After previewing the 2020 NFL Draft prospects of Ohio State’s rising seniors, we are back to take a look at the Buckeye underclassmen.
Likely to leave early if they live up to expectations: Defensive end Chase Young, cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, defensive back Shaun Wade, running back J.K. Dobbins
Young, Okudah and Wade were all five-star recruits thanks to their raw ability and measurables, things NFL teams covet as much as college coaches.
While Young was dominant at times despite playing most of his sophomore season with two sprained ankles, Wade and Okudah had their ups and downs with the rest of the suspect secondary.
Expect Young to contend for national awards and be a first-round pick if he is healthy, and don’t rule out the type of ride for Wade and Okudah that Marshon Lattimore enjoyed in 2016. They have the talent and are likely to be utilized more intelligently in the new scheme.
Dobbins is the first Ohio State back to run for more than 1,000 yards as a freshman and a sophomore. Listed at 5-10 and 217 pounds, he is smaller than the prototypical NFL back but has the quickness and vision to play at the next level.
He might not be taken in the first two rounds next spring, but he probably won’t be any more likely to go higher in 2021 no matter how many yards he runs for in a hypothetical senior year. Running backs typically get while the getting is good, and it is wise to expect Dobbins to do the same to start making money on those hits as soon as he can.
Eligible but less likely to leave: Linebackers Tuf Borland, Pete Werner and Baron Browning, safety Brendon White, left tackle Thayer Munford, tight end Luke Farrell
Conventional wisdom says offensive linemen typically need four years at the college level, but Michael Jordan bucked that trend this year and Munford, who plays a more coveted position, could do the same if he has a strong junior season.
The linebackers are hard to figure after a lost season — especially Borland, who might not have done himself any favors by rushing back from an Achilles injury. He was a productive between-the-tackles linebacker in ’17 but looked a step slow at times last season, particularly against spread offenses. Can he get back to his late 2017 form this fall?
Werner was perhaps miscast as a walk-out linebacker but held up reasonably well against more athletic players in space given how often he was targeted with potential mismatches. That position is gone now, which means he could get lost in the shuffle or find a new spot inside where he might be a better fit anyway.
Werner has shown the athleticism to excel in college and keep up in the evolving world of the NFL if used correctly.
Browning, a five-star recruit from Texas two years ago, might have a hard time finding playing time, but if he gets on the field he could blow up so keep him in mind as well.
We debated putting White in the “likely to leave” category, but the 6-2, 215-pounder could be viewed either as a versatile weapon for combatting the rise of the spread offense in the NFL or a ‘tweener linebacker/DB at the next level. That makes anticipating what kind of feedback he could get from the NFL Draft Advisory Board difficult.
Nonetheless, if he is as productive as a Darron Lee, for instance, his stock is likely to be much higher and his likelihood to return much lower.
For perspective, a year ago we would have had Jordan and quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the”eligible but less likely to leave” category while it was assumed Mike Weber and Dre’Mont Jones would go pro if they had even solid seasons because they were both four years out of high school and strongly considered entering the 2018 draft.
Five-star recruits Nick Bosa and Kendall Sheffield were both always assumed to be going pro as soon as possible, too, even though neither of them were technically full-time starters in 2017.
As for the 2018 seniors, Terry McLaurin played (and then worked out and interviewed) his way into being a third-round pick while Parris Campbell also helped himself immensely by coming back and showing improved hands.
Fuller is probably the only potential early entry whose presence on the 2019 roster would have been a surprise a year ago while Jordan’s early exit was also unexpected even three months ago.