple positions.

From guys like Joey Bosa, who won Defensive Rookie of the Year to Michael Thomas who seems to best his own records with each game that he plays, the 2016 rookies out of Ohio State have begun building something special. Not everyone has turned out to be a homerun for their NFL team, but only two years out of college, there is still plenty of room for career development.

2016 NFL Draft Results

Player Position Draft Pick Team
Player Position Draft Pick Team
Joey Bosa DE Round 1 (No. 3) Los Angeles Chargers
Ezekiel Elliott RB Round 1 (No. 4) Dallas Cowboys
Eli Apple CB Round 1 (No. 10) New York Giants
Taylor Decker OT Round 1 (No. 16) Detroit Lions
Darron Lee OLB Round 1 (No. 20) New York Jets
Michael Thomas WR Round 2 (No. 47) New Orleans Saints
Vonn Bell FS Round 2 (No. 61) New Orleans Saints
Adolphus Washington DT Round 3 (No. 80) Buffalo Bills
Braxton Miller WR Round 3 (No. 85) Houston Texans
Nick Vannett TE Round 3 (No. 94) Seattle Seahawks
Joshua Perry ILB Round 4 (No. 102) Los Angeles Chargers*
Cardale Jones QB Round 4 (No. 139) Buffalo Bills*
Chase Farris OG Undrafted Free Agent Detroit Lions*
Jalin Marshall WR Undrafted Free Agent New York Jets*
Tyvis Powell FS Undrafted Free Agent Seattle Seahawks*

*No longer with this team


Top of the class

Four Buckeyes would finish their 2016 rookie season earning NFL All-Rookie Team honors, Bosa, Taylor Decker, Thomas and Ezekiel Elliott — not to mention the plethora of franchise and league records, and other awards claimed by season’s end.

Joey Bosa: His entrance into the NFL was delayed due to contract issues, but once Bosa finally hit the field for the (Los Angeles) Chargers, all was forgiven. Not only did he earn All-Rookie Team honors, but Bosa was also named the 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year, thanks to his 10.5 sacks and 29 tackles. He followed that up with a 2017 performance (12.5 sacks and 54 total tackles) that earned him his first Pro Bowl invite. Last season, the Buckeye also set a new record for most sacks (19) in the first 20 career games. It looks like Bosa is going to be shrugging off opposing QBs for a long time in the NFL. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Taylor Decker: In addition to All-Rookie Team honors, Decker finished his first year in the league as a 16-game starter, and lined up for 100% of the team’s offensive snaps — the only player for the Detroit Lions to do so aside from QB Matthew Stafford. The workload unfortunately didn’t do him any favors heading into the offseason, with a shoulder injury eventually requiring surgery and forcing Decker to spend the first eight games of the 2017 season on the PUP list. He came back in Week 9 and got right back to business. After being eased into the lineup against Cleveland, Decker once again took 100% of the offensive snaps from Week 10 through the end of the season.

Michael Thomas: “Shhhhhhhh”, he said over-and-over again during his time at Ohio State, but I’m pretty sure the secret is out. You can’t guard Mike. They can’t guard Mike. Nobody can guard Mike.

Another Buckeye to be voted to the Pro Bowl in his second season in the league, Michael Thomas has claimed over 1,000 receiving yards in both of his NFL campaigns (2,382 total), and has 14 touchdowns and averages 12.2 yards per catch. He’s quickly become the WR1 for the New Orleans Saints, and QB Drew Brees finally has a big target who excels at moving the chains and coming down with contested catches. Brees’ trust in Thomas is evidenced by his 196 receptions on 270 targets -- setting a new team record for single-season receptions (104), and a new NFL record for most receptions in a player’s first two seasons (196).

Ezekiel Elliott: Zeke could have been included in this category and the one below (Distracted from greatness), but he still has the potential to be one of the best alumni out of Ohio State. The 2016 season saw the Buckeye eclipsing most franchise and rookie rushing records, and with antics like jumping into a Salvation Army kettle, he quickly became a crowd favorite. His first year in the NFL resulted in 1,631 rushing yards off of 322 carries, for 15 touchdowns and 91 first downs -- not to mention his 363 receiving yards and additional score.

But, that wasn’t the only story-line surrounding the running back. Legal issues that had followed him throughout his rookie season, finally caught up with him just as the 2017 season was about to get underway. Despite appeals keeping him in the game for weeks, eventually his six-game suspension was upheld, and Zeke wouldn’t be back until Week 16.

The only thing standing in Zeke’s way of going down as one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL, is Ezekiel Elliott. If he can get out of his own way, make good decisions, and stop being tabloid fodder, he has the ability to go down as one of the greats.


Distracted from greatness

Sometimes the only thing keeping players from being truly great is themselves. With all of the money and fame thrown at these guys overnight, it’s not hard to understand how things off the field can start getting crazy. People handle this kind of change very differently, and some Buckeyes haven’t exactly made the most of their opportunity.

Jalin Marshall: Having already bounced around the Jets’ depth chart, Marshall was on a tight-rope heading into his second year in the league. Before the 2017 season got underway, the former Buckeye was suspended for four games for a positive PED test and was then relegated to the practice squad once he was reinstated. Marshall showed potential during his rookie season, but also struggled on special teams in ways very similar to his time at Ohio State. (I still don’t miss being worried with every kick return.)

Eli Apple: This is a bit more of a complicated situation than the others. Apple’s rookie season included playing time in 14 games, along with 41 total tackles, one forced fumble and an interception. He still had issues with getting handsy when a receiver had him beat, but was developing into a starter and had earned the role on the team.

Then in 2017, the DB room with the Giants was an absolute disaster. More than one player would get suspended for walking out of the facility during meetings, including Apple. Aside from conflicts with the coaching staff, the Buckeye was also dealing with his mother, Annie, undergoing brain surgery, and allegedly doing so without his usual familial support system. He ended up missing a decent chunk of the end of the 2017 season and his future in New York was a bit up in the air.

Shortly after his dust up with coaches, the front office fired head coach Ben McAdoo, and the chips just kept falling. With the new leadership heading into, what will be, Eli Apple’s third NFL season, the Buckeye and new team GM Dave Gettleman have met and decided to start from scratch and build a rapport that works for both of them. Here’s hoping Apple is finally able to breakout as a top NFL corner.


Room to grow

With so many Buckeyes headed to the NFL in one draft class, there is a range of success that the group can expect. Some of the biggest names heading into the draft — like Braxton Miller -- haven’t had their breakout moment just yet, but that isn’t to say that it won’t be right around the corner.

Vonn Bell: One of the more overlooked players from the 2016 draft class, Bell has been a frequent starter for the New Orleans Saints (starting in 24 of his 32 games played). The Saints have been boosting their secondary over the past few seasons, and Bell’s play lands him among the middle of the pack. (In no small part thanks to former Buckeye teammate Marshon Lattimore absolutely killing it his rookie season in 2017.) Bell has amassed 115 total tackles and 5.5 sacks during his two regular seasons at the next level — not to mention his 12 tackles and 1.0 sack during the two playoff games in 2017. He should have no problem finding work for the next several years as an NFL player.

Adolphus Washington: Part of the dynamic Buckeye DE group, Washington played alongside Joey Bosa and was considered a top-pick at his position in 2016. Some legal issues clouded the draft process, but he ultimately ended up as a third-round pick by the Buffalo Bills. He saw playing time as a starter his rookie season, but more legal issues seemed to keep him from reaching the next level mentally. Finally, mid-season in 2017, the clouds cleared and he earned his spot in the starting rotation. With more development this off-season, he should continue taking first team reps.

Braxton Miller: Despite some injuries keeping him sidelined throughout his first two years in the league, QB-turned-receiver Braxton Miller has been hindered by less-than-ideal quarterbacking with the Houston Texans. Until the team drafted Deshaun Watson in 2017, their quarterback situation was one of the laughing stocks of the league. Miller did see an increase in production with the addition of the team’s new franchise passer — when he was healthy —, claiming 162 yards on 19 receptions and one touchdown last season.

Nick Vannett: The tight end saw much more playing time in 2017 than he did during his rookie season. Granted, he still hasn’t become the pass-catching tight end like former-temmate Jimmy Graham, but he’s maintained his consistency as a blocker, and did see occasional targets from Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. Vannett finished his second season with 124 yards on 12 receptions and his first career touchdown. Now that Graham is no longer with Seattle, there’s a chance that Vannett sees an increased role heading in the 2018 season.

Darron Lee: He had a very minor incident with a teammate that was caught on video at a music festival, but hasn’t gotten into any real trouble since his time at Ohio State. The New York Jets don’t have a whole lot to hang their hats on, but are sticking with Lee to be their starting linebacker heading into the 2018 season. In his first two seasons in the league — despite missing a couple of games due to injury -- the Buckeye has recorded 109 total tackles, 4.0 sacks and two forced fumbles. He’s right on the cusp of being good enough to stop being overlooked.


Just needs a chance

It’s not always instant success for Buckeyes who try to make it in the NFL. While there is a host of talent developed at Ohio State, it doesn’t always translate to the next level. With a couple of years under their belts, these Buckeyes are facing make-or-break seasons, but given the right opportunity could still make a big impact for a pro team.

Joshua Perry: The linebackers’ entry in the NFL was special, with Ohio State teammate Joey Bosa making the pick for the Chargers in the fourth round. His playing time during his rookie season was limited to special teams and the occasional snap on defense, but he finished the year with 22 total tackles and two forced fumbles. In 2017, Perry signed with the Indianapolis Colts after being released by the Chargers during the preseason, and signed a 2-year deal worth $1.35 million. He spent most of last season on the team’s practice squad, despite being designated as active for two games mid-season.

Tyvis Powell: Before the 2016 NFL Draft, there were camera crews following Buckeye Tyvis Powell. Over the course of the four-day draft, that footage never made the air. Powell ended up falling out of the seven rounds of the draft, but fielded calls from various teams immediately afterward. Powell decided to join the Legion of Boom with the Seattle Seahawks, and learned under players like Richard Sherman during his rookie season.

The 2017 off-season was tough and travel-filled for the Buckeye safety, who went from the Seahawks to the Browns, then to the Colts, and back to the Seahawks, before landing with the San Francisco 49ers in early-November. Two weeks before the end of the 2017 season, Powell was promoted from the practice squad and saw actual playing time for the Niners, in what has the potential to be, his long-term landing spot.

Cardale Jones: After spending his rookie season as the No. 3 QB for the Buffalo Bills, Jones was traded to the Chargers ahead of the 2017 season and spent the better part of the season as a healthy scratch for the team’s game-day roster, while still working out with and learning from Philip Rivers. It’s still a bit of a question mark as to what kind of NFL career 12-Gauge is expected to have, and unless he starts winning some battles for the back-up spot, he might not hold a roster spot for that many more seasons.

Chase Farris: Another undrafted free agent heading into his rookie season, the Buckeye OG first signed with the Detroit Lions before making the rounds. Bouncing from the practice squad to active roster, Farris spent time with the Denver Broncos before signing with the New England Patriots. He was designated to IR in July 2017 after suffering a torn Achilles, and didn’t get back onto the active roster before the end of the season.