COLUMBUS, Ohio — The NFL Scouting Combine kicks off on Tuesday, and once again the Ohio State football program will possess a heavy presence in Indianapolis.
After having 12 players drafted — including five first-rounders — a year ago, the Buckeyes will send eight former players to next week’s annual draft showcase. Among the former OSU players invited to this year’s combine are projected first-round picks Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore, as well as center Pat Elflein, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, H-back Curtis Samuel, cornerback Gareon Conley and punter Cam Johnston.
But just because a prospect didn’t get invited to the combine doesn’t mean his NFL hopes are over. With that in mind, let’s look at five ex-Buckeyes who could go overlooked this draft season.
An oft-forgotten senior on Ohio State’s 2016 team, Corey Smith arrived in Columbus in 2013 as a 4-star prospect. Injuries, however, prevented Smith from receiving any sort of consistent playing time throughout his four seasons with the Buckeyes.
From 2014-16, Smith totaled 31 receptions for 351 yards. During Ohio State’s national championship season in 2014, the Akron native caught a career-high 20 passes for 255 yards, but failed to top more than 6 catches in either of the previous two seasons.
Nevertheless, Smith’s pro potential seems to have caught the eyes of NFL draft types. On his most recent big board, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranked the former Buckeyes wideout as his No. 41 receiver and 261 overall prospect.
Without the benefit of the combine, Smith will have to wait until Ohio State’s pro day and individual workouts to prove his worth to NFL teams. But if he can do that — and stay healthy — he could unexpectedly hear his name at the draft this spring.
For many Buckeyes fans, their lasting memory of kicker Tyler Durbin is likely his end-of-the-season slump, in which he missed four of the final five kicks of his college career.
But before his 1-for-3 showing vs. Michigan and 0-for-2 outing in the Fiesta Bowl, Durbin was one of the more consistent kickers in college football. Prior to Ohio State’s win over the Wolverines, he had made each of his first 16 field-goal attempts.
With 2016 marking the first year he played organized football, Durbin still possesses plenty of room to improve. With a strong draft season showing, he could catch on with a team as an undrafted free agent this spring.
From there, it will be up to Durbin to reignite what was a once-promising football career.
A walk-on defender whose playing time in college primarily came on special teams couldn’t possibly get drafted, right?
Tell that to the only ex-Buckeye to play in this past Super Bowl, Nate Ebner.
Ebner, of course, is an Olympic-level athlete — literally — but there are plenty of parallels between his college career and that of former Ohio State linebacker Joe Burger. Serving as one of the Buckeyes’ primary special teams aces, Burger totaled 18 tackles.
Unlike Ebner, who was picked by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, it’s unlikely Burger hears his name called this spring. But even without the combine, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to show much he can help a pro team, even if it’s in a nonconventional way.
The only Ohio State underclassman to declare for the draft and not receive an invitation to the combine, Noah Brown’s decision to forgo his final two seasons in Columbus came as a bit of a surprise. In his first season of significant playing time, Brown totaled a meager 30 catches for 385 yards and 7 touchdowns in 2016.
Nevertheless, Brown is hopeful his size (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) will make him enticing enough for a team to use a pick on him, likely on the third day of the draft. Miller ranks the New Jersey native as his No. 27 receiver and 162nd-ranked player.
Without the combine, Brown will have to make the most of his senior day and individual team workouts. Although his play could be considered inconsistent, he showed plenty of flashes last season of being a pro-caliber player.
After arriving in Columbus as a highly touted member of the Buckeyes’ historic 2013 class, Dontre Wilson never quite lived up to the hype. Instead of becoming the next Percy Harvin in Urban Meyer’s offense as many expected him to, injuries limited Wilson’s impact over the course of his college career.
Moving between running back, wide receiver and H-back, Wilson totaled 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns over the course of four years. He did, however, prove reliable as a receiver in 2016, catching 27 passes for 352 yards and 5 scores.
Wilson won’t take part in the combine, but he did already play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January. During the game, he received strong praise from former NFL star Torry Holt, who served as one of his coaches for the game.
With his versatility and speed, Wilson could catch on with an NFL team this offseason, likely as a late-round pick or undrafted free agent. Ultimately, his most likely role at the next level is on special teams — provided he can stay healthier than he did during his time in Columbus.