Denzel Ward (who you may remember from such devastating hits as this and, of course, this) is just two days away from becoming a first-round NFL draft pick and a very rich man. And, in doing so, he’ll be joining some friends. Ohio State has been stocking the NFL with cornerbacks of late, and Ward is just the latest in that line.
Former Buckeye, Marshon Lattimore, went 11th overall in 2017 to the Saints. Gareon Conley went to Oakland at the tail-end of the first-round in that same draft. Eli Apple, a year prior, was a top-ten pick by the New York Giants. 2015’s draft put another Buckeye corner into the NFL, with Doran Grant going in the fourth round to the Steelers.
Before that, Bradley Roby was the first of the Urban Meyer-coached bunch to pull it off, becoming a first-round pick of the Broncos in 2014. Okay, you get it.
What Ohio State is doing with its defensive backfield, and specifically its cornerbacks, is remarkable. And, somehow, the end to this historic run of lockdown corner talent may still be well off in the distance, as Tony alluded to back in January. In fact, I believe the Buckeyes will have another first-round cornerback in the draft next year, and his name is Kendall Sheffield.
Some may scoff at the idea of the junior being a top pick in the 2019 draft, seeing as his introduction to Big Ten football was a bit rocky this past season. However, Denzel Ward only shot up the draft boards about two-thirds of the way through the season last year. Sheffield will do the same this year, and for the following reasons:
Sheffield ran track for Ohio State this offseason, which is impressive enough to demonstrate his speed. But this junior college transfer from Blinn College didn’t just run. Oh, no, he broke a 23-year old school record in the 60-meter dash. He ran that distance in 6.63 seconds.
— Ohio State T&F/XC (@OhioState_TFXC) February 17, 2018
Since slow runners like you and me have trouble comprehending that sort of speed, go to YouTube (or just click the link) and look for Cie Grant singing “Carmen Ohio.” If Kendall starts his race as Cie begins singing, he finishes before Mr. Grant even finishes the word Ohio in the first line of the song… less than five total words. I don’t know if that helped you, but it allowed me to re-listen to my favorite version of a great song, so I’m calling that a win.
Not a believer in a guy’s football speed due to one event? That’s fair. Do you remember the Iron Buckeye Excellence board that made the rounds prior to last year? It clearly showed Denzel Ward as the team’s fastest and most agile player, as he was listed as the top performer in the 40-yard dash, 20-yard dash, 60-yard shuttle, and pro shuttle.
However, something you may not have noticed, Sheffield was second to Ward in each of those (minus the pro shuttle). He also tied him for first in the 10-yard dash, tied Ward for third in the broad jump, and was tops on the team in the vertical leap. He’s an incredible athlete and those types of numbers at the combine will have scouts drooling.
Ohio State’s coaches have been churning out NFL players at the corner position like it was an easy task. Though Kerry Coombs is now pursuing an NFL coaching career as the Secondary Coach for the Tennessee Titans, the Bucks are again in the trusted hands of Taver Johnson. Johnson previously coached the Ohio State defensive backs during a portion of the Jim Tressel (and Luke Fickell) years. Notably, he helped get Kurt Coleman, Chimdi Chekwa, and some guy named Malcolm Jenkins into their professional football careers.
Though Johnson is a new face for the corners, he’s a familiar one on campus. He understands the program and its goals and should have no problem jumping back into coaching Ohio State football. Alex Grinch, the Buckeyes’ new Co-Defensive Coordinator (with Greg Schiano) brings an aggressive, fast-paced mindset that could also lead to some more opportunities for turnovers and big plays. Sheffield will have no shortage of excellent coaches pushing him this year. I expect any inconsistency that we saw early in 2017 to be a distant memory.
Now, in no way am I suggesting that Ohio State’s schedule in 2018 is an easy one. Playing in the toughest division in college football and taking on a very tough TCU squad will bring its challenges. And yet, if you simply look at it from a passing offense standpoint, the Buckeyes have a lot of chances to look extremely impressive by shutting down subpar passing attacks.
It’s within reason that teams can, and do, improve from year to year. For instance, if/when Shea Patterson is ruled eligible to compete this year, I expect Michigan’s passing attack to immediately improve. Simply looking at last year’s passing numbers, Ohio State’s 2018 schedule includes five (5!!) teams that had passing offenses ranked in the bottom twenty in the nation. On the opposite end of the passing capability spectrum, the Silver Bullets will play a grand total of zero teams that had a top twenty passing offense (Penn State finished the highest at 23rd) in 2017. Oregon State, TCU, and Michigan State were in the 50 to 100 range in the passing offense rankings. Not bad, but certainly defendable.
The middle of the Buckeyes schedule — a four-out-of-five game stretch (sorry, Minnesota) — is where the Buckeyes will be tested most. The Nittany Lions, Hoosiers, Boilermakers, and Cornhuskers offer competent passing attacks, and will all meet the Buckeyes between September 29 and November 3.
If Kendall Sheffield can perform well in those games, and make some big, memorable plays against the lesser passing offenses, I believe that he’ll hear his name called in round one, on April 25, 2019, and keep this Buckeye cornerback tradition alive.