Eleven members of Ohio State’s 2019 football team will converge in Indianapolis this week at the NFL combine. Much of the attention will be focused on the two near the top of draft charts.
Defensive end Chase Young is projected to be the second overall pick by his hometown Washington Redskins on April 23, the first of three days of the draft. Cornerback Jeff Okudah could go as high as third. If you count projected No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow as a Buckeye OK, with an asterisk then it could be an Ohio State trifecta at the top of the NFL draft.
Those players will get the headlines, but the combine and the rest of the predraft calendar matter even more to the other nine Buckeyes who will be in Indianapolis.
Take defensive backs Jordan Fuller and Damon Arnette. Fuller was a first-team all-Big Ten safety, a two-year captain and William V. Campbell Trophy finalist for his academic excellence and character. But ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. considers him a likely third-day pick, which would be fourth round or later.
Arnette is rated higher, though draft analyst Dane Brugler of The Athletic said in a podcast interview with The Dispatch that some teams question his maturity.
It is that time of year. Players’ flaws, perceived or real, are endlessly dissected. But Fuller and Arnette have been working since Ohio State’s season ended to put themselves in the best position to not just be the "other" defensive backs in this draft class for Ohio State.
"A lot of eyes are on Jeff, and deservedly so," Fuller said. "He's obviously one of the best players in the nation, the best corner in the nation. But sometimes we can be looked at as afterthoughts. We don't talk about it too much, but it's definitely realized and taken into account. It's cool to have some extra motivation."
Fuller has been training in Tampa, Florida, since early January at Yo Murphy Performance along with Ohio State receiver Austin Mack. He has been working on body and mind, including time with a sports psychologist.
At Ohio State, Fuller was a trusted safety net for the defense, but he didn’t make a lot of dynamic, "oh wow" plays.
"As far as game-changing plays, it's kind of hard when Chase Young, Jonathon Cooper and Tyreke Smith are sacking the quarterback every other play," Fuller said. "But I have full confidence in myself. I believe if you asked any of my coaches … they know that I make all the plays that I'm supposed to, and sometimes make plays (on which) they're really, really thankful I was there."
Fuller is likely to excel in interviews with teams because of his intelligence and personality. He hopes to open eyes with his performance in drills.
"I definitely want to show that I'm a good athlete and that I can do basically anything they ask of me on the football field," Fuller said. "I really believe that in myself. I know the combine can’t really show everything you can do, but you get a little glimpse."
Arnette was all but set on entering the NFL draft a year ago before deciding to return. Admittedly immature until his final season, Arnette had a breakthrough senior season on and off the field. Though Brugler said some teams remain skeptical about Arnette’s off-field growth, Kiper raved about him, particularly how the cornerback excelled despite playing with a broken wrist.
"I really like everything about him," Kiper said on an ESPN teleconference last week. "To have the injury and yet go out there and perform the way he did is a testimony of his character and how he goes about his business."
Fuller also vouched for Arnette.
"There was a complete shift in his whole attitude, his whole persona," he said. "He was really, really focused (on football), but also involved in the community. He was going to schools and speaking.
"He developed into a great leader in our DB room as well. Years prior, he probably wouldn't have done that. I can't speak any more highly of Damon."
The combine is just one step in the process, but it’s the one time when all the top prospects and teams are together.
"You can look at it as a situation where you can get stressed out and put a lot of pressure on yourself," Fuller said. "But it's just another opportunity to showcase what we know and what we've been doing our whole life."