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Ohio State football: Winners and losers from the NFL draft early-entry deadline

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Chris Olave's decision to return to Ohio State for his senior season was welcome news in the Buckeyes' quarterbacks room, giving whoever emerges as the starter an experienced, deep-threat receiver.

In the week following its loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game, Ohio State watched five of its underclassmen declare for the NFL draft, meeting Monday’s deadline to file paperwork with the league for early entry.

The departures mirror recent offseasons in which the Buckeyes have lost multiple players as early entrants.

Ohio State football offseason roster tracker: Who is staying and who is leaving?

But there were also some notable players who put off turning pro and announced plans to remain in school, bolstering the program’s national championship odds for next season.

The latest: Ohio State defensive tackle Haskell Garrett will return for 2021 season

Here’s where Ohio State most stands to gain and lose following the recent draft decisions.

Winners

Quarterback room

The inevitable successor to Justin Fields will step into a situation as favorable as possible for a first-time starting quarterback. Chris Olave held off on entering the draft, bringing back the Buckeyes’ leading receiver and most explosive deep threat who caught seven touchdowns in seven games this season.

Starting with Olave and slot receiver Garrett Wilson, there will be no shortage of weapons for the passing game. The return of left tackle Thayer Munford, who is using the extra year of eligibility provided by the NCAA because of season disruptions related to the coronavirus, will protect the blind side of the freshman passer — be it Kyle McCord, Jack Miller or C.J. Stroud.

Pass rush

Although defensive end Tyreke Smith finished with only one sack last fall, he disrupted his share of quarterbacks. He generated 33 total pressures, which were the third-most among Big Ten defensive linemen, according to Pro Football Focus data, trailing only Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston and fellow Buckeye Jonathon Cooper, who had 34 apiece.

The return of defensive end Tyreke Smith (11) gives Ohio State a player who has proven he can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

By coming back, Smith ensures Ohio State will have one of the conference’s top pass rushers and someone who could develop into an All-America candidate with a full season of games in 2021.

Red-zone offense

Success in recent playoff matchups for Ohio State has often been a result of play in the red zone. In a win over Clemson in a semifinal on New Year’s Day, the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on four of their five red-zone opportunities,

Two of the scoring passes were caught by Jeremy Ruckert, a 6-foot-5 tight end who presents a mismatch for opposing secondaries, especially near the goal line. More than half of Ruckert’s 13 catches in 2020, as well as all five of his touchdown grabs, came on plays originating from inside the 20-yard line, and his return could allow Ohio State to capitalize on favorable field position in tight contests.

Losers

Ground game

The tandem of center Josh Myers and right guard Wyatt Davis helped form one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the nation, a significant reason the Buckeyes remained in the top 10 in rushing offense this past season despite the loss of running back J.K. Dobbins, the school’s first-ever 2,000-yard rusher.

There are a handful of promising options to replace the interior offensive linemen that involve Harry Miller or Matthew Jones, as well as sliding Paris Johnson Jr. from one of the tackle spots, but there’s no guarantee they replicate the performances of Davis and Myers.

Rush defense

Tommy Togiai helped the defensive line control the trenches throughout the fall, consistently clogging openings for opposing running backs. His presence was a reason Ohio State ranked sixth in the nation in rushing defense, keeping teams below an average of 100 yards per game.

Replacing Tommy Togiai (72) from the middle of Ohio State's defensive line may be a tall task for the Buckeyes.

The absence of the brawny nose tackle was felt in the national title game loss to Alabama when the Buckeyes twice allowed Najee Harris to convert on fourth-and-short on the Crimson Tide’s first two touchdown drives. The line of scrimmage battles loom as previews of how they might fare next season without Togiai lining up in the A gap. But perhaps no position group has proved as capable of retooling as much as Larry Johnson’s unit, and senior defensive tackle Haskell Garrett staying for another season will help manage the loss.  

Pass coverage

Had cornerback Shaun Wade made a surprise decision to return for a fifth season, the secondary stood to benefit. As much as Wade had an up-and-down — albeit All-America — season after moving to outside corner and gave up his share of touchdowns in coverage, the Buckeyes’ defensive backs are thin on experience without a lot of sure-fire replacements for the veteran.

Due to his versatility, including previous experience at nickel corner and safety, Wade could have also come back at another spot. But he had long been likely to enter this spring’s draft despite previously expressing some interest in a return.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman