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Column: Unfortunately, Ohio State has little elite NFL offensive linemen to brag about

Even more unfortunately, we have to give credit where credit is due. 

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Studrawa came to Ohio State in 2016 to take over offensive line coaching duties. In 2018, the Cincinnati Bengals took center Billy Price 21st overall in the NFL Draft — the only first-round draft pick from the offensive line during the line coach’s tenure. Studrawa was not retained when head coach Ryan Day restructured his staff earlier this month, and Ohio State announced last week that Justin Frye, who formerly coached the offensive line at UCLA, would be filling the vacant position.

The Ohio State offensive line came into the 2021 season as one of the most touted in the nation. The Buckeyes had the 47th-ranked rushing offense in the FBS this season, and finished the season averaging 181 yards per game. It’s not a poor performance by any stretch, especially since CJ Stroud and Company boasted one of the best passing offenses in the nation, and Henderson, when he did run, had 6.8 yards per carry, which was good for second best in the FBS. Further, Ohio State was 15th in the nation in sacks allowed this year, giving up just 1.31 per game.

For a program that’s produced such greats on the offensive line as Orlando Pace and which has had such outstanding historical success in the running game, there are certainly questions of where this talent goes when it leaves Ohio State. That’s because, even when one considers Pace, the No. 1-overall draft pick in 1997 and a seven-time Pro-Bowler with the Rams, there really haven’t been all that many truly elite offensive linemen coming out of Columbus, with elite being defined, in this very narrow instance, as a first-round draft selection. Since Pace, the list is short and as follows:

  • Nick Mangold (2006) - 29th overall
  • Taylor Decker (2016) - 16th overall
  • Billy Price (2018) - 21st overall

By another measure, Ohio State had the most former players selected to the Pro Bowl for the 2021 season, but just one of the 11 former Ohio State offensive linemen on active NFL rosters, center Corey Linsley, made the roster this season.

Ohio State did have three starting centers on NFL rosters this year, including Price, Linsley (one of the top-rated centers in the league) and Josh Myers, so it’s not all bad news, but it does beg the question of why these players are not as touted coming out of school as, say, Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater

So where are great linemen coming from if not Ohio State? Yes, I recognize it’s rich to imagine that Ohio State would be the wellspring of NFL talent at every position to begin with, but we are nothing if not greedy.

The answer is rather varied depending on time period, but for consistency’s sake and in consideration of current NFL talent, we’ll look at the ‘Urban Meyer Years,” and beyond meaning the draft classes from 2013 - 2021.

During this period, the elite programs producing first-round offensive line talent were:

The collective Big Ten had nine first-round selections, including two apiece from Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State (see above). It’s also interesting to note that Oklahoma had one selection, and Clemson had zero. Further, in 2013, the only first-round pick from any Big Ten school at any position was center Travis Frederick. The Big Ten was really struggling before Urban Meyer arrived.

By comparison, Pro Bowl selections over this same period, by school (focusing on the Big Ten as well as a handful of Ohio State’s other chief competitors m) for offensive linemen were:

  • Notre Dame: 10 appearances ( Zack Martin, 5; Quenton Nelson, 4; Ronnie Staley, 1)
  • Iowa: 6 appearances (Brandon Scherff, 5; Tristan Wirfs, 1)
  • Oklahoma: 5 appearances (Lane Johnson, 3; Orlando Brown, 2)
  • Wisconsin: 4 appearances (Travis Frederick, 4)
  • Nebraska: 3 appearances (Richie Incognito, 3)
  • Michigan: 3 appearances (Taylor Lewan, 3)
  • Alabama: 2 appearances (Ryan Kelly, 2)
  • Texas A&M: 1 appearance (Jake Matthews)
  • Northwestern: 1 appearance (Rashawn Slater)
  • OSU: 1 appearance (Corey Linsley)
  • Georgia: None
  • Clemson: None

While it’s easy to emphasize that teams like Alabama, Texas A&M and Georgia have not produced linemen that have panned out to be elite in the NFL at the rates we might expect, the biggest takeaway is, frankly, that Notre Dame is really good at not only getting players picked with high selections, but setting those picks up for success in the form of Pro Bowl selections.

There’s also the fact that we must accept that Ohio State is behind other elite programs, namely Notre Dame, Oklahoma and, to a degree, Alabama, in getting top offensive line talent in the NFL.

Ohio State is on par with other top Big Ten schools in terms of draft picks, but when it comes to Pro Bowl selections, the Buckeyes are woefully behind Iowa or, more specifically, Brandon Scherff. We could also anticipate that, if Corey Linsley continues to play at the level we saw this season, he could single handedly start swaying these stats in Ohio State’s favor, but a sample size of one player does not inspire much confidence. .

However, even Linsley can’t solve for the more granular problem that’s clear in this data: Ohio State has had no offensive tackles drafted in the first round, nor Pro Bowl selections at offensive tackle. This deficiency was clear against Michigan, when Aidan Hutchinson blew past the line for three sacks.

Given this position-specific anemia, is the offensive production at Ohio State and generally good offensive line play masking the fact that they haven’t produced elite offensive linemen that move to the NFL level?

While there is a lot to get hyped about Jim Knowles taking Ohio State’s defense to the next level, there’s also reason to get excited about Justin Frye. Perhaps he will be able to do something no one else has been able to at Ohio State this century, and consistently produce offensive linemen who have elite NFL careers — and maybe even a couple who will earn recognition for protecting the edge.