Every fall, Urban Meyer and his assistant coaches sit with high school football players and their families and explain the benefits of playing their college ball at Ohio State.
The chance to be a part of the greatest rivalry in sports and play for championships is part of it. They sell the value of an OSU degree, the “Real Life Wednesdays” program that helps set players up with opportunities for jobs after graduation. But don’t kid yourself – the most important job-training program they push is their established track record of getting players drafted into the NFL.
Seven Buckeyes went in the 2017 draft, six in the top three rounds. A year earlier, 12 Buckeyes heard their names called, including a remarkable five first-round picks.
That sales pitch has been incredibly effective. OSU finished #2 in the team recruiting rankings in 2017, and stands #2 in the 2o18 class at the moment as well. Four and five-star high school seniors come to play Saturdays in Columbus because they ultimately want to play on Sundays.
That’s why it’s not a surprise to see a long list of underclassmen weighing a jump to the NFL this time every year. The deadline to declare for the draft is January 15th. Here’s a list of guys who could choose to make that leap, ranked in order from most to least-likely to turn pro.
Denzel Ward, CB
This probably isn’t a shock after he sat out the Cotton Bowl to ensure he was healthy for the draft. Ward had an incredible 2017 season, and projects as a top-15 pick in many early mock drafts.
Sam Hubbard, DE
Another easy one. Hubbard has already earned his degree and went through the traditional Senior Tackle during the week of the Michigan game.
The writing was on the wall for quite a while before he made things official the day after the Cotton Bowl.
Hubbard is considered a possible first-round pick, and could play either as a DE or LB at the next level.
Jerome Baker, LB
Baker had an up-and-down season, grading himself at “a C-minus” earlier this month, but he has the type of speed that should impress teams at the NFL Combine. He entered the fall projected as a potential second-round pick.
He seems likely to turn pro at some point in the next couple weeks.
Mike Weber, RB
Weber was very emotional at the end of the Cotton Bowl, tearing up during “Carmen Ohio.” You could certainly interpret that as the reaction of a guy who knew his college career was coming to a close. After the game, Weber said he had not yet made a decision, and likely wouldn’t until the deadline day of January 15.
Weber has not yet played a full, healthy season at Ohio State, so there’s an argument to be made that he should return to prove he can stay healthy.
On the other hand, given the short average career length of NFL running backs, there’s a case that he should start getting paid as soon as possible.
Dre’mont Jones, DT
One of the most interesting cases in the class, ESPN projects Jones as the fourth-best defensive tackle on the board. That would seemingly make him a no-brainer to go pro.
But earlier in December, Nick Bosa suggested that Jones could be leaning toward coming back to further establish himself as a pass rusher. Due to the rotation pattern of the 2017 OSU defensive line, Jones was not on the field during most obvious passing downs. If he returns for 2018, a much less-crowded DE position would open up an opportunity to show that Jones can be a three-down player and boost his draft stock even more for 2019.
Parris Campbell, WR
Campbell was a track star in high school, and will test well during the speed drills at the combine. He has also had some issues with drops this season, which could push him back down draft boards.
He was noncommittal about his future after the Cotton Bowl.
Johnnie Dixon, WR
This is where the “maybes” turn into “probably nots.”
Early in the year, Dixon was the top receiver in the nation in yards per catch, but had just one catch in the Buckeyes’ final five games. The only question mark is Dixon’s health. He has a history of knee issues, and could decide to take his shot at a pay day while he’s close to 100 percent.
Damon Arnette, CB
Arnette had a solid Cotton Bowl in Ward’s absence, but had some shaky moments during the season. He could certainly benefit from another year of learning under Kerry Coombs, who said he expected both Arnette and the next name on this list to return.
Kendall Sheffield, CB
Sheffield is a little bit of a mystery, simply because he hasn’t spoken to the media all season.
An absolute athletic freak, he’s the type of player who will draw a ton of attention at the Combine. But following a year when he drew a lot of penalty flags, Sheffield doesn’t seem like he’s ready to make that jump just yet.
A year from now, he could easily be the next first-round corner from Coombs’ assembly line – especially if he gets a chance to showcase his speed in the return game.
Isaiah Prince, OT
Prince had a very nice year at RT, but pretty much every lineman who discussed the 2018 rotation included Prince in their list. That speaks volumes.
There is a decent chance the coaches move him to LT in 2018, which could improve his draft stock for the following year.
Terry McLaurin, WR
Before the Cotton Bowl, McLaurin said he would discuss the decision with his family, but gave off the sense that he was leaning toward coming back for the 2018 season. A good blocker and speedy receiver, he could make a big leap if he has Dwayne Haskins’ powerful arm throwing deep balls to him.
K.J. Hill, WR
Hill is draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore, but seems likely to return. He put up 56 catches for 549 yards, but only scored three touchdowns.
Like McLaurin, he stands to benefit from a potential change to the offensive system under a new quarterback.
After watching this season, Noah Brown was wise to leave early. Next season will be different for the receivers.
Just a question. If a player declares for the draft but doesn’t hire an agent, can he come back to school if he doesn’t like the draft results?
Just a question, if a player declares for the draft, but doesn’t hire an agent, and he doesn’t like the results, can he return to school?
Nope. Once he declares, he’s done.
Jones and Prince have not reached their ceiling yet IMHO. Jboth could showcase versatility in Jones playing DT and Price to left tackle would raise their stock. Just my opinion from Bluegrass Buckeye.
Roberto Duran needs to return and learn how to catch the damned football. He has the worst receiving hands that I have ever seen from a receiver. Great speed, good vision. Yep he would test well and be kicked to the curb by any pro team willing to take a major risk to even their careers by recruiting a guy who should probably be playing at safety.
Lol… I thought the same thing, but I wanted him to go pro so OSU could be free of him and his stone hands
Another advantage for these guys to come back is to graduate, kind of a novel idea. Several have graduated.
True, but you can graduate at any time. Cardale Jones graduated while playing in the NFL.
I chuckle at the last line, “potential change to the offensive system under a new QB”.
In the words of the great Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”
considering the OSU players who have left early in the recent past that should’ve stayed another year, the only two on this list that make sense are Hubbard and Ward (although i dont like the way Ward did it)..MAYBE D. Jones but i think he is bets served staying as is J. Baker and everyone else on this list..
Other than the obvious ones, I think we only lose Jones and Baker off defense. Weber is kind of a question mark in my mind. He has already seen his playing time cut and he isn’t going to get full time next year because Dobbins is too good to sit. Starting to look like a log jam at RB again.
Dixon and Campbel probably stay. They will have a better chance to showcase what they can do next year with a QB that doesn’t struggle so much with passing the ball.
All that being said…..there is a big difference in being draft eligible and getting actually drafted. Someone in the past has been giving these kids bad advice.
Notwithstanding the ways Ward and Hubbard ended their OSU time- one by playing full go and the other by being a no show- they are clearly NFL material.
Everyone listed after them in the article needs to remember 2 words before they jump too soon- Jalin Marshall. I will say I admire Jerome Baker’s candor about his self evaluation earlier this month, and would caution him that he is right- stay at OSU Jerome. These marginal guys have this notion that they will “get paid” in the NFL- just like practice squad Jalin Marshall did. Anyone other than Ward and Hubbard who declares early is shooting himself in the foot.
Jalin Marshall was the Jets 4th WR in 2016. He made the team and got playing time as a undrafted FA. If he didn’t get a 4 game suspension for violating the league substance policy, I’d assume he would have also seen playing time this year too.
Honestly, people think getting drafted is the best way to make money but they are incorrect. If you go undrafted and end up as a starter in the league you will make more money than someone who was drafted. This is due to the rookie pay scale and time between contracts. Undrafted players who become starters in their first year will be in line for a new contract in 3 years (or 2 after their rookie year). This means they will be making chump change until year 4, but they will also (barring injuries) get one extra contract and signing bonus that drafted guy just don’t get. I learned this with Vontez Burfict with the Bengals. He’s already on his 3rd contract (second extension) and will most likely still be around his prime for his 4th contract. Most 1st rounders only get 3 contracts at most.
How about 2017? Bottom line is guys like Marshall- and believe me he’s hardly alone- actually hurt themselves financially by declaring too soon. I get the desire to make money. The thing that doesn’t make sense, is they KNOW they are leaving tons of that same money on the table by jumping early. There is no way these guys declare early FOR THE DRAFT, then hope they don’t get drafted so they can slide in as a FA. Its a very bad judgment that these players are well informed about in this day and age. No excuses, its foolish. We’ll see who plays it right for OSU this year.
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