An NFL draft like no other will have a familiar look at the top.
In three of the past four years, an Ohio State player has been taken among the top four overall picks. The Buckeyes have a good chance to make the 2020 draft the best of the bunch, especially if you count someone who departed a couple of years ago.
Joe Burrow, the OSU transfer who led LSU to the national title while winning the Heisman Trophy, is considered a lock to be the first overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Categorize Burrow a Buckeye with an asterisk. But the rest of Ohio State’s draft class deserves an exclamation point.
Defensive end Chase Young is a sure bet to go next after Burrow to his hometown Washington Redskins unless they get an overwhelming trade offer.
The draft then will pivot with the No. 3 pick, and that could be another Buckeyes player.
Cornerback Jeff Okudah is most prominently tabbed as the Detroit Lions’ pick here, but with teams clamoring for a quarterback, Detroit could land a windfall if it trades out of that spot.
If Young and Okudah go 2-3, it would be the earliest that two Buckeyes have been taken since offensive tackle Orlando Pace went first and cornerback Shawn Springs third in 1997.
“I think (Young and Okudah) both are very, very high-end NFL players who will play a long time in the NFL,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said on a recent conference call. “They're both great people, good leaders, very productive on the field.
“They're tough. They're durable. They don't miss practice. They don't miss games. They don't miss snaps. They just play. I think both are can't-miss guys.”
In a normal year, Burrow, Young and Okudah would be feted among pomp and circumstance in Las Vegas. The coronavirus pandemic has canceled that. Theirs will be low-key celebrations at home with their families.
Young and Okudah are generally projected to be the only Ohio State players to go in tonight’s first round. J.K. Dobbins has a chance to sneak in to the top 32 picks, but running backs are devalued in today’s NFL.
He and a few others are likely to be taken Friday when the NFL has its second and third rounds.
Probably the next off the board is cornerback Damon Arnette, who blossomed as a senior. Kerry Coombs recruited Arnette before leaving to coach with the Tennessee Titans. Now back as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, Coombs gushed about Arnette in a conference call Wednesday.
“Damon Arnette is going to be a very, very good pro, and I think he’s going to have a very long career because he’s got versatility,” he said. “He’s going to be able to play inside and outside. Don’t be surprised how high he gets drafted. That kid is a player.”
Linebacker Malik Harrison is another intriguing prospect because of his size and speed.
“He’s very talented,” linebackers coach Al Washington said. “He’s always been athletic, but I think he showed his ability to beat blocks this year and make plays.
“Whatever team he goes to, his skill set will allow him to fit many different roles, and that’s the name of the game in that league.”
Wide receiver K.J. Hill, offensive lineman Jonah Jackson and defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton figure to be mid-round picks. Hill is Ohio State’s all-time receptions leader with 201. Jackson impressed at left guard as a grad transfer from Rutgers. Hamilton had a breakthrough senior season.
Safety Jordan Fuller and receivers Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack are among the players likely to go on Saturday in the fourth through seventh rounds.
Then again, projecting the draft this year is even more of a crapshoot than most years because of the pandemic’s effects.
Pro days, including Ohio State’s, were canceled. So were visits by players to team facilities. Discussions within NFL teams have had to be conducted remotely.
“I think what happens in the scouting community is there’s a lot of groupthink,” NFL player agent Steve Caric said. “These scouts are all at pro days together and talking. I think you see a lot of clumps of players together based on that groupthink.
“What’s been very interesting for me over the past week, having conversations with NFL general managers and college scouting directors, is that the boards vary this year more than I can remember, position by position.”