Following another stellar season that culminated in a 12-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl win, Ohio State will see more turnover in 2016 than just about any program in the nation. After sending 12 players to the first four rounds of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes return just 24 percent of their 2015 production on offense and defense. That’s lower than all but one team in the country (UMass), according to SB Nation.
And so it’s time for new faces to step up – as they often do at Ohio State, the Midwest’s best program at recruiting talent and then turning it over to the NFL. All of the starters and role players will have their importance, but some will carry far more than others.
Each day at noon (ET) through Thursday, we’ll count down another one of the 10 most important players to Ohio State in 2016. Because it’s still early, we’ll be making some role projections. With only 10 spots, we’ll leave off some crucial players, too. That’s part of the game.
Here’s our list so far, with links to the stories about there importance:
And next on the list…
No. 2: Raekwon McMillan, junior inside linebacker
Ohio State’s next big NFL draft prospect is Raekwon McMillan, a junior playing the captain’s role on defense, and the only thing keeping him from joining his teammates bolting for the pro game was that he’s still so young. McMillan will enter just his third year on campus, yet it already will be his third season as at least a partial starter at perhaps the most important position on his side of the ball.
This year like last, there will be no “partial” to anything McMillan does. He’s the guy who makes the calls and checks for the defense. He’s the man in the very center, the one diagnosing the run plays in perhaps the most run-heavy conference in college football. And he’ll be the one responsible for gluing together a unit in transition, as it goes from the No. 2 scoring defense in the country last season to one that has just three starters back this year.
After placing as a freshman All-American in 2014, McMillan took another step last year as a full-time starter. He finished 29th in the nation with 9.2 tackles per game, which led the Buckeyes and earned him a spot on the All-Big Ten second team. He became one of the conference’s big track-and-fill guys, a hard hitter who forced power running teams to find other directions to try to target in the ground game.
This year, likely his last before heading to the NFL, McMillan needs to step into stardom. It’s time for him to join the upper echelon of great linebackers who have come through Ohio State. That will come in capping off an extraordinarily successful three-year starting career, but it will also come in growing into the splash playmaker he hasn’t proven to be as much yet.
With Ohio State’s top defensive talent gone, the opportunity will be all McMillan’s to become a force in the Big Ten. By continuing to stuff the run while adding in some game-altering hits and turnovers, he has the potential to challenge for the league’s defensive player of the year award. In the process, he can help pull together back seven with only one other returning starter.
No Ohio State defender will have a bigger impact on the direction of this year’s green unit, and McMillan likely has one year to prove he’s that kind of steadying force for a program built on what it does on that side of the ball.