COLUMBUS, Ohio — If Urban Meyer had a perfect player to use as a recruiting pitch, he might look a lot like Raekwon McMillan.
A highly-touted member of Ohio State’s 2014 class, McMillan arrived in Columbus three years ago, played a prominent role on the Buckeyes’ defense for three seasons and headed off to the NFL draft. That’s the plan Meyer puts in place for his players and thus far, McMillan has followed it to a T.
Yet despite his impressive college career, questions pertaining to McMillan’s ability as a pro persist as he embarks on the draft process. After entering his junior season as a potential first-round pick, most projections now peg McMillan for the second day of the draft.
McMillan will be in Indianapolis this week this week hoping to get back in the first-round discussion. Until then, here’s all you need to know about the former Ohio State linebacker’s path to the NFL and pro prospects.
A 5-star prospect, McMillan was one of the early signature recruits of Meyer’s tenure in Columbus — and for good reason. In order to lure the nation’s top-ranked inside linebacker from Hinesville, Ga., the Buckeyes had to beat out the likes of Southern powers Alabama, Clemson and Georgia.
“Especially to go down in the state of Georgia and pull out a player like that,” Meyer says, “that’s either 1, 1A or 1B on big signings that we’ve had.”
With Ohio State long considered the front-runner in the race for his services, McMillan committed to the Buckeyes on Dec. 16, 2013, and would enroll just a few weeks later.
It wouldn’t take him long to make an impact.
Although Curtis Grant entered the 2014 season as Ohio State’s starting middle linebacker, McMillan shared significant reps with his senior teammate by the third game of the Buckeyes’ campaign. By season’s end, he had amassed 54 tackles, 6.5 of which came for a loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception he returned for a touchdown as Ohio State won the inaugural College Football Playoff.
As a sophomore — and the Buckeyes’ undisputed starting middle linebacker —McMillan tallied 119 tackles, 4 of which came for a loss and 1.5 sacks en route to being named a Butkus Award finalist.
McMillan’s best season, however, arguably came in 2016 as he served as the heart and soul of an Ohio State defense that ranked sixth nationally in total defense. In his final season in Columbus, McMillan recorded a team-high 102 stops, including 7 for a loss and 2 sacks.
An All-Big Ten honoree, McMillan earned multiple second-team All-American selections. As was his goal when he arrived in Columbus, he’ll go down as one of the all-time greats when it comes to Buckeyes linebackers.
What his coaches said
Urban Meyer: “He’s exceeded every expectation. I’ve had very few like that. From Day 1, when he walked on campus, he was a grown man.”
Former Ohio State linebacker coach and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell: “(McMillan) was ready when he walked in the door, to be honest with you. Everyone has different definitions of leadership and I try to make mine really simple: Not to change up from what the head coach’s is, but those who can make others around him better.”
What NFL draft experts are saying
Raekwon McMillan = Ryan Shazier
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) September 13, 2016
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., from last May: “McMillan was quietly one of the best players and leaders on the 2015 unit, after seeing plenty of action as a true freshman. He is excellent in pursuit and doesn’t miss tackles.”
Despite entering the 2016 season as a projected first-rounder, McMillan’s draft stock seemed to slip over the course of his junior season. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller pegged the Oakland Raiders to select the former Buckeyes linebacker with the draft’s No. 56 overall pick, in the second round, in his Feb. 4 mock draft.
In other recent mocks, neither ESPN’s Todd McShay nor Mel Kiper Jr. nor CBSSports’ Dane Brugler project McMillan as a first-round pick.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein compares McMillan to Washington Redskins linebacker Mason Foster, who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected in the third round of 2011 draft.
“McMillan has too many issues standing his ground and leveraging his gap as an interior run defender and could end up outside in the pros,” Zierlein wrote. “He might have benefited from playing alongside a slew of NFL talent, but he’s active and plays the game with good instincts. He has the potential to become an average starter in the league.”