Spring is an interesting time of year for college football fans. The season is still more than six months away, and we are drowning in a sea of basketball, hockey, and spring training baseball. Early March is especially treacherous this year because, as Buckeye fans, the men’s basketball team will not be going dancing, so the buoy that normally keeps us afloat for a few extra weeks is nowhere to be seen.
Instead, we are left swimming amongst the vestiges of the most recent football season via the NFL Draft while grasping for the lifelines that spring football provides. It is a season that is light on actual on-field excitement or useable information, but big on hype and hyperbole, which makes it the perfect time to be an Ohio State fan.
As Buckeyes, we puff out our chests at every minor accomplishment or perceived success and turn it into a greatest-of-all-time, you-need-to-respect-us event. That’s what makes the confluence of the NFL Draft and spring football so exciting and dangerous for us as a people.
I say all of that as a preamble and an acknowledgment that what I am going to say very well might sound insane to many people, but say it I will.
The collective performance by Buckeyes at last week’s NFL Combine proved that under Ryan Day, Ohio State is becoming the preeminent football factor in the country. While I am more than happy to admit my biases, C.J. Stroud completely overshadowed all of the other quarterbacks in Indianapolis this week and if NFL scouts and “draft experts” are sane (they are not) should have created a sizable chasm between himself and the likes of Bryce Young, Will Levis, and Anthony Richardson.
Think I’m overhyping it (as I told you Buckeye fans are wont to do)? Well, don’t take my word for it, listen to the guy who does this for a living and all of his highly-placed sources.
Asked a veteran NFL scout about Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud: “One of the best Combines I’ve seen from a quarterback. Sometimes it’s the short throws that can be tricky. Not for Stroud. Everything was clean. His arm was effortlessly big. He measured well. Pretty much perfect.”— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) March 6, 2023
Then there was the performance of Jaxon Smith-Njigba. He effectively missed the entire season with a hamstring injury — and his interview comments showed just how devastating that was for him — and yet still put on an absolute show in the quickness and agility portion of his combine performance.
JSN ran the 20-yard shuttle in 3.93 seconds and did the three-cone drill in just 6.57. Those were each the best performances by any wide receiver in Indianapolis and his shuttle time was the best since 2017.
When you combine that with how smooth he looked out on the field catching passes, including during Stroud’s throwing drills and his incredible production at Ohio State, there is little to no doubt that even despite his injury, Smith-Njigba is absolutely an elite-level NFL wide receiver.
Over the last two years, Jaxon Smith-Njigba has hauled in 92% of his catchable targets—the highest rate of any FBS receiver. pic.twitter.com/HdMgA5ovUx— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) March 3, 2023
And I know that seeing these two guys hyping each other up with the love and affection of two brothers made us all wish that things would have gone differently this past season and that they could have had one final chance to run it back together in the Scarlet and Gray, but instead, we will just have to be content to watching them continue to climb draft boards and redefine what it means to be a Buckeye in the NFL.
As I walk out of Lucas Oil, two workouts are sticking with me:— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 5, 2023
The top-2 performances I saw today were both Buckeyes. And neither was surprising.
Now, before we get too excited about the skill position guys, let’s not forget about the big guys too. The talk of Sunday at the combine was the Mountain Man Dawand Jones. Standing 6-foot-8, weighing 374 pounds, and having a wingspan large enough to make Jay Bilas giddy, Dawand is an absolute physical specimen (his 87-7/8 wingspan is the second widest at the combine this century).
But then, he ran the 40-yard dash. And while his time might not make Usain Bolt quiver in his spikes, I’m going to venture to guess that his time of 5.35 is better than a vast majority of us could do, and we aren’t anywhere near 400 pounds.
If you’ve ever seen video of Jones playing basketball in high school, you know just how athletic he is, even at his size. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget just how skilled interior offensive linemen are because it’s hard to focus on what they are doing while watching games on TV, but Dawand has proven himself to be far more than his recruiting rankings would ever have led you to believe.
That is a testament to how hard he has worked since initially coming to Columbus and the coaching that he received from Greg Studrawa, Justin Frye, and the strength and conditioning team.
In awe of Dawand Jones’ coordination at this size— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) March 5, 2023
OL is far more of a “skill position” than it gets credit for and Jones one of the most skilled tackles in the class
If I need an RT at the back of R1 (*cough* Bengals) I’d be more than willing to take him https://t.co/o1naohdnvd
In addition to those standout combine performances, we also got somewhat incomplete reports from Luke Wypler, Paris Johnson Jr., Zach Harrison, Ronnie Hickman, and Cam Brown. They will all have more to say and show at Ohio State’s Pro Day in a couple of weeks.
Between these guys dominating the conversation coming out of Indianapolis the fact that the NFL is reportedly considering changing the name of its Rookie of the Year Award to the “Buckeye of the Year Award,” it is clear — at least to this blogger who sees everything through scarlet and gray-colored glasses — that Ohio State is continuing to assert itself as the best college football program in the country when it comes to producing top NFL talent.
Now, of course, I’m not biased enough to dismiss the likes of Alabama, Georgia, LSU, USC, etc. from this discussion, but under Day, the Buckeyes have continued to take a step forward in the elite-level players that they turn out every year. Under Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, John Cooper, Earl Bruce, and Woody Hayes, there were always tons of Ohio State alums ready to move on to the next level, but the OSU creme is seemingly slowly rising to the top in recent years, which is fun and exciting for Buckeye fans.
But here’s where we move from the NFL Draft side of the football-amorphous time of year to the spring practice portion. As the Buckeyes get ready to kick off the official preparations for the 2023 season on Tuesday, it’s time for the program to take a step forward. While, perhaps, some of the hand-wringing across the fandom has been over the top, the general discontent with the team’s inability to beat its rival, win the conference, or deliver a national title is real and warranted.
While I think the most level-headed amongst us understand that the nearly two complete decades of dominance over Michigan and the Big Ten was not sustainable forever (and arguably not good in the long run for the program), what once felt like an insurmountable advantage for the Buckeyes over the Wolverines has seemingly swung into a deficit. While two years does not an era make, Ohio State is without a proven quarterback and must go to Ann Arbor the Saturday after Thanksgiving to cap off what will likely be one of the most difficult schedules in college football this season.
Despite the recent rough stretch against the Corn and Blue, Ryan Day has had undeniable successes to build upon in the first four years of his head coaching tenure, but judging by the inordinate amount of NFL-ready talent that his program is turning out, it’s fair to say that he hasn’t yet maximized the talent at his disposal, but that’s no reason to believe that he is incapable of doing so.
The Buckeyes are never short of impressive players, but in recent years (really since 2014), fans haven’t seen that talent manifest into a consistent, well-rounded performance on the field for an entire season. With spring practice starting, this is the first hurdle that Day and his staff needs to clear in order to get the Buckeyes back to where they and fans expect them to be.
Let us not forget that were it not for a dubious replay review, one shanked field goal, or any other tiny bounces, Ohio State most likely would still be bathing in the glow of a national championship. So this is not to say that the program is in a death spiral, but rather that they have been beating their collective head against a glass ceiling for nearly a decade, and its time to take the considerable talent that the coaches have amassed and break on through to the top of the college football hierarchy.
Ohio State has the horses, I think they’ve got the coaches, and they certainly should have the motivation, so there’s no time like the present to get the Harbaugh-shaped monkey off their back and show why the Buckeyes have not only earned the title of NFLU, but also are ready to ascend to the top of the CFP mountain yet again.