Breaking down Ohio State’s loaded 2016 NFL draft class
Wes Huber takes a closer look at the NFL potential of this year's Buckeyes.
Breaking down Ohio State’s loaded 2016 NFL draft class
Program benefits aside, Urban Meyer’s accumulation of a 50-4 record over four seasons as the Ohio State head coach is extraordinary. Everything begins with preparation and Meyer has never completed a recruiting season — during his Buckeye tenure — ranked outside of the top seven teams in the nation.
One very interesting takeaway from Coach Meyer’s recruiting success in Columbus is the recollection that his top recruit from the 2012 class, Noah Spence, could’ve been included within this group. The school will have its work cut out for them in replacing the core of the team and we will discuss that lost wealth below.
Plainly stated, Bosa’s statistical superiority over his peers during the last two seasons is without equal. During that time, Bosa accumulated a combined overall grade 27.9 percent higher than the second edge defender on the list (Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett). Methodically searching for the strengths and weaknesses in an offensive line, Bosa thrives at discovering the gap technique to properly exploit any vulnerabilities.
Despite three years of film to the contrary, much was made in the aftermath of a “disappointing” combine showing. In actuality, Bosa’s performance was quite impressive. Among edge defenders, Bosa posted the fourth-highest average ranking of all of the testing measurements at the event. In total, the one, and only, factor that should drop Bosa out of the top spot on any teams’ draft board is an appropriate scheme-fit.
After averaging 15.5 yards and 0.29 TDs per touch during his senior season at Burroughs High School, Elliott slid under the radar as a member of Coach Meyer’s second-OSU recruiting class. As was highlighted in the recent Big Ten prospect article, Elliott provides everything desired in a featured-everything back, and more (special teams).
Zeke offers the size-to-speed combination matched only by Derrick Henry and Keith Marshall within the class and, equipped with the largest hands at the combine, offers the blocking and receiving ability the others lack. The majority of NFL teams have shifted to a committee-approach, partially, in order to keep backs fresh, and to avoid injuries.
Considering Elliott posted the second-highest rushing-specific grade in 2014 and averaged 230-yards per game during their playoff run with a broken wrist, durability concerns should be put to rest. Elliott’s cutback running-style flourishes with each touch and his NFL team will soon discover the impact he can provide to advance an offense into full gear.
The nephew of former-NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, Thomas excelled with limited opportunity, and is floating under the radar on many draft boards. While it’s true that, out of this drafts wideouts provided with 80-plus targets last season, Thomas ranked sixth from-the-bottom in total snaps per target. Under-utilization should not be viewed as a weakness, however, as Thomas will enter the NFL starving for attention.
The numbers tell the story of a receiver who commanded high school competition with 1.75 TDs per game and concluded his college career by leading the nation in the percentage of short targets converted into chunk (20-plus yard) plays. A possession-receiver reliant upon manufactured, underneath openings? Not even close as Thomas collected 90 percent of his catchable targets at 20 or more yards over the last two seasons.
In reality, the opening round of the draft contains a finite number of picks, but Thomas is easily worthy of mentioning within that group. Six wide receivers were chosen in the first round of the 2015 draft with teams searching for No. 1 wideout skills and, should he fall to the second round, Thomas would provide that No. 1 receiver potential at a discounted cost.
Apple is an extremely interesting case among this crop of cornerbacks considering his contrasting set of skills. His wheelhouse is within a man-to-man, press scheme. Apple effectively utilizes his large frame to pin receivers toward the sideline. He possesses the upper body strength to stall receivers off of their route at the line-of-scrimmage and is very adept at separating the ball on 50/50 high point targets.
On the other hand, we have a cornerback who is prone to spinning in the opposite direction of a receivers cut. He will also require work to improve his reaction time when assigned to off-the-ball coverage. He displayed some difficulty mirroring and matching against quicker receivers and his most glaring flaw in coverage is the tendency to use his hands when a receiver gains a step beyond five yards. Apple will need further development to become an every-down corner, but his immense potential should not be overlooked.
While attending Taft High School, Washington was the Division III co-defensive player of the year in football and co-player of the year in basketball during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. That level of talent translated well to the college game, closing out the last two seasons with the fifth- and 18th-best overall grades among FBS interior defenders. Washington holds a level of scheme-dependency, but his ability to get to the quarterback and in defending the A- and B-gaps will provide value to his future team.
Surrounded by top prospects at every position during his time in Columbus, Perry responded by leading the team in tackles in 2014 and finishing his career with a first team selection to the All-Big Ten team. At the combine, Perry not only measured out as the biggest of the inside LBs, but he also recorded the fastest 40-yard dash. Perry completed a two-year stretch with a top-20 coverage grade among all FBS LBs (3rd-best in 2014). Equipped with his size, speed, and coverage-ability, Perry is a name we should hear during the second day of the draft.
- Vonn Bell
Bell was selected as a first-team All-American in 2015 after starting every game for the Buckeyes over the last two seasons. During that time, Bell accrued the 15th-highest overall and 13th-highest coverage grade among the nations safeties. It’s in coverage that Bell exceeds, allowing the 9th-lowest completion percentage to his coverage responsibilities since 2014. He will need further development in downhill run defense and lacks pass rushing-instincts, but offers considerable value with his ability to range over the top.
- Taylor Decker
A consensus All-American and the reigning Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, Decker actually took a small step back in 2015. The imposing run blocking chops he displayed in 2014 suffered a near-60 percent drop in his run blocking grade last season. However, Decker started 29 straight games within a highly-successful program, possesses great size, and, despite average combine recordings, showcases plus footwork. He offers immediate playability and great value at his potentially depressed price.
Of all of the Buckeye’s to have declared for the draft, Lee was the one who could have used another year of college ball. During tape study, we are presented with a playmaking athlete with a serious nose for the football. That said, the metrics point to areas in need of significant improvement. When Lee signed with Ohio State, he was recruited as a safety. Figuring out what role he would focus was an issue dating back to high school.
During his time at New Albany, Lee was employed all over the field with significant time at quarterback where, as a senior, he averaged 24.4 yards per carry while scoring TDs on all 10 of his rushing attempts. An off-the-ball LB with booming pass rush ability, Lee is simply lacking in experience at the position, and could’ve used another season of snaps to prepare him for the NFL. While that option has expired and he will need to further develop his pursuit-coverage instincts, Lee will provide immediate value on early-down work.
- Braxton Miller
Projecting Miller’s game to the NFL is nearly impossible at this point in his development. With only 373 total snaps, 177 snaps in route, and 38 targets at wideout, Miller’s evaluation is literally in its infancy. Looking past the unknowns, we are left with the facts. Miller is an excellent athlete who, when given the smallest of windows, is provisioned with the quickness and burst to outrun an entire defense. He rarely permits solid contact using a natural level change-ability, and abused cornerbacks during Senior Bowl practices. It would not be surprising to see Miller require at least a full year of development in the NFL, but he offers game-changing athleticism that awaits continued route-effectiveness instruction.
- Cardale Jones
Jones’ analysis can be described using a pair of vastly-different approaches. One direction of evaluation could highlight obvious issues with accuracy on intermediate and deep throws inside the numbers (18-of-42, 458 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs). The other side of the argument details the arm that led to the nickname “Twelve Gauge” and a 2014 championship. Utilizing that arm during his undefeated run as the starting quarterback provided success on throws outside the numbers between 10-19 yards (10-of-12, 156 yards, 2 TDs) and of 20 or more yards downfield (7-of-11, 211 yards, 4 TDs).
Jones’ projection also suffers from a lack of college snaps (317 total dropbacks) and the fact that he was supplanted by J.T. Barrett in Week 8 of last season. These doubts are more than enough to drop his draft projection well-below what was reported immediately following his playoff success. The counter-argument could be made, without statistical backing, that Jones’ skillset was ill-suited to the Buckeye’s spread-option offense. Now that the dust has settled, we are left with a rocket-armed quarterback offering a significant amount of intrigue for a third-day selection, and a series of questions to be answered.
Honorable Mentions: Tyvis Powell, Nick Vannett, Jalin Marshall
Wes Huber | Analyst
Wes is an analyst and fantasy correspondent at Pro Football Focus. He's been with the company since 2014, and his work has been featured on DraftKings Playbook and FantasyPros.