Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Most ideal landing spot for Ohio State’s NFL draftees.
Josh’s Take: Chris Olave (Saints)
The 2022 NFL Draft produced a mixed bag of emotions for former Ohio State football players. Six former Buckeyes were drafted, with Garrett Wilson leading the way. He was selected 10th overall by the New York Jets, and followed immediately by Chris Olave and Jameson Williams at 11 and 12. Of course, Williams was not included among the six OSU draftees, but I still wanted to give him a quick shoutout. If we’re looking at the positives, three former Ohio State wideouts going in succession was definitely one of the cool stories of the weekend.
On the other end of the spectrum, Thayer Munford fell all the way to the seventh round (Las Vegas Raiders), and Haskell Garrett surprisingly never heard his name called. The two big men were both such great teammates and leaders, but each saw their NFL Draft stock plummet due to inconsistency and/or injury during the 2021 season. The odds of contributing early at the next level are now stacked against them, but fans of the scarlet and gray have seen Munford and Garrett overcome different obstacles before.
The players in-between all went in the neighborhood of where they were projected, but we’re only talking about three other guys! Nicholas Petit-Frere and Jeremy Ruckert both came off the board in the third round, and Tyreke Smith was taken in the fifth. All in all, Ohio State was out-classed by a number of other schools, including Cincinnati. Luke Fickell’s Bearcats had nine players selected, further cementing their status as a legitimate contender. So Gene, while this was far from a historic OSU draft class, I do think most or all of these former Buckeyes landed in a position where they have a chance to succeed.
But the player with the greatest chance to experience individual success and contribute to a winning team – in my opinion – is Chris Olave. He landed in an ideal spot, in the inferior conference, with a solid team, and he has another former Ohio State wide receiver to mentor him early on. It’s almost too good to be true, and Olave should be able to enjoy multiple “luxuries” not often afforded to other rookies.
Many people, including myself, had mocked Olave to the New Orleans Saints at No. 16 prior to Thursday night, but with two other wideouts coming off the board at No. 8 and No. 10, New Orleans did not want to risk losing their guy. The Saints made a significant trade to move up five spots, and snagged Olave with the 11th pick — a move which some viewed as giving up too much draft capital. But the team’s investment in Olave says a lot about how they view his potential, and I think their confidence is more than warranted.
Right off the bat, Olave will not be expected to come in and carry the offense. The Saints can lean on Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas while Olave learns the ropes. I don’t think it will take long for the organization’s most recent OSU draftee to acclimate, but he will be afforded time. Whereas, in New York, I think Wilson will be expected to come in and perform at a high level right away.
In addition to being surrounded by multiple All-Pro skill players, Olave will presumably be playing with a proven veteran quarterback. Say what you will about Jameis Winston, but he has been in the league for seven seasons, and has a 5,000-yard season on the back of his football card. Winston has had time to work on his own game in New Orleans, likely maturing from the interception machine he one was in Tampa Bay. When healthy last year, he threw 14 touchdowns to only three interceptions — and that was with a rag-tag group of weapons around him. Winston could really flourish with Kamara, Thomas, and now Olave, all in the fold. The rookie wide receiver should benefit as well.
We also can’t forget that New Orleans plays in the NFC South, which is basically a two-team division. The Atlanta Falcons are in the midst of a full-on rebuild, and the Carolina Panthers just... aren’t any good. The Saints will face stiff competition from the cyborg-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but overall, the NFC is the weaker conference. I’m not saying that any team in the NFL is a pushover, but at least Olave will not be playing in a loaded division.
Generally speaking, Olave just landed in a great situation. Often times, the best rookies in the class end up on some of the worst teams. That is not the case here. Sure, the Saints lost a guy or two, and they are not the team that was a perennial contender with Drew Brees, but they have a ton of vets and a ton of talent. I barely mentioned the fact that Olave will be tutored by Thomas (who is looking to re-establish his greatness), while also being surrounded by other former Buckeyes such as Marshon Lattimore and Pete Werner. New Orleans has become Ohio State South (Southwest?), and OSU’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions is yet another piece that they’ve added to the puzzle.
I expect Chris Olave to eventually be a star in New Orleans. It might not happen right away, and if it doesn’t, I don’t think he will or should feel any pressure. That’s why I love the spot in which he landed. He can go in and play Robin to Thomas’ Batman, and possibly become “the guy” by year two or three. Olave is surrounded by familiar faces and a solid roster, so I believe he is destined to succeed.
Gene’s Take: Jeremy Ruckert (Jets)
Growing up on Long Island, one of my favorite stories of the NFL Draft was Jeremy Ruckert ending up with the New York Jets — the team he grew up rooting for as a kid.
Ruckert is a native of Lindenhurst, NY, a town located about 25 minutes from my own hometown and about an hour or so (without traffic, which rarely happens) away from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. If you follow recruiting even a little bit, you will know that New York in general isn’t exactly a high school football factory, and that is especially true on Long Island. To see someone not only make it to a place like Ohio State from my area but then also get to play in the NFL for one of the two local teams, and the one he is a fan of at that, is incredibly special.
We all know about the tight end position at Ohio State. Especially with the insane amount of wide receiver talent that has come through the program under Brian Hartline, even a guy as talented as Ruckert wasn’t exactly the focal point of the passing game. Still, the 6-foot-5, 250 pound athlete was able to haul in 54 receptions for 615 yards and 12 touchdowns during his time in Columbus. Not shown in those numbers were the handful of insane one-handed grabs he made, including a critical one in the B1G Title game against Wisconsin in 2019, and how much he showed up in the team’s biggest games, including a pair of TDs against Penn State in 2020 and of course his two TDs against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.
Looking at the Jets’ roster, it seems like Ruckert will have some time to get his feet wet in the league before being expected to take over any sort of TE1 responsibilities. This offseason, the Jets signed former Cincinnati Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah to a three-year deal. Uzomah racked up nearly 500 yards and five TDs last season with 49 catches, so he will be the No. 1 guy at the position. Behind him is likely Tyler Conklin, whom the Jets also signed to a three-year deal this offseason having played the last four years in Minnesota. Conklin isn’t quite the receiving threat of Uzomah, but is coming off a career year wherein he totaled 593 yards and three scores.
That puts Ruckert as the third guy in the room, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him overtake Conklin if the former Viking is unable to replicate his stellar 2021 season. Either way, with the amount of two tight end sets NFL teams love to use, we will surely get a chance to see Ruckert playing a good amount of snaps in his rookie season without the added weight of being a team’s top option. We know what he brings to the field in terms of his pass-catching abilities, and his run blocking was really overlooked at Ohio State. It isn’t he best asset by any means, but if he can continue to hone those skills at the next level, he can become a huge talent for the Jets.
I think a guy like Ruckert will need a little time to adjust to an offense that actually uses its tight ends, especially after the way he was utilized with the Buckeyes. That being said, if his number is called earlier than expected whether due to injury or poor play for the guys ahead of him, he will be ready to become a hometown hero. Even as a Giants fan myself, I am very excited to see what Ruckert is able to do at the next level. The Jets have been a laughing stock for a while now, but they have done a tremendous job in these last few drafts at crafting a talented roster, and Ruckert (as well as Garrett Wilson, of course) is another piece to keep the franchise heading in the right direction.