The topic is not one that eligible Ohio State players are particularly eager to address, even though it represents their dream.
After the Buckeyes play Southern California in the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29, several of their third-year players face a major decision: return for another college season or enter the NFL draft?
Those players are keeping things close to the vest.
“I’m not going to go into that,” junior defensive end Sam Hubbard said politely a week ago. “I’ve got a decision to make at a later date. Sorry.”
Players must declare for the draft by Jan. 15. Hubbard is considered among the most likely Buckeyes to depart. The defensive end graduates Sunday, flirted with turning pro last year and figures to be at least a second-round pick.
Junior cornerback Denzel Ward is the only underclassmen regarded as a higher draft pick. Though he was coy in a recent interview about turning pro, it would be a shock if he returned instead of continuing the recent streak of Ohio State cornerbacks taken in the first round.
Several other players could forgo their remaining eligibility. Linebacker Jerome Baker was projected before the season as a potential first-round pick, but he had an inconsistent season, particularly in pass coverage. On Friday, he gave himself a C-minus grade for this season, but he was vague when the topic of the NFL was broached.
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“I don’t worry about stuff like that,” Baker said. “It comes with the sport. You make decisions. Right now I’m worried about beating USC.”
Dane Brugler, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, projects that Baker would be a second- or third-round pick.
“Would another year help him? Absolutely,” Brugler said. “But he has athleticism where he will test really well in pre-draft workouts.”
Dre’Mont Jones was somewhat overshadowed by Ohio State’s defensive ends this season, but the third-year sophomore has rare explosiveness for a defensive tackle.
“The NFL is looking for interior disruptors, and that’s what Jones is,” Brugler said.
He projects Jones as a possible late first-round pick. If he stays another season at Ohio State, Brugler said Jones could be a top-10 overall pick in 2019.
The other Buckeyes underclassmen probably would be mid-round picks at best, but there are legitimate reasons for some of them to consider entering the draft. When healthy, Mike Weber showed the improvement, particularly as a breakaway threat, that coaches predicted. But if he returns, he would face sharing time with J.K. Dobbins again.
“I’ll never fault a running back for going early to the league because we know they have a short shelf life in the NFL,” Brugler said.
Johnnie Dixon’s injury history with his knees could be a factor in his leaving for the NFL. The junior receiver said he has thought about the draft “a little bit, but it’s not something that takes over my day.”
Fellow receivers Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin also are eligible to declare for the draft. McLaurin, a fourth-year junior, graduates today.
“Obviously, I’ll address that when the time comes,” McLaurin said a week ago. “But I’m a person who tries to take things a step at a time. I’m not looking so far into my future decisions that I’m neglecting this (USC) game or trying to get my degree.”
One Buckeye who would be the highest draft pick of all isn’t eligible for the draft until 2019. Sophomore defensive end Nick Bosa isn’t bemoaning that, even though Brugler said he might have been the first defensive player taken in 2018.
“I think I would be (ready for the NFL now), but an extra year of development is really important,” Bosa said. “I think I’ll be a lot more ready next year.”
That’s something many of Ohio State’s third-year players must ponder soon.