The run started with Ohio State Buckeyes, but it went far deeper than that. In April’s NFL Draft, the Big Ten churned out 47 draft picks through the seven rounds. That still trailed the SEC’s 51, but it beat out every other league and topped the previous year’s total by 12.
This is the first part of a series that takes a look at the Big Ten’s draft picks and how they might fit in early on with their NFL teams.
We start with the Buckeyes:
Ohio State – 12 draft picks
Round. 1 Pick 3: Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers —There’s been plenty of debate as to how Bosa might fit into a 3-4 defense, but he did display the versatility in standing up and dropping back in his final year at Ohio State to give himself a couple options on a Chargers unit that badly needs a pass rush. San Diego is likely to start him on the line, where he’ll need to add weight to his 269-pound frame, but he brings the strength and selflessness to be stout against the run.
Round. 1 Pick 4: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys — Everyone knew Zeke would wind up as the first running back off the board, but the ultimate destination ended up being a dream come true. As the No. 4 pick, he’ll become not only the starter in Dallas ahead of Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris but also the focal point of an offense that has built a mighty front wall filled with four first-round picks. Elliott should challenge some rookie rushing records this year.
Round. 1 Pick 10: Eli Apple, CB, New York Giants — Apple leapfrogged a few other cornerbacks to land in the Big Apple on a team that doesn’t necessarily need a starting corner, suiting it perfectly to develop a 20-year-old. Apple needs some work in zone coverage and will get it as the team’s nickel back in tandem with big free-agent signee Janoris Jenkins and 30-year-old Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and you can expect Apple to slide into the latter starting spot as early as 2017.
Round. 1 Pick 16: Taylor Decker, OT, Detroit Lions — Many expected the run-first Decker to start out on the right side, but it seems more likely he’ll begin his NFL career on the left. They Lions will look to him to protect the blind side of Matthew Stafford, of course, but they were perhaps equally drawn to the nasty road-grader’s potential to ignite the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing attack.
Round. 1 Pick 20: Darron Lee, ILB, New York Jets — The lengthy, rangy Lee seemed like an ideal fit as a 4-3 weak-side linebacker but will instead play on the inside in the Jets’ 3-4 scheme. He might start out as a backup to David Harris and Erin Henderson for the league’s No. 2 rushing defense, as his aggressiveness, block-shedding and tackling still need work. But Henderson was a backup for all 16 games last year, so the position certainly isn’t on lockdown.
Round 2, Pick 47: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints — It’s hard to find a more perfect match than what Thomas found in the Saints and NFL passing leader Drew Brees. Opposite the smaller, speedy Brandin Cooks, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Thomas brings the size and route-running to emerge as the team’s possession receiver. With nine games in domes and on a team sure to play in more shootouts, Thomas could put up some numbers early, the new trend for NFL receivers.
Round 2, Pick 30: Vonn Bell, S, New Orleans Saints — Bell became the best player available to a Saints defense that has safeties and not much else. Jairus Byrd was the club’s big free-agent signing in 2014, and the team exercised the fifth-year option on 2013 first-rounder Kenny Vaccarro, making Bell’s road to playing time difficult early on. But with Byrd turning 30, Bell can put time in the weight room to add the strength and bulk to serve as a good future tackling and cover option at either safety spot.
Round 3, Pick 17: Adolphus Washington, DT, Buffalo Bills — At 6-foot-3, Washington seems like an odd fit in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 scheme, and he’ll likely be limited to a penetrating nose role, a spot currently held on lockdown by two-time Pro Bowler Marcell Dareus. Washington will need to play up his quickness inside to steal reps from Dareus, who had 10 sacks in 2014 but slipped to just two last season.
Round 3, Pick 22: Braxton Miller, WR, Houston Texans — Miller’s selfless move to wide receiver for his senior season gave him a position to play in the NFL. His route-running still needs plenty of work, but his speed and hands were more than attractive to the Texans, a team now looking to build around that kind of vertical threat. Miller will need time to develop in a more complex playbook before he becomes a real slot threat, but his work ethic should expedite the process.
Round 3, Pick 32: Nick Vannett, TE, Seattle Seahawks — Vannett was light on production at Ohio State but was a tremendous blocker, making him a good complement to a receiving tight end like Jimmy Graham. Seattle is a run-first offense that badly needs pass protection after the offseason departures of guard J.R. Sweezy and tackle Russell Okung, so while Vannett won’t see the spotlight early on, he should find several different potential roles with an annual contender.
Round 4, Pick 4: Joshua Perry, ILB, San Diego Chargers — Perry will join Bosa on a San Diego squad looking to fix the league’s 31st-ranked defense in yards per carry. The Chargers seem fairly set at inside linebacker with rising players like Denzel Perryman and Manti Te’o, but the instinctive, athletically limited Perry was projected as a backup and a special teamer early on as it was.
Round 4, Pick 41: Cardale Jones, QB, Buffalo Bills — After he followed up 2014’s stunning late run with a rocky final season in Columbus, Jones became one of the draft’s biggest wild-cards as a big-bodied, fairly mobile quarterback with a rocket launcher for an arm. He’ll develop this year behind Tyrod Taylor, who comes off a breakout season he must repeat if he hopes to land a long-term deal. That leaves Jones with quite the opportunity. His strong arm and tough running style could potentially fit in well with a smash-mouthed offense, but he has lots of mechanics to fix first.