A year ago, Ohio State invaded the NFL scouting combine like a marauding army.
Fourteen players from a team that won the national championship in 2014 and went 12-1 in 2015 descended on Indianapolis. Twelve Buckeyes were drafted, five in the first round and all in the first four rounds. The other two — Jalin Marshall and Tyvis Powell — made rosters as free agents.
This year, it will feel more like an incursion than an invasion, but the Buckeyes’ contingent still will be a hardy one. Eight players, including six underclassmen, will do their best to impress teams in the NFL’s version of a meat market.
“For most schools, it’s a banner year,” said Dane Brugler, a senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout and CBS Sports, “but for Ohio State in the Urban Meyer era, it’s what you would expect from the Buckeyes. It’s a football factory. It really is.”
Only cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Malik Hooker are considered sure first-round picks. Hooker won’t participate in combine drills after having surgery for a hernia and torn labrum.
Even if the first night of the draft in April won’t turn into an Ohio State infomercial like in 2016, several Buckeyes could go soon afterward. Cornerback Gareon Conley is considered a second-rounder with a chance to work his way into the first. Center Pat Elflein and versatile receiver Curtis Samuel are likely second-rounders, and linebacker Raekwon McMillan could go in that round as well.
Receiver Noah Brown, whose departure was the only surprise among the underclassmen, is a bit of a wild card. He flashed his potential in a four-touchdown performance against Oklahoma, but the redshirt sophomore largely disappeared as a pass-catcher after that.
Brown is projected as a mid- to late-round pick, though that could change with a strong performance at the combine and at Ohio State’s Pro Day on March 23.
The eighth Buckeye in Indianapolis, Cameron Johnston, isn’t expecting to be drafted. Then again, punters seldom are. Only seven have been taken in the last four years, none before the fifth round.
“It’s more about getting a spot as a free agent and getting into camp to compete,” Johnston said.
He spent 11 days in San Diego with former Chargers punter and fellow Australian Darren Bennett honing his game. He was mostly a rugby style kicker for Ohio State. Effective as that was, he knows the NFL is looking for a conventional punter.
“I’ve worked on it a lot,” he said. “That’s what I did in Australia to get to Ohio State. It’s more of a consistency thing, and I’m getting really comfortable with it.”
The NFL-bound Buckeyes have been scattered across the country since losing to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal.
“To see everybody at the combine will be awesome,” said Elflein, who remained in Arizona to train after the Fiesta Bowl.