Young talent must step up to replenish Buckeyes’ defense

It won't be easy to replace 12 drafted players, but Kev Connaghan breaks down why OSU is still in good shape for the 2016 season.

| 5 months ago
(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Young talent must step up to replenish Buckeyes’ defense

With 12 players selected in the NFL draft, and 10 of them going in the first three rounds, no team had a better showing than Ohio State. It’s obviously a terrific achievement, but one that leaves the Buckeyes dealing with a serious loss of experience and leadership. Both sides of the ball took a hammering, but that is particularly true on defense where eight of their most-featured 11 players are gone.

Of course, the Buckeyes’ have recruited superbly under Urban Meyer — 247sports rank their last three recruiting classes as third, seventh and fourth in the nation — so there should be plenty of talent waiting in the wings. But no team can expect to carry on seamlessly after suffering a talent train of this magnitude, so how can the Buckeyes cope?

Replacing Joey Bosa

Rather surprisingly, the player they are best setup to play without is Joey Bosa, their superstar from the past two season. Younger brother Nick Bosa — a 5-star recruit in the 2016 class — will serve as the long-term replacement, but he shouldn’t have to contribute hugely as a true freshman. Instead, the burden of replacing Bosa as pass-rusher-in-chief should be shared by defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard. Lewis started opposite Bosa in 2015, earning a +11.3 overall grade, recording eight sacks, 26 total pressures and 38 defensive stops. Hubbard saw significant action as a redshirt freshman in 2015, particularly when Bosa was out, and he thrived, with seven sacks and 22 total pressures helping him earn a +14.4 overall grade. Neither player can be expected to fill the void left by Bosa, but between them they should ensure that the Buckeyes pass rush continues to have teeth.

Elsewhere on the defensive line it’s a different story. The departure of the top two defensive tackles, Washington and Schutt, is compounded by the unfortunate forced retirement of Donovan Munger. The likely starting pair of Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle have just 441 snaps between them over the past two seasons, and neither has stood out.

Young and rising secondary

In the secondary only four players saw more than 100 snaps in 2015 — the starting quartet of Powell, Bell, Apple and Gareon Conley were almost ever-present, and of them only CB Conley returns. Conley earned a team-high +8.4 coverage grade as a sophomore in 2015, and allowed a completion rate of just 44.3 percent of passes targeting his coverage. He gave up just one touchdown during the regular season, holding opposing QBs to a 52.6 passer rating when targeting his coverage, but that was somewhat spoiled by a rough outing against Notre Dame in which he allowed two TDs. Conley becomes the de-facto leader of a young and raw secondary.

Raekwon McMillan leads linebackers

The situation at linebacker is similar, where the three starters, Lee, Perry and Raekwon McMillan took the majority of the snaps. While Lee and Perry are gone, McMillan returns and that is excellent news for the Buckeyes. Ranked as a 5-star recruit by the 247sports composite, McMillan saw the field often as a true freshman in 2014, and he didn’t look out of place with a +12.0 overall grade on 490 snaps. He was a starter in 2015, led the Buckeyes LB unit with a +10.8 run defense grade and led the team with 92 solo tackles and 63 defensive stops, 51 of those stops coming against the run. While the other two linebacker spots will be manned by less experienced players, McMillan gives the Buckeyes a rock at MLB. He is set to be the key player on defense for the Buckeyes in 2016.

Replacing the amount of talent that Ohio State lost in the 2016 NFL draft is no easy task, but it’s a “good” problem to have. Between their new pass rush, McMillan, Lewis and Conley, the Buckeyes’ defense is still in good hands for the 2016 season.

| Analyst

Kevin has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, with a particular focus on college football.

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