It needed to be asked but the answer was already extremely obvious. Does Ohio State push the fact it exported arguably the best NFL Draft class of all-time from one program a year ago while it is on the recruiting trail?
“Ya think?” head coach Urban Meyer said on Wednesday, a slight curve of the lips trickling to the side of his mouth.
The Buckeyes secured the nation's No. 2 class on National Signing Day with 21 commitments, nine of which are already enrolled at Ohio State and taking part in winter workouts. Meyer and Co. couldn't catch Alabama — who brought in 29 players — for the top spot in the rankings but their average recruit rating of 94.47 led the country.
“Today wasn't a good day, it was a great day at Ohio State,” Director of Player Personnel Mark Pantoni said.
The class is historic, with a handful of five-star commits, 14 four-stars and at least one top-5 player in all nine position groups. Experiencing such massive success on the recruiting trail is attributed to multiple things, like the fact the Buckeyes won the 2014 national championship. That led to more than 10 highly ranked players being in the fold by March of last year in addition to such a high number of early enrollees.
“Seeing all those guys walk across the stage has really lifted our platform probably on a more national level to be able to open these kids' eyes a little bit more to Ohio State.”– Mark Pantoni
But then the Buckeyes sent 12 players to the NFL via the Draft, and three more made teams despite not hearing their name called last spring. In a wild turn of events, former right tackle Chase Farris is the only one of the 15 involved with either franchise playing in Super Bowl XLI on Sunday — he is a practice squad member of the New England Patriots.
But Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa won Rookie of the Year honors as determined by the PFWA and are two of five finalists for the same award from the league. Darron Lee, Taylor Decker, Eli Apple, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell and others became starters and essential contributors. The list of rookie Buckeyes making waves at the next level is quite long.
High school kids seeing a program win a national title then send five first-round picks to the NFL (three in the top 10), only to watch them own the league on Sundays? It's almost like cheating.
“They see that these kids not only leave this program and go to the NFL, they start, and we have rookie of the year, rookie of the year,” Meyer said. “We have Mike Thomas goes in, he's dominant at the Pro Bowl, I think, and I lose track of them.
“I'm watching the Pro Bowl, a Buckeye carries the ball, a Buckeye is blocking for him, and a Buckeye tackles him,” he continued. “You know, it's a lot of good stuff out there.”
Elliott is a star for the Dallas Cowboys and Bosa made waves for the now defunct San Diego Chargers despite missing the first quarter of the season due to a contract dispute. Thomas set rookie receiving records for the New Orleans Saints and probably would have been in the conversation for Rookie of the Year had it not been for his teammates.
Such dominance in an entity like the NFL — which owns headlines and television viewers all year round — catches the attention of the best recruits in the country. Just ask cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, who saw Apple become a top-10 pick after only three years in the program and the Buckeyes lose 75 percent of their defensive backfield as early entrants the last two seasons.
“It influenced my decision because those corners have the same kind of mold as me. The 6-foot frame, the 190-197 weight,” Okudah said. “So when you look at all that, those guys have the same molds so they have the plan to get me to where I want to be.”
Okudah is one of five players from Texas in the class and according to 247Sports is the top-rated player among the other 2017 Ohio State commitments. Linebacker Baron Browning (from Texas) is second-highest among the early enrollees while running back J.K. Dobbins (also from Texas) is fourth. Plenty of eyeballs found Elliott in Dallas on Sunday afternoons. More watch Bosa out west, Thomas in the Big Easy, Decker in the Motor City with the Detroit Lions and Apple in New York with the Giants.
Such a wide landscape of rookie Buckeyes in the NFL helped Meyer, Pantoni and their staff lock down players from 15 different states. What was already a national brand grew even stronger following the 2016 NFL Draft.
“In my opinion starting with the National Championship and then almost a year ago in April at the NFL Draft,” Pantoni said, “seeing all those guys walk across the stage has really lifted our platform probably on a more national level to be able to open these kids' eyes a little bit more to Ohio State.”
Fifteen players left the program for the NFL Draft the last two years even though they had college eligibility remaining. That isn't by accident but adds more stress on Ohio State to get more players that can contribute early.
Yet another thing the Buckeyes use to lure the top talent the country has to offer to Columbus.
“Since day one we always wanted to recruit guys that are not only great kids who want to do great things after football, but who want to play in the NFL,” Pantoni said. “And so those are the kids we're looking for from day one, and then we're going to continue to do that.”