Jeremy Ruckert, Haskell Garrett and Tyreke Smith will go through one more week of practices and play one more football game in their Ohio State helmets this week.
Garrett, Smith and Ruckert are all participating in this week’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, where they’ll be among more than 130 prospects practicing and playing in front of talent evaluators from throughout the NFL in an effort to bolster their stock for the 2022 NFL draft.
It marks the third straight year that Ohio State has at least three participants in the Senior Bowl.
The Buckeyes had five players at the Senior Bowl in 2020 (DaVon Hamilton, Malik Harrison, K.J. Hill, Jonah Jackson and Austin Mack) and another five last year (Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, Jonathon Cooper, Justin Hilliard and Trey Sermon). Seven of those 10 Buckeyes – all except Mack, Borland and Hilliard – were drafted, led by Hamilton, Jackson, Harrison, Sermon and Browning, who were all third-round picks.
Ruckert, Garrett and Smith are all already expected to be drafted, but a strong showing in Mobile this week could solidify or improve any of their draft stocks. And there are questions for all of them to answer for scouts who will be watching them up close and in person all week long.
Going into the Senior Bowl, Ruckert appears likely to be the first player drafted among that trio of Buckeyes. He’s been projected to be drafted as early as the second round in some mock drafts; he’s ranked as the No. 86 overall prospect in the 2022 draft class on NFL Mock Draft Database’s consensus big board.
Ruckert could bolster his draft stock even higher if he can really put his receiving skills on display this week. While he was an effective playmaker when he was targeted at Ohio State, the tight end was never a primary target in the Buckeyes’ offense, so this week will be a big opportunity for Ruckert to make the case that he can do more as a receiver than he was able to show in college. Of course, scouts will also want to see consistency and strength from Ruckert in blocking drills.
Chasing something different pic.twitter.com/RgjZkH3Z8E— Jeremy Ruckert (@Jeremy_Ruckert1) January 30, 2022
Garrett isn’t far behind Ruckert in most draft projections, coming in at 90th on the current consensus big board. Realistically, it seems possible that Garrett could come off the board anywhere from the late second round to the fifth round – but that could depend in part on how the next few months go, starting with this week in Mobile.
While Garrett was an All-American in 2020 and led the Buckeyes with seven sacks in 2021, he was limited by an injury down the stretch of his final season at Ohio State and did not play in the Rose Bowl. After sitting out his final game as a Buckeye to get healthy, though, Garrett is planning to play in this week’s Senior Bowl, where he’ll look to remind scouts how disruptive he can be when he’s playing at full strength.
In an interview with Pro Football Network last week, Garrett said he “was truly humbled and blessed” to earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
“I know how special it is and what comes with it and to truly be recognized as an elite athlete in this sport and to bring that not only to my family but to our people, our Polynesian culture, truly is a blessing and an honor,” Garrett said.
Ohio State #Buckeyes defensive tackle Haskell Garrett heads to Mobile for the @seniorbowl next week, and he spoke to PFN Draft Analyst @ojhodgkinson about what that means to him#TheDraftStartsInMobile | #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/nt0dL3QWim— PFN Draft (@PFNDraft) January 28, 2022
The Buckeye who could benefit the most from a big Senior Bowl week is Smith, who is widely projected to be a third-day draft pick and is ranked 128th on the consensus big board.
While Smith flashed the ability to be disruptive as both a pass-rusher and run stopper over the course of his Ohio State career, he did not have a lot of production, finishing his career with only eight sacks. To convince scouts he’s capable of being more productive in the NFL, he’ll need to consistently win his reps off the edge in Mobile – and he knows this week is a big opportunity for him.
“I feel like I need to go out there and show consistency, that I can dominate,” Smith said in December when he was asked about accepting his invitation to the Senior Bowl. “Go out there and dominate every play whether it’s in the pass or in the run. I feel like I need to go out there and show them that I can not only be speed off the edge but also show some power and throw that in my pass-rush. So I feel like I just got a lot to prove, a lot to show these people. So I’m just gonna go out there with a chip on my shoulder. I’m gonna go out there and try to prove what I can.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity, I’m just gonna go out there and make the best of it.”
The three Buckeyes will all be playing for the National Team, which is being coached by the staff of the New York Jets – the team Ruckert grew up watching as a kid in Long Island, as his father recently pointed out on Twitter.
J-E-T-S -JETS JETS JETS pic.twitter.com/aOKtHuUAU2— Bill Ruckert (@BeerShot21) January 15, 2022
Ruckert, Garrett and Smith are the only three Buckeyes participating in a pre-draft all-star game this year. Chris Olave and Thayer Munford were also invited to the Senior Bowl but declined their invitations, according to Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy; Munford told Eleven Warriors last week that he turned down the invitation because he felt like he already had enough game film for scouts to watch after starting for four seasons at Ohio State.
Garrett Wilson, who’s a projected first-round draft pick along with Olave, was not eligible to play in any pre-draft all-star games since he left Ohio State as a true junior.
The National Team’s practices for the Senior Bowl will begin at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, while the game is set to kick off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Both the game and practices are open to the public and will be held at Hancock Whitney Stadium on the campus of the University of South Alabama. The game will be televised on NFL Network, while ESPNU will broadcast the Wednesday and Thursday practices. NFL Network will also air nightly practice recap shows at 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 11 p.m. Thursday.