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Opinion: Ohio State’s best NFL draft class

With two Buckeyes primed to be taken in the first five picks at tonight’s NFL Draft, this year’s draft class has some serious power. But it can’t quite match up to one magical year.

NFL Draft Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

This year’s NFL Draft is going to be like no other. The sports world has been on pause since early March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the reading of names in the NFL Draft is going to have the excitement of the Super Bowl. While teams were able to get a look at a lot of players in-person at the combine in February, many schools were forced to cancel their pro days because of restrictions on mass gatherings around the country.

Even if conditions had been perfect leading up to this year’s draft, it’s not likely that much would change with the first few picks. After former Buckeye quarterback Joe Burrow is taken by the Cincinnati Bengals, then the real fun begins. Much like last year, we should see an Ohio State defensive end taken with the second overall pick, as Chase Young is likely to join Terry McLaurin in Washington. Cornerback Jeff Okudah will be the next Buckeye taken, possibly heading north to play for the Detroit Lions.

Ohio State is currently tied with USC for most first round draft picks, with both schools having produced 81 first rounders. If Young and Okudah are both taken within the first five picks, it will mark the second time in the last five years two Buckeyes were taken in that span. Ohio State also accomplished that feat in 1997, when Orlando Pace was taken with the first pick, and Shawn Springs came off the board with the third pick.

The Buckeyes have had 131 players taken in the NFL Draft since 2000, which is 13 more than second place Alabama. The impact of Ohio State in the draft over the last two decades and beyond got me thinking what my favorite Ohio State NFL draft class has been. From 1971 when Ohio State had four first round picks, to 1997 when three Buckeyes were taken in the first 14 picks, to three Ohio State defensive backs being taken in the first round in 2017. There are so many great options!

It’s going to seem extremely predictable, but my favorite Ohio State NFL draft class is the 2016 class. It should be pretty easy to understand why after what this team was able to accomplish in 2014. With Ezekiel Elliott, who was taken fourth by the Dallas Cowboys, running over the opposition on the way to the national title, while Joey Bosa was a game changer on defense, which the Los Angeles Chargers have found out after drafting Bosa.

The 2016 draft class not only has star power at the top, but also had a couple of sleepers in the second round, which the New Orleans Saints were wise to. Michael Thomas was taken 47th by the Saints and just set the NFL record for receptions in a season. Safety Vonn Bell put together four quality years in New Orleans before signing this offseason with the Cincinnati Bengals.

As a Buffalo Bills fan, I was excited when they took Adolphus Washington in the third round with the 80th pick. Unfortunately Washington never really caught on in Buffalo, but at least I had a Buckeye to root on for a bit. Just behind Washington, the Houston Texans picked Braxton Miller with the 85th pick. The quarterback-turned-wide receiver couldn’t gain much traction in Houston, catching 34 passes in two years before bouncing around on a couple practice squads the last few years.

Even the last two Buckeyes taken in the draft had some fun stories, even if they didn’t lead to much success in the NFL. Linebacker Joshua Perry was taken in the fourth round by the Chargers, making 22 tackles in one season with the team. Since, Perry has returned to Columbus to work with 97.1 The Fan, as well as making appearances from the Big Ten Network.

Cardale Jones was the final Ohio State Buckeye taken in the 2016 NFL Draft. The third-string quarterback heading into the 2014 season was taken with the Buffalo Bills in the fourth round. Jones appeared in one game for the Bills before being traded to the Chargers in 2017. But it wasn’t until this year when Jones made a bit of noise, becoming the face of the XFL for a few weeks after a couple of huge performances. Unfortunately, Jones wasn’t able to finish the season, since the XFL was forced to cease operations during the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there is no wrong answer, since any year that Buckeyes are drafted into the NFL is a good year, it’s hard to find a better year for Ohio State than 2016. The core members of the 2014 national title team set a lofty goal for future draft classes from Ohio State to live up to. While it’s not impossible to think we’ll see another draft classes better than 2016, it’s going to take a special collection of athletes to top it.