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Ohio State’s epic 2016 NFL Draft class approaches end of rookie deals with varying security

The Chargers have already picked up Joey Bosa’s fifth-year option. His classmates haven’t all been as fortunate.

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Los Angeles Chargers v Denver Broncos Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

We are just days away from the next set of Buckeyes to make their way to the NFL by way of the 2019 NFL Draft. But in the meantime, there are some updates from players already playing professional ball to catch-up on.

It’s crazy to think that the historic 2016 draft class out of Ohio State, that included guys like Joey Bosa and Ezekiel Elliott, is already heading into the final year of their rookie contracts. With the possibility of several of them hitting free agency following the 2019 season, teams are starting to make their decisions about whether they want to exercise the fifth-round option on their first round draft picks — teams have until May 3 to do so.

And, in case you forgot, the Buckeyes had five Round 1 picks that year — but not everyone will be a no brainer-type extension.


Joey Bosa (Overall No. 3)

It was announced Tuesday that the Chargers have exercised the fifth-year option for the defensive end, and older brother of incoming rookie Nick, to extend him through the 2020 season in Los Angeles.

Bosa has had quite a career thus far — to the surprise of literally no one. Things started out a little shaky when he held out for more guarantees in his rookie contract, but when he hit the field, there was no question he was worth every penny, and missed snap.

During his rookie year, Bosa notched 10.5 sacks in just 12 games, along with 41 total tackles which included 21 quarterback hits and 17 tackles for loss. His effort earned him Defensive Rookie of the Year and saw him named to the NFL All-Rookie Team.

He followed that up with a healthy, 16 game sophomore season, claiming an astounding 12.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, along with 70 total tackles, including 21 QB hits and 11 tackles for loss. Bosa followed up his award-filled rookie year with his first Pro Bowl honor in 2017, as well as notching several NFL and team records for sacks, and consecutive games with a sack.

His production took a bit of a dip in year 3 as he missed over half the season with a foot injury he sustained in training camp. The silver lining, was that he and brother Nick were able to rehab together for a few months, once the latter withdrew from Ohio State to focus on healing for the draft. Joey still managed 5.5 sacks in his seven games in 2018, along with 23 total tackles, including 9 quarterback hits and 7 tackles for loss.


Ezekiel Elliott (Overall No. 4)

Another no brainer was for the Dallas Cowboys to exercise the 5th year option on running back Ezekiel Elliott. He’s had no shortage of off-field drama, but when he’s on the field on Sunday’s, he’s been the team’s three-down back and one of the most critical parts of their offense.

Elliott was voted to the Pro Bowl and was First-Team All-Pro his rookie season, notching 1,631 yards on 322 carries for 15 touchdowns, along with going 32-of-39 receptions for an additional 363 yards and one touchdown. He averaged an insane 108.7 rushing yards per game and blasted just about any and all rookie rusher NFL and team records there were.

He missed six games his second season due to an NFL suspension, but still managed 983 yards on 242 carries for 7 touchdowns, plus 26 catches for 269 yards and two more scores. Elliott still averaged just under 100 rushing yards per game (98.3) and 4.1 yards per carry.

In 2018, he was back on top, claiming 1,434 yards on 304 carries for just six touchdowns — again averaging 95.6 rushing yards per game — and doubled his receptions to 77 for 567 yards and three touchdowns. His performance sent him back to the Pro Bowl.

Again, Elliott has racked up no shortage of honors and awards, and has led the league in quite a few categories, according to ProFootball Reference:


Eli Apple (Overall No. 10)

Originally drafted by the Giants, Apple spent just 2.5 (rather rocky) seasons in New York before ultimately being traded to the New Orleans Buckeyes Saints five games into the 2018 season. There, he joined many of his former teammates, and even better, position-mates like Marshon Lattimore, Vonn Bell and Kurt Coleman.

Apple is only under contract in New Orleans through the 2019 season, and they will likely wait to see what he brings in his second year with the team before deciding whether to re-sign him through 2020 and beyond.

He had more production in his 10 games with the Saints than his entire early career with the Giants. With Apple’s new team, he had 2 interceptions, 52 total tackles and a fumble recovery. He definitely fit in better with the defense in New Orleans, and could end up staying there after 2019 should he keep up what he started last season.


Taylor Decker (Overall No. 16)

The Detroit Lions aren’t rushing to decide whether to pick up the option on Taylor Decker, and will likely wait to see how their draft class shakes out before making any moves.

“That’s something we have to decide upon I think about a week after the draft,” general manager Bob Quinn said, according to The Detroit News. “That’s about a May 7 deadline, so no decision yet.”

The team GM won’t have until May 7th exactly, but will have just under a week following the end of the draft to make his decision.

Taylor was an impressive rookie in 2016, but missed most of the 2017 season with a shoulder injury that required off-season surgery. He did make it back for all 16 games in 2018, where he thrived as a pass protector (No. 14 according to ProFootball Focus), but not so much as a run blocker (No. 100).

ProFootball Focus

Darron Lee (Overall No. 20)

The New York Jets have had a bit of an up and down experience with the Buckeye linebacker since he was drafted in 2016. Lee has mostly been a starter since entering the league, and has gradually improved during his three seasons — although, wasn’t able to finish the 2018 season due to a suspension over NFL’s substance abuse policy.

His rookie season, he notched 70 total tackles, three passes defended and 1.0 sack, following by 94 total tackles, three passes defended and 3.0 sacks in 2017. Last year, he was utilized a bit differently, and in addition to his 74 total tackles, also nabbed three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown — during a two INT game.

There have been articles on both sides of the coin this offseason listing reasons the Jets should and shouldn’t extend Lee through 2020, and several others indicating he was a player the team was looking to trade during free agency. That latter move never ended up happening, and the Jets now have just over a week to decide whether or not they want to keep developing the Buckeye linebacker.

If nothing else, Lee is at least bulking up a bit this offseason: