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.