Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker will forego his final season of college eligibility and declare for the 2018 NFL Draft, he announced Monday.
Thank you! pic.twitter.com/T05yf49bMk
— Jerome Baker Jr. (@Lastname_Baker) January 8, 2018
The junior was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, which is given annually the best linebacker in the nation. Georga’s Roquan Smith ended up winning the award. Baker was also also an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team.
The accolades came after a regular season during which Baker recorded 67 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and three pass deflections. He recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the Buckeyes’ 62-14 win over Maryland, too.
He was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes, and as a sophomore had 83 tackles, 3.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and two interceptions for 90 return yards.
As speculation arose concerning Baker’s decision to declare for the draft, some questioned if he’d play for Ohio State against USC in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29. Baker didn’t dodge the inquiry.
“Even if I decide to leave, I’m playing regardless. I can’t leave my brothers behind,” he said at the time.
Breakout sophomore season
Baker played sparingly as a freshman, totaling just three tackles in seven games played. His role changed drastically as a sophomore.
With Ohio State leading Oklahoma 7-0 late in the first quarter on Sept. 17, 2016, Baker’s second start of his career, the linebacker stalked the line of scrimmage as Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield stood under center. Soon Baker was off to the races, having corralled a batted ball, and he didn’t stop until stepping into end zone.
The 68-yard return helped Ohio State pick up a key 45-24 win, but it also thrust Baker into the national spotlight. By the end of his sophomore campaign, it was clear Baker could command money as high-end draft pick in 2018.
Second round pick?
Baker is ranked the eighth best outside linebacker in the upcoming draft class by WalterFootball.com, which projects him as a second-fourth round pick. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Baker doesn’t have the frame of a traditional pro linebacker, but scouts seem to be intrigued by his speed and potential in pass coverage.
Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller ranks Baker as the fourth-best linebacker in the class, but also labeled Baker the group’s ‘Biggest Faller.’