COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the 2017 NFL Combine set to begin in Indianapolis, there will be no shortage of Ohio State representation.
The eight players the Buckeyes are sending to Columbus, however, will arrive with their draft stock in different places. Safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Marshon Lattimore are both thought to be sure first-round picks. Cornerback Gareon Conley is also in the mix to be a first-round selection.
H-back Curtis Samuel, linebacker Raekwon McMillan and Pat Elflein are all viewed as guys who could come off the board in either the second or third round. Wide receiver Noah Brown is projected as a late-round pick. Because of his position, it’s unlikely that punter Cam Johnston gets drafted.
With that in mind, here’s a look at what each player stands to gain at the NFL combine this week.
Brown burst onto the scene at Ohio State in 2015 spring practice, drawing raves from teammates and coaches. However, he missed that entire season after breaking his leg in fall camp. As a result, he has pretty limited experience for NFL scouts to draw on.
He finished with 33 catches in his career, 32 of which came in the 2016 season. Brown is a good blocker and dependable target, but he still has room to grow. His longest reception in 2016 was 36 yards, and he averaged 12.6 yards per catch. Brown is not the type of player that typically flashes in a combine setting. With that being said, shaving fractions off his 40 time and showing better measurables could help boost his stock into the middle rounds.
NFL teams fear the unknown, but Brown should be able to reassure them with a steady performance in drills. If he can show off some increased athleticism, he’ll likely find someone willing to take a chance on him.
Conley has a ton at stake this week despite having one of the highest draft stocks among the Buckeyes. Being a first-round pick can alter an entire career trajectory, and Conley is right on the fringe. Some scouts and analysts have given him a first-round grade, and others have projected him into the second round.
His technique appears to be above question at this point, at least in terms of draft positioning. Conley’s future likely depends on his measurable, and how he runs at the NFL combine. If he’s fast enough, a big payday awaits. How’s that for pressure?
Elflein is in a good position, because he already showed what he needed to show over the past season. Some offensive guards know they’ll need to play center in the NFL but don’t make the move until after college. Elflein seized an opportunity and made the transition before his senior year. It couldn’t have gone much better. He earned consensus All-American honors and won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best center.
Centers rarely go in the first round — Alabama’s Ryan Kelly last year was the exception and not the rule — so Elflein seems firmly set as a Day 2 guy. He can show the scouts what they need to see and let the tape do the rest.
Hooker skyrocketed to fame in 2016 and exited the season as a surefire top-10 pick. Then came news that he had surgery for a torn labrum and hernia after the season. He won’t take part in drills at the NFL combine and will be out of action for a few more months.
It’s a shame for Hooker, who is probably the Ohio State product that would have shined brightest in the combine setting. However, his draft stock doesn’t seem to have taken a hit in the aftermath. He’s still regarded as a top-10 pick in most mock drafts. It seems likely that he’ll face some probing medical questions from teams, but he should ultimately be fine.
Johnston could have plenty to gain depending on what NFL teams are looking for. Aussie-style punters haven’t exactly flourished in the NFL. Teams will almost certainly want him to switch to a more traditional approach. If that’s the case, opportunity lies ahead. Johnston didn’t use rugby-style kicks on all of his punts at Ohio State, so he has some familiarity with what they want. If he can deliver some booming hang times and still show off his touch, he’ll get a chance somewhere.
Given that he’s projected as a top-10 pick, Lattimore is in a position of power here. He doesn’t have much to prove, so he’d be fine waiting until Ohio State’s pro day to work out in front of NFL scouts. Whether or not he works out at the NFL combine, it’s hard to imagine his stock plummeting. He’ll get some questions about his past hamstring injuries, but he’ll shine in drills and workouts, and his technique is great.
Once thought of as a future first-rounder, that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore for McMillan. While his instincts have been praised by NFL scouts, his athleticism has often been questioned. At this stage, players kind of are what they are, but there’s still some opportunity for McMillan. If he’s able to deliver some good numbers in workouts (especially relative to expectations), he could find himself moving up draft boards.
Samuel is in an interesting spot because there aren’t many guys like him in the NFL. He was a solid receiver and runner in college, but he might not be able to do both at the next level. NFL teams will probably want him to pick one or the other, and Samuel would be better served going with receiver. He’s still developing in that area, but he caught 74 balls for Ohio State last season — more than the team’s second and third receivers combined. He’ll get a chance to show what he has to offer in drills, and there’s a good chance scouts will like what they see.