We are in the early stages of NFL Draft season, which means Ohio State players no longer in the program are readying to state their case in front of NFL brass. General managers, owners and other members of the front office are busy researching the available talent to prepare for the Draft. Top analysts like Mel Kiper Jr. are doing the same.
Kiper released his first mock draft on Thursday morning and he slotted two Buckeye defensive backs among the top 32 picks: cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Malik Hooker. Kiper has Lattimore going sixth overall to the New York Jets and Lattimore at No. 17 to Washington.
From the mock:
No. 6 New York Jets
Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Lattimore is another first-year starter who jumped to the top of my cornerback rankings with a stellar season. A hamstring injury limited his time on the field in Columbus in 2014 and 2015. Speed, size (6-foot-1, 190) — he has all the traits to be a star. Darrelle Revis could be on his way out with the Jets — or move to safety — and Lattimore would slide into his spot on Day 1.
17. Washington Redskins
Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Hooker was the best center-field-type safety I saw this season — he has incredible speed and range and was all over the field for the Buckeyes. He had seven interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns. Washington could also have a need at wide receiver, even after taking Josh Doctson in the first round last year. Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are both free agents. Keep an eye on a pass-rusher here, too.
Both Lattimore and Hooker left college with eligibility remaining, two of six Ohio State players to do so. That makes 15 Buckeyes over the last two seasons that turned pro when they had the option to return.
The Buckeyes turned in arguably the best NFL Draft class ever in 2016 and all players served some sort of a role this season in the league, including PFWA Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa. Elliott led the league in rushing with the Dallas Cowboys while Bosa racked up 10.5 sacks in just 12 games after getting a late start on his career due to a contract dispute.
“To come off the heels of whatever happened last year, which I had never saw a class like that, I know we go back into history and find classes that are really, really spectacular but none like this,” Kiper said Thursday on a conference call. “Because you had the offensive star in Elliott and you had the defensive star in Bosa then you other guys who are doing really good things as well.
“You talk about Michael Thomas, Michael Thomas is the offensive rookie of the year in most years,” Kiper added. “Jalin Marshall, undrafted, he contributed with the Jets. Braxton Miller with what he did. Then you look on the defensive side of the ball, Vonn Bell came on, Darron Lee had his moments. The list goes on and on and on from this program and what these kids were able to do as rookies.”
This year's crop from Columbus won't have as many names or carry as much star power as the one that saw three guys come off the board among the first 10 picks in 2016 but Kiper remains high on the talent Urban Meyer's program continues to shell out. He believes hybrid back Curtis Samuel, center Pat Elflein, cornerback Gareon Conley and middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will come off the board in the early rounds like Hooker and Lattimore.
“Raekwon McMillan should be a second round pick. Conley, the corner, should be a second round pick,” he said. “Curtis Samuel could go early second round. Elflein I have a third-round grade right now.”
Kiper, however, was "shocked" that wide receiver Noah Brown decided to leave school early as a redshirt sophomore and after only starting for one season. Still, Kiper believes Brown will get selected.
“Noah Brown, surprised me, shocked me by coming out early, could have gone back for another year and really helped himself,” Kiper said. “He could go third or fourth round.”
But Kiper is enamored with the Ohio State defensive backs, particularly Lattimore.
“When you look at Lattimore, every time you watched him you saw a guy that could be a shutdown corner,” Kiper said. “He was able to elevate his game and a player that really jumped out at you as a player. I'm not saying he's going to be Darrelle Revis in his prime or Patrick Peterson or Richard Sherman but he's got a chance to be one heckuva corner. Patrick Peterson, I loved him coming out of LSU and I see similar skill set and similar ability to what I saw with Peterson, that he can be that lock down guy.
“The one guy that I think has a chance to be one of the top three corners in the league is Lattimore,” Kiper continued. “I really think he has a higher ceiling than any of the other corners. That's why I have him up there as far as grade goes at No. 10 and have him going to the Jets at No. 6. Very easily could have given him to Tennessee at No. 5.”
Lattimore was the final Buckeye underclassmen to declare his intentions to leave early and make the jump to the league. But early indications are that he will become a very rich man shortly after the 2017 NFL Draft, which commences on April 27 in Philadelphia.
There won't be as many Buckeyes this year as last. But Kiper has taken notice of Meyer's program in Columbus.
“To come off of that year and still have all these high picks this year — it is pretty amazing,” he said.