COLUMBUS — Ohio State has no problem replacing NFL talent.
The Buckeyes lose plenty of talented players every offseason to the NFL, and the pipeline just rolls along. So when they’re tasked with replacing Jeff Okudah and Chase Young, who went in the first round Thursday night, they have options.
That culture of developing NFL talent is what makes Ohio State what it is. First-round talent practices against first-round talent. That’s the way the Buckeyes are.
“There’s head coaches and scouts, when they come in for pro day, they’ll sit down and watch our one-on-ones,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “They won’t watch a bunch of games; they want to see how our guys look against Denzel Ward, what did that look like, what did it look like when Thayer was blocking Chase Young, because we know what Chase Young is. So, when you’re playing against really good players day in, day out, your development happens faster. And that’s one of the things we talk about a lot.”
The Buckeyes develop NFL talent because the level of competition is so healthy inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. And just because Young, Okudah and others are gone doesn’t mean the first-round pipeline is finished. Plenty of younger players watched those now-professionals work, and they now have a blueprint.
Lettermen Row is looking toward next spring with five Buckeyes who could potentially go in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
QB Justin Fields
Fields has been in competition with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence since they were both high school superstars in Georgia. Fields beat Lawrence in the Elite 11 quarterback camp. Then they had to compete last season in the Fiesta Bowl, with a trip to the national title game on the line. Lawrence won that. Fields is going to be a first round pick in the NFL Draft a year from now. The only two questions are whether he’ll have another shot at Lawrence in college with another title on the line or if he’ll just have to beat Lawrence in the draft process and become the No. 1 pick. Fields will be in the conversation for that top spot, especially with another strong season.
DB Shaun Wade
Shaun Wade passed on the chance to go t0 the NFL last season, and he came back to Ohio State with only a couple goals in mind. He wants to win a national title. He wants to show scouts that he can be a lockdown corner on the outside. The past two seasons, Wade hasn’t been needed on the outside, but with the loss of Damon Arnette and Jeff Okudah, Wade could be the glue for the Silver Bullets defense, and the secondary in particular. He’ll be working with former NFL secondary coach Kerry Coombs, who will help him develop pro skills. If Wade can prove he’s able to shut down wide receivers on the outside and become a dominant cornerback, he will be next up in the long line of Ohio State first-round defensive backs.
OL Wyatt Davis
Wyatt Davis probably could have been a first-round selection in the 2020 draft if he chose to leave school. But the first-team All-American decided another year of college football will be beneficial for his development — and he wants to win a national title. Davis has all the tools; he’s a powerful run-blocker and a dynamic pass-protector. The interior of the Ohio State offensive line will certainly be a strength with Davis returning. The only way he wouldn’t be a high draft choice would be an injury, but he has proven to be durable. Davis should be a preseason All-America selection and a first-round pick at this time next spring.
DE Tyreke Smith
NFL scouts love Ohio State defensive ends who have high ceilings, and Tyreke Smith could be another dominant edge rusher from the Buckeyes to find a home in the first round. Smith has been touted as the next great Larry Johnson product, but injuries have slowed him down through two seasons. He has largely been a rotational Rushmen during his two seasons, but he could finally break out along the defensive line now that Chase Young is no longer in the mix. Maybe he isn’t a top-10 pick like Young and both Bosa brothers were, but he has first-round potential.
OL Josh Myers
The other interior offensive linemen eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft should also go in the first round, or at least receive a first-round grade. Josh Myers might have a tougher time finding a home in the first round; only 12 centers have been selected in the first round since 2000, but one of them was former Ohio State center Billy Price. Myers has a chance to be No. 13 with a good showing next year alongside Davis. Myers could be in line for the Rimington Trophy and All-American honors at his position. If he tests well next spring at the NFL Combine and impresses the right people, he’ll be a first rounder. He certainly has the talent.