Ohio State is known for sending pro-ready players to the NFL year-after-year, but some draft classes are bound to be more successful than others. While the 2016 draft class exceeded most reasonable expectations, the year before that didn’t produce anything approaching an equal level of success.
Of the seven players who made the jump to the NFL in 2015, none have become full-time starters for their respective teams. Injuries have affected almost every Buckeye from that draft class, and season-after-season more than one of them has ended up on the IR.
Most rookie contracts are four-year deals, meaning that the guys from 2015 have one season left to find a way to extend their NFL careers.
2015 NFL Draft results
|Devin Smith||WR||Round 2 (No. 37)||New York Jets|
|Jeff Heuerman||TE||Round 3 (No. 92)||Denver Broncos|
|Doran Grant||DB||Round 4 (No. 121)||Pittsburgh Steelers*|
|Michael Bennett||DT||Round 6 (No. 180)||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Evan Spencer||WR||Round 6 (No. 187)||Washington*|
|Darryl Baldwin||OT||Undrafted Free Agent||Balitmore Ravens*|
|Curtis Grant||ILB||Undrafted Free Agent||San Diego Chargers*|
*No longer with this team
Still fighting for a chance
Curtis Grant: One of the surprising success stories out of the 2015 draft class is inside linebacker Curtis Grant. After a super-short stint with the Chargers, he’s since bounced around to several other teams before landing with the New York Giants in 2017. Last season was the first time that the Buckeye had seen playing time at the next level, having suited up for 10 games, before being relegated to IR with a knee injury.
He’s one of the journeyman players who might actually be able to stick around, especially with the Giants facing massive changes (from the front office to coaching staff) this offseason. He signed a two-year deal worth $1.2 million ahead of the 2017 season, and keeping a young guy who has shown can be developed — and is cheap — could create some job security for Grant.
Jeff Heuerman: After missing his entire rookie season due to a torn ACL suffered during training camp, the former Buckeye tight end got back on the field for Denver in 2016. In his two seasons since, he’s done little to secure his spot on the roster though, and has only started eight total games since his return.
Granted, Denver hasn’t exactly been the pinnacle of quarterback stability since Peyton Manning retired, but Heuerman has only claimed 18 receptions on 38 targets for 283 yards and two touchdowns — both in 2017. He does average more than 10 yards per catch which is great when you need to move the sticks, but without any sort of consistent production it’s hard to see Heuerman on Denver’s roster much longer.
He’s got one more season on his rookie contract to make it work -- we’ll have to wait and see if he can.
Injuries run amok
Devin Smith: Dude CANNOT catch a break. Seriously, it seems like if it wasn’t for bad luck, Smith wouldn’t have any luck at all.
Smith’s rookie season was filled with several minor injuries, ranging from rib issues to ankle problems to foot woes. Despite them all, the Buckeye had three starts during his rookie year and claimed 115 yards on nine receptions — the problem though, was that the nine receptions were among 28 targets. (Not great.)
Smith ended up finishing his first season on IR (after tearing his ACL in Week 15), which was bad enough to linger through 2016 and keep the wideout on the physically unable to perform list for most of his second season. He returned to the lineup with four games left and added another 20-yard reception to his stat sheet.
Back in the lineup in 2017, Smith tore his other ACL during the preseason and this time missed the entire season for the Jets. He’s another one who has one year left on his rookie deal, but at this point it’s hard to imagine any team willing to put up money on someone who’s done so little, and been so injured, in his three years in the NFL.
Michael Bennett: There hasn’t been a ton of news about Bennett since he made the jump to the NFL, but he did see playing time in 13 games during his rookie season, claiming 10 total tackles and 0.5 sack.
At the beginning of his second season, the Buckeye suffered a calf injury against the Falcons and spent the remainder of the 2016 season on IR. Similarly, Bennett was sidelined again early in the 2017 season, and was designated to IR with a pectoral injury.
He made it back on the field by the end of last season and notched one game with one tackle on the year. The DT market garners big bucks in the league, but trouble staying healthy early on in a players’ career can be the kiss of death for second chances.
Evan Spencer: After being drafted by Washington, injuries kept him sidelined, and the team released him with an injury settlement. The wideout was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two weeks later, and spent most of his short career bouncing from IR to the practice squad and back again. Spencer ended up being on the active roster for one game at the end of 2015 — but didn’t record any stats. Ultimately he was waived ahead of final roster cuts in 2016, and is now considered “retired”.
Never really landed
Doran Grant: This is a make or break year for the Buckeye DB, who has now used up all of his allotted practice squad eligibility and will either make the final 53-man roster later this summer, or could end up spending the 2018 season unsigned altogether. To say Grant has spent time bouncing from team-to-team would be a massive understatement.
Grant has been part of an active roster in just three games in three years, but will have another shot to make a roster having had substantially more time to develop with the Bears than he has any other team. It’s hard to gain your footing when you’re always on the move, but hopefully Grant can find a new home in Chicago.
Darryl Baldwin: Another Buckeye who spent some time bouncing around the league, Baldwin smwascstuck on the IR in 2015 and 2016, and ultimately didn’t even make a practice squad roster in 2017. It’s pretty safe to say this is one NFL career that was over before it even started.
This is the second in a five-part series, evaluating the draft classes out of Ohio State from 2012-2016, in reverse order.