It used to be a foregone conclusion that the month of April would bring rain and first-round draft picks to Ohio. From 1999-2011, Ohio State had 20 players selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. But the past two draft classes have yielded nothing in the way of early picks.
That trend should end Thursday night in the NFL’s first May draft. And the Buckeyes could put an exclamation point on the proceedings. NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock lists three Ohio State players in his top 32 – Ryan Shazier (18), Bradley Roby (25) and Carlos Hyde (31). Jack Mewhort, at 59, isn’t far behind.
The first-round candidacy of Hyde is particularly intriguing. If the year were 2004, he’d be in New York for the draft and expected to come off the board within the top 15 picks. Instead, Hyde will be home in Florida just hoping to be among the lucky 32 players taken in the first round.
He’s entering a quarterback-driven league that’s trending away from running backs. Despite being the top running back available, according to a majority of draft prognosticators, Hyde’s ready-made style for the NFL isn’t deemed worthy of an early draft pick.
“What he does really well is catch the football,” Mayock said of Hyde. “What’s really important for a high-level tailback, if you want to be a three-down back in the NFL, you’ve got to catch the football. What he showed is that he’s a natural catcher. That’s another box checked off.”
Most draft experts agree that Shazier is all but certain to be taken in the first round, while Roby could go late first or early second.
“Shazier will very likely be the first Ohio State player off the board,” ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said. “He’s got to continue to get bigger. He struggled to put weight on and keep weight on. But I love him as a football player.
“One hundred forty-three tackles last year, six sacks, he can cover form sideline to sideline, he plays the game hard, he contributes on special teams, he shows up big in big moments, does a good job with reading his keys, takes a false step here and there, but he's got the speed to overcome it. I just think he's going to continue to get better and better, I really do.
“Seventy-one tackles in the final five games when Ohio State needed him the most. With everyone around him seemingly falling apart and the mistakes they were making and as bad as things got defensively, he was the one guy who kept attacking and kept making plays.”
The Buckeyes rank second all-time with 67 first-round draft picks. Their 405 overall selections are third in draft history. In the past decade, Ohio State’s flexed its draft muscle in both categories. In 2004, it had a record 14 draft picks and followed it up two years later with five first-round selections. In the past two drafts, the Buckeyes have only had seven total players taken.
Ryan Shazier is expected to go in the mid-to-late range. Mock drafts have him going anywhere from Green Bay at 21 to Denver at 31.
Shazier is regarded as the third-best outside linebacker in this year’s draft, behind Buffalo’s Khalil Mack and UCLA’s Anthony Barr. Shazier impressed scouts at the NFL Combine and Ohio State’s Pro Day, where he ran a 4.36 40.
“A lot of linebackers coming out have different qualities that makes them good, but the thing that stands out with me is I’m a lot more versatile,” Shazier told the Sun-Sentinel. “I can do whatever you want me to do.”
In 2013, Shazier ranked in the top three nationally with 144 tackles (third) and 23.5 tackles for loss (second).
Bradley Roby is projected as a first-round pick, but some draft experts believe he could slip into the second round due to off-field issues.
CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco has him going No. 13 overall to St. Louis. All six draft analysts on CBS have Roby going in the first round, with the Browns and Bengals being included in that bunch.
The cornerback class is deep with as many as six players expected to go in the first round – Roby, Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), Kyle Fuller (Virginia Tech), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska).
Roby was an All-Big Ten selection in 2013 after recording 69 tackles, three interceptions, 13 pass breakups and two blocked kicks.
Second and Third Rounds
Since the season ended, no Buckeyes’ stock has risen more than Jack Mewhort’s. The All-American left tackle rapidly went from mid-tier to the first three rounds. There were red flags with struggles against Mack, Vic Beasley and Michigan State’s vaunted defense, but Mewhort eased any doubts at the Senior Bowl, Combine and Ohio State’s Pro Day.
Versatility is what makes Mewhort such a hot commodity. He can play all five positions on the line, which is an asset when you only dress seven offensive linemen on game days.
Mayock lists Mewhort as the 59th-best prospect in the draft and Mel Kiper Jr. has him going 66th overall – early third round – to the Redskins.
“As a right tackle, I think he has a chance to be a starter. You could kick him inside to the center. He has a background in high school as a center. That’s a possibility as well. I think he is a late-two, early-three.”
Carlos Hyde is the wild card. He’d be a guaranteed first-rounder in a different age. But he must sweat out the three-plus-hour night. It’s difficult to find a mock draft with Hyde going in the first round. It’s nearly unanimous that the 1,500-yard rusher will still be available come Friday.
“Hyde’s skill set is similar to Arian Foster,” McShay said. “Obviously size and power, but also lateral agility and body control to quickly get in and out of creases.”
Corey Linsley, who started at center the past two seasons, is expected to hear his name called sometime Saturday. Center is becoming a more valued position in the NFL, boding well for Linsley. But it came as a shock two years ago when Mike Brewster went undrafted. When you get past the third and fourth rounds, it becomes more unpredictable.
Linsley overcame on- and off-field struggles early in his career to start his final 26 games at Ohio State. It showed maturity and durability. He was a captain and All-Big Ten selection as a senior.
Right guard Andrew Norwell’s status is more uncertain. He’s shifted from late round to undrafted free agent territory as the draft nears. But he was vital in Ohio State’s record-setting 2013 offense that established new bests in points scored (637), total yards (7,167), rushing yards (4,321), passing touchdowns (38) and total touchdowns (83).
An invite to the NFL Scouting Combine is usually a good indicator of who will get drafted, which offers a glimmer of hope for wide receiver Philly Brown. His stock has gone down with subpar 40 times and due to his small stature. But Brown has flashed the ability to make big plays.
Brown tallied nearly 1,500 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns his past two seasons. He could contribute on special teams and in sporadic offensive appearances as a rookie.
Undrafted Free Agents
The Kenny Guiton story seemed to get more improbable along the way, so why not end with being drafted? The chances are minimal, but they do exist. Mostly, though, he just wants an opportunity to be in a camp.
“I’m just looking for a shot,” Guiton said after Ohio State’s Pro Day. “I don’t mind where I’m picked up at – free agency, late rounds – it doesn't matter. I just want the shot.”
He’s hoping to go the Matt Cassel route – play behind talented starter in college, then get chance in NFL. In what tape scouts do have of Guiton, they’re likely impressed. He led a fourth-quarter comeback and followed it with school passing records.
Marcus Hall, Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett, Jordan Hall, Drew Basil, Chris Fields, Pitt Brown and George Makridis are other undrafted free agent