The deadline to submit early registration for the upcoming spring NFL Draft passed Monday with the most high-profile decision involving Ohio State.
CJ Stroud, the Buckeyes’ star quarterback who was twice named one of the Heisman Trophy finalists and led them to a near upset of Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals last month, has announced that he is leaving the school, forgoing his remaining seasons of eligibility. to advertise the project.
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The announcement made Stroud the fifth first-class Ohio State to reveal plans to turn professional, after offensive linemen Paris Johnson and Luke Whipler, receiver Jackson Smith Ngegba and safety Ronnie Hickman.
In the wake of the draft decisions, here’s where the Buckeyes have been helped and hurt the most.
The second level of defense
The Buckeyes could lay claim to being the best defensive lineman group in the Big Ten with Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers returning. The tandem initially choked ball carriers all last season, and is one of the biggest areas of improvement for a defense that had often been hit the previous year before Jim Knowles took over as defensive coordinator to rebuild that side of the ball. In a conference full of hard offense, they stay in good form completing most of the running backs.
Eichenberg, who has been among the most productive offensive players in the football subdivision, is expected to be among the preseason favorites for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top defensive lineman and perhaps Ohio State’s biggest star on defense since Chase Young lined up on the edge in 2019. His presence should further aid continuity and drive as the Buckeyes transition into Knowles’ system sophomore year.
The odds were stacked against Stroud’s return, no matter how long he waited before making an official announcement, keeping a glimmer of hope among the Buckeye Nation, so there was a long possibility that backup Kyle McCord or Devin Brown would be first time running back. center in 2023.
Due to inexperience, it has been seen that most of the talent in the skill position hold off the draft, especially tight end Cade Stover. Caught in 36 passes, Stover was Ohio State’s most productive threat in the position since Ricky Dudley had 37 receptions in 1995. He should be a safety cover for whoever wins first job. Neither Marvin Harrison Jr. nor Emeka Egbuka were eligible to be drafted, but Julian Fleming was eligible to be drafted. His comeback in his first season cemented the top of the depth chart with another productive goal.
No position was more devastated by injuries last season than a drop. Foot injuries hampered Trevion Henderson and Myan Williams’ 1-2 punch, with limited options behind them. Evan Pryor went down last August with a season-ending knee injury. Midway through the season, Chip Trayanum moved from linebacker to provide relief. Williams’ return for the fourth season leaves the Buckeyes with the most physical runner available and in good place in terms of depth, especially after they didn’t add a running back during their early signing period last month. They will now have at least four on scholarship next fall with Henderson, Williams, Pryor and Dalan Hayden and a potential fifth if Trianum stays on offense.
A major rebuild awaits Offensive Line Coach Justin Frey this offseason with three out of five starting offensive linemen leaving for the NFL.
Not all departures are unexpected. Johnson, who earned a consensus All-American as a junior, is in position to become only the second Buckeyes offensive tackle taken in the first round since the Orlando Pace finished first overall in 1997. The Cincinnati native was also the program’s most tackled tackle. Offensive line recruiting has been following Pace for three decades.
But the move by Whipler, who left for the NFL after anchoring the offensive line for two seasons, came as a mild upset and made him a bit more cumbersome up front, which could push right guard Matt Jones back to quarterback. (Jones’ return for the extra year of his pandemic eligibility softens the blow.) However, there will be a lot of reconfiguration and a new blind side visor. Ohio State targeted some tackles at the transfer gate, though most were committed elsewhere.
Knowles referred to his defense as safety-driven shortly after arriving in Columbus last year, and he’s now less experienced in this all-important position. The loss of Tanner McCallister was taken for granted. McCallister, a nickel transfer safety from Oklahoma State, was in his final year of eligibility. But the NFL’s departure of Ronnie Hickman, bypassing his first season of eligibility, means the Buckeyes will need someone to take over as the hitter, the free safety spot that handles the preseason minor adjustments.
Lathan Ransom is back, the Buckeyes have added Ja’Had Carter, and he’s the safest pick from Syracuse. But the presence of Hickman, one of the most productive defenders, would have been a best-case scenario, and his absence underscores an area of defense that was prone to big plays late in the season.
Joey Kaufman covers Ohio State football for the Columbus Dispatch. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @employee.