As we have throughout the last several years, WFNY will use the last two weeks of December to discuss the most important stories of the last twelve months. Stay with us as we count down the biggest and most discussed topics of 2016. Our “Best of 2016” rolls south on I-71 to Columbus where we marvel at the Buckeyes’ ability to reload year after year.
While much can be said about an Ohio State Buckeyes squad preparing for their second College Football Playoff in three years, not enough is said about the fact that it is a team with 44 freshmen (true and redshirt) on the team. As many of Ohio State’s competitors have fielded team’s with fourth- and fifth-year players, this year’s Buckeyes team did not have such a luxury after losing so many players to the NFL during the offseason.
In the 2016 NFL Draft, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes had 12 players selected, setting plenty of records along the way in a draft that FiveThirtyEight believed to be the most impressive draft class in modern history. Not only have the Buckeyes had tremendous recruiting classes since Meyer arrive at Columbus in 2012, but they had nine (!) early enrollees who decided to not use all of their athletic eligibility and instead declare for the draft. Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Cardale Jones, Darron Lee, Jalin Marshall, Tyvis Powell, Michael Thomas all said farewell to Columbus. Of those nine players, seven were drafted, being a key part of the following records:
- Seven picks in first two rounds
- 10 picks in first three rounds
- 12 picks in first four rounds
- Seven picks in first two rounds (tied with USC Trojans’ 2008 class and Tennessee Volunteers’ 2000 class)
- One player selected from each position group (outside of specialists)
While most of the discussion on draft night surrounded the top two selections, the quarterback position, and the Cleveland Browns’ trading of the No. 2 pick to Philadelphia, it didn’t take long before Ohio State jumped into the foreground.
Here’s a look at which Buckeyes were drafted and how their rookie seasons have faired with their new employers:
Joey Bosa – No. 3, San Diego Chargers
After dealing with contract issues and negotiations with the Chargers that almost went into the season, Bosa’s rookie campaign got off to a rocky start after he missed the first four regular season games (along with not playing in the preseason due to the holdout) because he was recovering from a hamstring injury. Once he got on the field, Bosa has been nothing short of impressive. While getting in the opponent’s backfield what seems like every drive, the defensive end has totaled 27 tackles (17 solo), 6.5 sacks, and one forced fumble in nine games (eight starts) so far in 2016.
Ezekiel Elliott – No. 4, Dallas Cowboys
Everyone expected Zeke to play very well behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, but no one expected him to do this well. While the running back has helped lead the Dallas Cowboys to one of the best records in the league, he has racked up 287 carries for 1,392 yards and 12 touchdowns and also 28 catches for 322 yards and one touchdown.
While leading Dallas’ offense, Zeke also leads all players in 2017 Pro Bowl voting, ahead of players like his quarterback and fellow rookie Dak Prescott, New England’s Tom Brady, Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, and Oakland’s Derek Carr. Only in his first season in the league, Zeke has already made quite a name for himself and even has a chance to win the NFL MVP.
Expectations were high for Elliott when he entered the league, but it’s safe to say that he even exceeded those expectations. The Cowboys’ offensive line being is good as they are definitely helps, but Zeke is a special kind of running back and one that will be giving opposing defense’s nightmares for years to come.
Eli Apple – No. 10, New York Giants
Already a player who the Giants can count on in the defensive backfield, Apple has been impressive so far since arriving in the Big Apple. In 11 games (eight starts) this season, the rookie has totaled 36 tackles, one interception, six passes defended, one forced fumble, and two fimble recoveries. The 6-foot-1, 199-pound corner will be able to go against some of the best receivers in the league for years to come.
Taylor Decker – No. 16, Detroit Lions
Offensive tackles may not get much credit on the stat sheet, but Decker has started all 13 games so far during his rookie season. The Lions may have one of the worst rushing offenses in the league, averaging just 83.7 yards per game on the ground which is 29th in the league, but he is one of the main reasons why quarterback Matthew Stafford has so much time in the pocket and has surprised plenty of people this season, lofting his name into the MVP discussion for 2016.
Darron Lee – No. 20, New York Jets
At Ohio State, Lee showed off his versatility and quickness and he has tried his best to continue that into his first season in the NFL. So far this season, the linebacker has 50 tackles, two passes defended in 10 games (six starts) so far this season. The Jets have used him to guard both running backs and wide outdall over the field due to his speed.
Michael Thomas – No. 47, New Orleans Saints
One of the best rookie wide outs thus far, it helps to have a guy like quarterback Drew Brees throwing to you. In 12 games (nine starts), the rookie has racked up 69 catches (89 targets), 831 yards, and seven touchdowns, including two games with over 100 yards. Able to lineup as a slot receiver or out wide, Brees and the Saints’ offense have been able to use the playmaker in many different ways. Thomas leads the rookie receiving class in almost every major pass-catching statistical category.
Vonn Bell – No. 60, New Orleans Saints
With Thomas as his teammate, Bell has been able to play in all 13 games (10 starts) for the Saints defense so far this season. Although the defense has somewhat struggled overall, the young safety has been able to total 63 tackles, four passes defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and one sack in 13 games (10 starts) thus far. He and Thomas will most likely start on opposite sides of the ball for years to come.
Adolphus Washington – No. 80, Buffalo Bills
Many of you may have forgot, but Washington is another Ohio State guy who was drafted and is getting significant playing time as a rookie. He has played in all 13 games so far this season and in those nine starts, the defensive lineman has 19 tackles, one pass defended, and 2.5 sacks.
Braxton Miller – No. 85, Houston Texans
A disappointing season thus far was capped off by a shoulder injury a couple weeks ago that will force him to go on the injured reserve and miss the rest of the season. In 10 games (six starts) during his rookie campaign, Miller racked up 15 catches (29 targets) for 99 yards and a touchdown in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football.
Joshua Perry – No. 102, San Diego Chargers
He may not have been able to start yet, but Perry has played 12 of the possible 13 games and seven tackles and one forced fumble in those games.
Cardale Jones – No. 139, Buffalo Bills
As the Bills third-string quarterback, Jones has yet to make his season debut. As Tyrod Taylor’s health may limit him for the duration of the season, Jones may be close to seeing the field that at any other point this season.
Undrafted free agents
Both Tyvis Powell (Seahawks) and Jalin Marshall (Jets) were signed by their respective teams as undrafted free agents. Surprisingly, both of them have played significant time for their respective teams. Powell has played in eight games for Seattle while Marshall has played in nine (one start and has 11 catches (19 targets) for 140 yards and a touchdown.
With 12 draft picks, it remains fairly puzzling as to how the Buckeyes allowed themselves to be stunned by Michigan State late in the regular season, costing Ohio State a shot at the Big Ten title as well as the College Football Playoff. Whether it was the fact that Sparty started a backup quarterback in whom Ohio State didn’t have much, film or gameplan against or running back Ezekiel Elliott not receiving the proper amount of carries, what’s done is done.
Either way, the Buckeyes’ 2016 NFL Draft could go down as the best one in the history of the NFL. That’s a decent consolation prize, right?