COLUMBUS — The final name has been called, and Ohio State once again produced one of the most impressive NFL Draft classes in the country.
Spoiler alert: Next year isn’t going to be any different, and it might actually be even deeper than the group the Buckeyes just sent to the professional ranks.
There will be at least one key difference, since Ohio State won’t have a draft-eligible quarterback like Dwayne Haskins to entice NFL teams. But every other positional unit on the roster could be represented during the next draft weekend in 2020, and the program will again have a freakish athlete leading the way at defensive end who could come off the board as a top-three pick.
Since it’s never too early to start projecting ahead, Lettermen Row is looking at the five most appealing candidates who scouts and general managers are already eyeing at this early stage in the process. There are more talented Buckeyes than that who have the potential to get drafted, but this will be the starting point.
DE Chase Young
The responsibility to lead the Rushmen as the top pass-rushing threat now falls to Chase Young, who has been generating excitement about his NFL potential almost from the moment he stepped foot on campus. Even with two bum ankles last season and more double teams than he was perhaps ready for, Young still finished with 10.5 sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles. With another offseason to develop his body, another year of working with legendary position coach Larry Johnson and no shortage of motivation to prove he should be a top draft pick, Young should be in line for a huge junior year before turning pro.
LT Thayer Munford
Another elite Ohio State talent who struggled with nagging injuries last year, Thayer Munford has all the tools to be a star when he’s fully healthy. The junior might not be quite as much of a sure bet to forgo his final season of eligibility as Young, but if he delivers the kind of production up front that the Buckeyes expect, that decision might not be difficult for him. The program certainly missed him on the practice field this spring when he was sidelined while recovering from those health issues. But when he gets back to his spot at left tackle, Munford can instantly transform the Ohio State offensive line into one of the best in the Big Ten.
RB J.K. Dobbins
Even with NFL teams seemingly devaluing the tailback position and hesitating to invent much draft capital in the position, J.K. Dobbins is going to be pretty enticing — assuming he declares early for the draft, as expected. If the junior stays healthy, he’s finally in line to be the sole workhorse in the Ohio State backfield, setting the stage for a prolific season to cap a career that has already broken records with the program. With a third 1,000-yard season in a row, a chance to show what he can do as a three-down tailback and a refocused mindset this year, Dobbins has a chance to prove why he shouldn’t be left on the board for too long.
CB Jeffrey Okudah
The first-round streak of Ohio State cornerbacks is over, but a new one could easily begin again next spring. There were some growing pains at times last year for Jeffrey Okudah and the rest of the Buckeyes in the secondary, but he offered clear reminders in the Rose Bowl about just how much athleticism and ability he packs into that 6-foot-1, 200-pound frame. Okudah looks like the prototype NFL cornerback, and with a position coach bringing experience working with guys at that level, it’s not unreasonable to expect the junior will take a huge leap forward in tapping into his elite potential. There will be plenty of scouts tracking his development all season long, and the Buckeyes will be counting on him to deliver for them before heading off to the draft.
LB Malik Harrison
Another possible example of NFL-level talent that might have been squandered by suspect coaching and schemes a year ago, Malik Harrison has all the tools needed to shine for the Silver Bullets at linebacker. He could have already declared for the draft this year and relied on how well he would have tested physically to be selected, but Harrison instead chose to come back, fine-tune his skills and put more productivity on tape. That decision should pay off in a major way for both parties, and Harrison has emerged this spring as one of the most important cogs in a revamped defensive machine.