COLUMBUS, Ohio — The NFL Combine begins this week in Indianapolis, and Ohio State football will certainly be well-represented.
The Buckeyes are sending eight players to test themselves in front of every NFL team, some of whom will be fighting to become top-10 picks in the draft in April. However, there is no shortage of talent that remains on the team.
Many of those players won’t even be eligible for next year’s combine. The abundance of talent in Ohio State’s class of 2017 — including five 5-stars — will have to play at least three seasons in Columbus. The Buckeyes have at least two more years of last fall’s debut stars, such as defensive ends Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper and wide receivers Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack.
The upperclassmen who remained behind have a chance to be as good or better than this year’s departing crop. Five years of elite recruiting and development has left Urban Meyer with a full cupboard. The Buckeyes have players who are among the fastest, strongest and most versatile in the country.
Here are six Ohio State players built to stand out at the NFL Combine in the future.
Baker needs no introduction on this list. What he did in last year’s spring game should serve as evidence enough.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) April 16, 2016
Since he deserves more than two sentences, though, let’s continue. He was one of four true freshmen in the class of 2015 to see the field. As a sophomore, he continued to blossom. He became a starter in 2016 when Dante Booker went down and grabbed hold of that spot.
Baker’s 83 tackles were the second-most on the team. He made nine tackles for loss and finished with 3.5 sacks. For good measure, he also intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble.
All of those stats came because of his instincts and athleticism, two traits that should serve him well under the NFL Combine spotlight.
Bosa won’t be eligible until the 2019 NFL Combine at the earliest, but he’s already shown he belongs. His older brother, Joey, shined in front of NFL scouts and became the third overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Buckeyes fans can expect more of the same going forward.
“He’s pretty much just like Joey is,” Ohio State senior center Pat Elflein said last year regarding Nick. “Walks, talks, acts like him.”
He’s also built similarly and plays like Joey. As a true freshman, Nick finished with 29 tackles, seven tackles for loss and five sacks. He put up those numbers while splitting reps on one of the deepest position groups on the team. Imagine what will happen when his workload increases and his strength develops.
He played safety in high school but spent his first year bouncing around between linebacker, tight end and defensive end. He eventually found a home at defensive end, and Meyer regretted redshirting him.
Before he even set foot on the field, Hubbard’s teammates knew he was special. In addition to his insane athleticism, he’s also a relentless worker. Not many players can go from high school safety to standout defensive end at Ohio State in a span of less than two years.
“I love Sam Hubbard, man,” then-senior defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said in spring 2015. “Not only is he from Cincinnati, but he works hard at whatever position he’s at. Just to see him grow over these past couple of months, it’s just ridiculous. He works hard, he loves the grind and he just wants to be the best. That’s what I love about him. He never complains about anything. He just goes out there and puts his head down and goes to work.”
That work ethic helped him finish with eight tackles for loss and five sacks as a third-year sophomore in 2016. He’ll only continue to develop during what will likely be his final season as with the Buckeyes in 2017.
Dating back to his redshirt freshman season in 2014, Price has been known as the strongest player on the team. Meyer has said Price might be one of the strongest players he’s ever coached at any school.
Those sentiments were confirmed in February 2016 when strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti met with the media. When asked about the strongest player in the program, Marotti didn’t hesitate.
“That’s not even close, Billy Price,” he said. “You can ask any player, he’s a whole other level strength-wise.”
Price will surely impress NFL Combine attendees with his strength, but he’ll have another weapon in his arsenal, too. Having already played left and right guard at Ohio State, Price will add center to that list this season. The versatility of having started at three interior-line positions at Ohio State should bolster his cause.
Okudah has been at Ohio State for less than two months, but he already has the making of a future star.
He’s considered to be pound-for-pound the best recruit in the best recruiting class Meyer has ever had at Ohio State. His abilities are such that, as an early enrollee, he could put himself in position to start at cornerback as a true freshman.
His high school coach Brent Whitson already misses him and thinks Buckeyes fans will feel the same way three short years from now.
“I think he’ll be there for three years, and Ohio State fans will be talking about him like I am, wishing he could stay one more year,” Whitson told Land of 10. “He’s going to hit the ground running so fast. As I said earlier, this has really been his focus. He knew what was coming. When they start conditioning, he won’t be caught unaware. It’s at the college level, but Jeff’s already at the college level. I think he’ll be an early player and an early starter.
“I told coach Meyer, ‘My God, give him a chance to touch the ball.’ Put him on kick returner. On kickoff, he has no breaks. He just goes. That may be a way that people see what kind of all-around player he is.”
Every player in the conversation for the fastest player on the team will always take themselves when asked who’d win a race. When really pressed, though, they’ll eventually admit they think Ward is the swiftest of all Buckeyes.
A state champion sprinter in high school, Ward has been clocked with some absolutely blazing speeds on kickoffs. In the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, equipment Ohio State uses clocked him a hair under 22 mph.
Prior to the College Football Playoff game against Clemson, Eric Glover-Williams — who’s also among the fastest Buckeyes — gave his endorsement to his fellow defensive back. Their position coach agrees.
“Straight-line speed, he’s as fast as anybody we’ve had,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said in March 2016.
In addition to purely being fast, though, Ward can play. Like Baker, he was one of four true freshmen to play in 2015. He worked his way into the rotation full-time in 2016. With Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley off to the NFL, Ward will have a chance to show he’s one of the best cornerbacks in the conference.