COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State lost nine underclassmen to the NFL last year, but more Buckeyes might be on their way in the near future.
With 16 new starters, there were thoughts that Ohio State might experience some growing pains early in 2016. Instead, the play of third-year players like Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown, Jamarco Jones, Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore has raised the possibility that the Buckeyes might lose a large number of underclassmen for the second consecutive season.
While it’s still too early to break down draft projections for many of the new starters —players who have made just three starts and have yet to play a Big Ten game — what follows is a Q&A with NFL draft analyst Mike Detillier on Ohio State’s recent rise as an NFL talent machine and what Buckeyes fans can expect going forward.
Q: Despite breaking in so many new starters, is there a chance Ohio State has another big draft class next spring?
Detillier: “When you’re a successful program like Alabama or Ohio State, you’re going to have a lot of juniors leave early. You know third-year guys are going, they’re not staying. You know a guy like Raekwon McMillan is likely going to leave. They have a couple receivers that could be threats to leave early. And then there are guys like Sam Hubbard, Jamarco Jones up front at tackle, Malik Hooker at safety, Tyquan Lewis at defensive end and Gareon Conley at cornerback, those are all guys who can leave. And that’s going to be every year.
“I’ve said about Nick Saban that I think some of his best recruiting might be to keep juniors for another year, and that might be the situation that Urban Meyer is facing this year. Last year, Saban kept Tim Williams and Jonathan Allen, and both of those guys would have been relatively high picks. It’s difficult to keep guys like that, it really is. You have to know that each year you’re going to lose a lot of guys when you’re playing at this level, and you just have to hope that you keep at least some of them. What the Buckeyes lost last year was unreal, but they could lose a bunch this year, too.”
Q: What are your thoughts on why Ohio State has had success at producing NFL-caliber players?
Detillier: “They have the perfect combination of being able to both recruit and develop players. Some guys can recruit guys but they never get any better. Some guys can coach well but they’re maybe not the best recruiter. What Urban Meyer has done at Ohio State has reached the highest level because he’s been successful in both of those areas. He can recruit and develop players quickly.
“And then once you get it rolling, it helps you keep recruiting at the highest level. The NFL Draft is a commercial that you could never pay for. You couldn’t financially do it. Every time someone’s getting picked, you’ve got a 15- or 16-year-old kid saying, ‘Man, look at all those kids getting picked from Ohio State.’ ”
Q: With so many players that are first-year starters, does that lessen the interest from NFL teams or does that not matter?
Detillier: “For NFL teams, if you start one year or three years, it doesn’t matter to them. If you’re talented, you’re talented. Some players mentally mature at different rates than others, but if you’re ready by the time you’re eligible, that’s all that matters. If they think you can play a position and give them help in the NFL, they’re picking you. I really don’t think that’s a major issue for an NFL team when they look at it.
Q: Aside from the obvious factors of talent and potential, are there other things Ohio State does to put its players in position to have success when it comes to the draft?
Detillier: “NFL teams want kids who are well-coached, and they know they’re getting that with kids from Ohio State. The pressure of playing at the major-college level year in and year out for a major school develops NFL-caliber players.”
Q: How rare is it for teams to lose large amounts of underclassmen in back-to-back years?
Detillier: “This is what happens when you have a winning program. What happened at Ohio State last year was unusual because there were just so many of them. And now they’ve got a chance to be a playoff team this year — and a strong chance at that. That’s what makes what Urban is doing at Ohio State so special. Most other schools can’t recover from that so quickly. Only a handful of programs have been able to lose a lot of guys each year with very little drop off. Miami and USC were both like that in the early 2000s and Alabama and Ohio State are doing that now. Every year they can lose those guys and come back and have a team that’s a contender. Name me another school in America that can do that other than those two. There’s none. Bottom line, it’s because their staffs and the head coach can develop guys at a much quicker level than any of the other schools currently in college football.”