Becoming emotionally invested in the success of others is a perfectly normal, human emotion. Like some kind of reverse schadenfreude, we want to see people that we like do well. That's not to say that it's some altruistic impulse that appears out of thin air, especially when it comes to sports; if the 27 Buckeyes that will surely be drafted in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft go on to kick ass in the league, that's a sturdy argument for our continued devotion to our favorite team.
I mean, in theory. Because the truth of the matter is that ultimately we have no idea how well the (formidable) skills of some of these players will translate into the NFL. There is a gigantic cottage industry devoted to reading these tea leaves, from mock drafts to player analyses to vehement comments on Reddit, all directed toward convincing you that a particular player will either be terrible or great in the NFL once they flap their wings and leave the comfort of their college nest.
Probably the best Buckeye example of this that I can give is Ezekiel Elliott. The Elliott family has done an incredible job at marketing Zeke; he's got a flashy website, has been the subject of widespread discussion and adulation on ESPN (including some fancy-pants soft focus retrospectives), and has been steadily moving up draft boards since the end of the season.
Not only that, but the rest of the media is all-too happy to keep him in their sights. After all, he's going to be an Eagle. No, a Bear. Wait, sorry, I meant a Giant. Aw crap, a Dolphin? Or maybe a Raider if the Browns end up picking Joey Bosa over him. Wherever he ends up, we just know that he'll be awesome, because of everything laid out in this fawning lede from Trib Live:
Ezekiel Elliott is the best all-around running back in the NFL Draft, and there's not much to debate about that.
The Ohio State back can run, he can run between the tackles, he can block almost as well as he can run and, of course, he can catch.
Oh yeah, Elliott can catch.
All of which sounds pretty great. But what if he sucks?
What if Ezekiel Elliott, one of the top three greatest running backs in Ohio State history, gets to the NFL and just completely shits the bed? What if Elliott gets drafted early, makes a trillion dollars from his contract and endorsements, and then spends a season and a half getting two point three carries a game while sitting on the end of the bench behind an undrafted free agent before ultimately retiring and getting into the sock designing business?
What if, against all logic, Elliott blows it in the NFL?
I don't know why that proposition fills me with so much dread. It shouldn't, in part because Ezekiel Eliiott is really, really good, but also because Elliott potentially being a bust doesn't really impact either Ohio State's ability to win a ton of football games or my enjoyment of the NFL (or at least as much enjoyment as I can get from it by being an emotionally numb Bengals fan).
In a weird, paternalistic way, it turns out that I want Ezekiel Elliott (and Joey Bosa and Darron Lee and Tyvis Powell and oh man, especially Tyvis Powell, and every other Buckeye) to perform well in the NFL because I've become emotionally invested in their success simply because of their service to Ohio State. And that's it.
Luckily, according to USA Today, the Buckeyes produce NFL busts at one of the lowest rates in the last 15 years. It's important to point out that USA Today never actually defines what the hell a "bust" is, but it's probably a fair assumption that the description covers the career of one Vernon Gholston, one of the five OSU players drafted in the first round since 2000 that USA Today identified as a bust. Gholston was famously one hell of a bust, but Ohio State players have rarely gotten to those lofty and infamous heights.
With that said, there's also been more mediocrity than anything else. Guys like AJ Hawk, who was easily the most consistently excellent Ohio State defender I've ever seen, has had a long and durable but fairly undistinguished NFL career. That's good, but not enough in the opinion of many who expected the next Lawrence Taylor out of him.
And occasionally you get a truly excellent player. Nick Mangold has been one of the best centers in the league since he got drafted, and also is a lot of fun at hockey games.
All of which means about jack and squat when it comes to 2016. The truth is that there is no crystal ball, no mock draft seer, no bloviating pompadoured draft gurus who can accurately see into the future and tell you how any of the Buckeyes drafted in a week are going to turn out in the NFL. That lack of certainty should preclude us from getting too invested in any of this, but as usual, there's a root to this psychosis.
My problem is that I got my wish, and the one player that played a critical role in my formative years as a football fan, who above all others I needed beyond belief to succeed in the NFL to justify me getting excited about the draft, mostly did. Granted, he's not going to sniff Canton, but he's had a long career in part with my favorite team.
Which is why every time I see another Ohio State player put on the hat of a desperate pro team, I think of Mike Nugent kicking a thousand field goals right into my heart. Here's hoping that Zeke and Bosa and Mike Thomas and Eli Apple and all of the rest live up to our completely insane expectations.