The 2020 NFL Draft just concluded less than two weeks ago. That said, NFL Draft talk is a 365-day a year discussion. Whether it’s discussing the current crop of prospects or the up-and-comers, NFL fans and teams alike are always on the prowl for the next NFL Draft. There’s a reason there are so many mock drafts, even if most mock drafts are nowhere near projecting what actually happens in the draft itself.
With that, and although the most recent NFL Draft just took place, ESPN’s Mel Kiper released his way-too-early 2021 NFL Draft Big Board. Due to it only being early May and with (hopefully) a full college football season prior to the 2021 NFL Draft taking place, plenty can change. That said, it’s important to note that many of the players on the Big Board will be at or near the top of most Big Boards come next April. Some players will fall while other unlisted players will make a name for themselves, but let’s talk about this Big Board as it is.
Even after becoming the college football program with the most first-round selections in the history of the NFL after Chase Young (No. 2 overall), Jeff Okudah (No. 3), and Damon Arnette (No. 19) were selected in the first round of the most recent draft, the Ohio State Buckeyes are set to add to that number in 2021 as well. There’s a reason there isn’t a minor-league system in the NFL, unlike the NBA and MLB: College football programs like Ohio State are essentially the minor leagues, preparing their players to play at the highest level along the way.
Looking ahead, Kiper has three Buckeyes in the top 20 of his Big Board and others among the best at their respective positions as well:
QB Justin Fields (No. 3 overall, No. 2 QB)
Fields is a legitimate challenger to Lawrence as the top quarterback in this class. The Georgia transfer got immediate eligibility to play in 2019, and he put up huge numbers, finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting. Fields threw 41 touchdown passes with just three interceptions and added 10 rushing TDs. He was incredibly efficient last season, and he made it look easy. Fields has room to improve, though, in how he sees the field and progresses through his reads. Two of his three picks came in the College Football Playoff game against Clemson, including this one in which he stared down his receiver. There’s a lot to like here about Fields as prospect, and I’m looking forward to seeing another full season from him.
CB Shaun Wade (No. 6 overall, No. 1 CB)
On a defense that just had two first-round corners in Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette, Wade played mostly in the slot, but his athleticism popped when I studied the Buckeyes. He’s going to move outside in 2020, but the versatility to move inside or outside is an asset as he transitions to the NFL. Wade has four interceptions over the past two seasons, and he also picked up two sacks in 2019. He is going to be the man in the new-look Ohio State secondary this season.
WR Chris Olave (No. 20 overall, No. 5b WR)
With K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack all off to the NFL, it’s the Olave show for the Buckeyes in 2020. He caught 49 passes for 849 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He tracks the deep ball well and made a few spectacular plays. And check out his hands and concentration on this 42-yard bomb. He’s going to have a big year while catching passes from Justin Fields.
Other Ohio State players among the best at their respective positions:
While Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was once considered the consensus No. 1 pick in 2021, Fields’ dominance with both his arm and his legs paired with his efficiency and playmaking ability during his first season in Columbus last fall put him on the map. Now, some even think he can be the top quarterback taken in the class. If he continues to improve and does even better while leading the Buckeyes in 2020, that might just happen.
Wade could have decided to make the leap to the NFL with his teammates (and first-round selections), Okudah and Arnette, in what was a loaded defensive backfield in 2019, but he decided to return to Columbus. It’s not only a huge boost for the scarlet and gray, especially with the makeover in the defensive secondary that will take place under Kerry Coombs, but next April, it will likely be a move that makes millions of additional dollars for Wade as well. He’s the top cornerback on the board heading into the 2020 college football season and will look to keep the DBU and BIA tradition — one that consists of many first-round picks selected from Ohio State’s defensive backfield in recent memory — alive in the next draft.
Players such as Michael Thomas and Terry McLaurin have recently proven that they were very underrated in their respective NFL Drafts, a feat that K.J. Hill hopes to prove as well, but it’s looking like Olave won’t be ignored by NFL teams like those before him. He could very likely have 1,000-plus yards this fall as he continues to perfect his route running and become Fields’ top target. His playmaking ability is second to none, especially under the brightest lights.
Offensive guards, or even offensive linemen, might not be the “sexy” pick or get much of the love, but they are vitally important to an offense’s success. Dominating the trenches is key, and the five offensive linemen can make a good team great if they are good and have chemistry together. While he might just be an offensive guard, Davis is the best at his position heading into the fall. The All-American will look to continue that dominance from his first season as a starter and prove that he’s the best guard in college football once again in 2020.
Like Davis, Myers will rarely get noticed, especially when it comes to the NFL Draft, but he’s one of the best at his position as well. After moving to center (from guard) in 2019, with more experience under his belt, Myers will likely improve his stock this fall. Both he and Davis could have decided to declare for (and been selected in) the 2020 NFL Draft, but with both of them returning to Columbus, it’s a huge boost for Ohio State’s offensive line and the two Buckeyes will be among the best at their respective positions during the upcoming college football season.
Haubeil has made all 122 extra points and connected on 23-of-28 field goal attempts in his career. While I don’t know how to judge how a kicker or punter will do at the next level, Kiper has Haubeil as the top kicker and punter on his Big Board, which seems signficant.