One year ago, Ohio State sent five Buckeyes into the first round of the NFL Draft. Over the three rounds after that, seven more former Buckeyes would hear their names called.
While the numbers last year may have been unique, the successes that those players had wasn’t all that new. Sure, Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa brought home more hardware than most, but the draft was littered with Buckeyes who had very successful seasons.
In fact all five of those first-round Buckeyes last year — Bosa, Elliott, Eli Apple, Taylor Decker, and Darron Lee — found themselves on NFL.com’s All-Rookie Team. As did second-round pick Michael Thomas and former Buckeye Noah Spence.
Clearly something is going right at Ohio State currently. What is it? It’s a combination of things.
“What we found in the NFL is when Ohio State guys come, their mental toughness — because they go through this system of a hard grind — they come in so mentally tough that it’s tough to trip up Ohio State guys,” said former NFL defensive coordinator (and current Ohio State linebackers coach) Billy Davis.
“That’s why you see the young guys succeed in the NFL. Because the talent level is the same, we get talented guys from Alabama or Auburn or wherever else, but the guys from Ohio State succeed because of really the mental toughness program they go through here.”
Much has been written about Urban Meyer’s insistence on constant competition, as well as the militaristic nature of the power of the unit. These are means to an end, and that end is seeing players leave Ohio State remarkably well prepared for their next chapter.
Meyer has talked about the need for his players to be professional in their craft, which makes the Ohio State football program quite similar to the requirements of an NFL team.
“As much as it can be,” Davis said. “The difference is the classes the young men have to go to we don’t have in the NFL, so the structure of the work is a little bit different, but what separates the Ohio State guys is the total growing of the man. I’m really in awe of Coach Meyer and the staff and how the system grows a human being, not just a football player.”
Davis isn’t the only former NFL assistant now on Meyer’s staff. Quarterbacks coach Ryan Day spent the previous three seasons in Philadelphia and San Francisco with Chip Kelly, and based on what he has seen in just four or five months, he is in agreement with Davis on OSU’s resemblance to a professional organization.
“Real close,” Day said after his first week of spring practice. “First off, because the guys who are running around the field are like NFL players. From the skill guys to the guys up front, the guys around here have done an unbelievable job recruiting. The talent level here is just like a lot of the NFL teams. That is what is most impressive when you get out here the first three days.”
The differences, of course, will always go back to the fact that the players have to manage their time much differently due to classes. This ability to compartmentalize their schedules, however, is also something that helps them transition to the next level.
“At the end of the day they have class, they go to college, so they have that part of it. You don’t get as much time,” Day said.
“The one thing that is different is that it gets on you a lot faster. In the NFL, you have OTAs (Organized Team Activities) which are a lot later on in the year, you have a lot more time. Here, once you get done with recruiting, spring football is on you fast. You have to get ready, have to get the meetings going and have to get the installs on the offense in really fast.”
Ultimately, however, the job still has to get done, which is always going to prepare a player to better handle whatever comes next.
“They’re not children,” Davis said. “They’re young men. There’s not a whole lot of difference.”