Countdown to College Football Kickoff: Top NFL prospects at Ohio State

Dec 28, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) against the Clemson Tigers during the 2019 Fiesta Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Rang

College football is scheduled to return Saturday, August 29. Each day until then, will be evaluating the rosters of the best teams in college football, including all 64 within the Power Five conferences.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Head Coach: Ryan Day (second full season)

2019 Record: 13-1

2020 NFL Draft Picks: Chase Young, DE/OLB, Washington – 1st Round, No. 2 overall

Jeff Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions – 1st Round, No. 3 overall

Damon Arnette, CB, Las Vegas Raiders – 1st Round, No. 19 overall

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens – 2nd Round, No. 55 overall

DaVon Hamilton, DT, Jacksonville Jaguars – 3rd Round, No. 73 overall

Jonah Jackson, OG, Detroit Lions – 3rd Round, No. 75 overall

Malik Harrison, LB, Baltimore Ravens – 3rd Round, No. 98 overall

Jordan Fuller, S, Los Angeles Rams – 6th Round, No. 199 overall

K.J. Hill, WR, Los Angeles Chargers – 7th Round, No. 220 overall

Jashon Cornell, DE, Detroit Lions – 7th Round, No. 235 overall


Even after losing 10 players to the NFL draft, including three first round picks – two of them among the first three selections – Ohio State returns loaded and in prime position for another playoff appearance.

As such, the expectations are even higher now for second-year head coach Ryan Day than they were when he inherited the Lamborghini of a program left by Urban Meyer. In Year One, some passionate Buckeyes fans essentially were asking Day and his staff to simply “stay on the road.”

The expectation now, however, is for Day to blaze his own path, with anyone paying much attention already recognizing that he did so last year, completely dominating the Big Ten.

Rallying around transfer quarterback Justin Fields, the Buckeyes appeared unstoppable throughout much of last season, defeating 10 conference opponents by an average of nearly five touchdowns (33.1 points). This was not a case of the Buckeyes simply beating up on the Big Ten cellar-dwellers. Ohio State’s unblemished regular season concluded with double-digit wins over Penn State (28-17) and arch rival Michigan (56-27), as well as Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game (34-21) – all in the span of three weeks. All three opponents entered their showdown with Ohio State ranked in the AP’s Top 10 but it didn’t take long for the Buckeyes’ talent to simply outclass them.

Buckeyes fans know all too well how quickly things changed in the Fiesta Bowl, however.

After racing out to a 16-0 lead over the defending national champion Clemson Tigers, future first round cornerback Shaun Wade was ruled to have targeted star quarterback Trevor Lawrence on a big hit.

With both Okuda and Damon Arnette first round picks this past spring, one might surmise that Ohio State should have been able to absorb the loss of Wade. He is not the supremely agile cover corner that Okuda will prove for the Detroit Lions, and does possess the instincts and rat terrier-like tenacity which made Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden and the Las Vegas Raiders fall in love with Arnette. 

Wade’s big hits made him an intimidator in Ohio State’s secondary, however, and his removal from the game had an immediate and lasting impact, which isn’t meant to take away from Clemson’s victory.

Give Dabo Swinney and his Tigers credit, the collision (and Lawrence’s toughness in fighting through it) ignited Clemson and they completely turned around the game, finishing on a resounding 29-7 run to qualify for a return to the national title game to face LSU and sending the Buckeyes home.

Losing superstars like Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and J.K. Dobbins, among others, will require a significant transition for Day and the Buckeyes but given all of the uncertainly surrounding Meyer in recent years, as well as the never-ending parade of talent at Ohio State, they appear well-suited for the challenge.

Featured 2021 NFL Draft Prospect: Justin Fields, QB, 6-2, 223, 4.50, JR

It is easy to venture into hyperbole when discussing Fields, who was given the unenviable task of replacing first round quarterback Dwayne Haskins at this time a year ago and may have been even better than his predecessor.

While leading the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title and playoff berth, Fields accounted for a jaw-dropping 51 (41 passing) touchdowns while throwing just three interceptions, completing a sterling 67.2% of his passes. It was the first time that a Big Ten quarterback had ever thrown for as many as 40 touchdown passes while also rushing for at least 10 scores.

Ranked by recruiting experts as one of the elite talents in the entire country, Fields signed with his home-state Georgia Bulldogs out of high school, seeing action in 12 of 14 games for the Bulldogs in 2018 and throwing for four touchdowns (while rushing for four others) in mostly mop-up duty behind then-sophomore Jake Fromm. Rather than risk not overtaking Fromm and understandably upset after a star Georgia baseball player made racist comments about him during a game against Tennessee, Fields opted to transfer to Ohio State, where he was granted immediate clearance, leading to last year’s breakout for the Buckeyes. 

Sure, scouts want to see him duplicate – or better yet, improve upon last year’s play but at his best, Fields looks like a combination of NFL All-Pros Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson, demonstrating the awareness, arm, athleticism and well-built frame to project as a franchise signal-caller.

He joins Clemson's Lawrence and Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell as this year’s blue chip prospects. The only Heisman finalist from a year ago returning to college football, Fields looks poised to take home the crown this year, perhaps guiding the ridiculously-talented Buckeyes to a national title along the way.

Strengths: Dynamic dual-threat quarterback who can beat opponents with his arm, feet and mind. Talented passer with the strong arm, touch and accuracy to make every throw. Quick set-up and delivery with an efficient, over-the-top release, as well as the ability to drop his arm slot and improvise. Sets his feet nicely and throws with balance, generating torque on the ball to deliver tight-spinning fastballs receivers can track easily. Power arm with throws of 75+ yards in the air dating back to high school… Scouts can hang their laundry on the frozen ropes he delivers to the sidelines with deep balls forcing receivers to keep running…

Flashes pillow-soft touch on quick flips, down the seams and on verticals, as well. Showed impressive recognition for a first-year starting quarterback, quickly moving through his progressions and rarely risking the ball by throwing it into coverage. Wonderful athlete with the agility and acceleration to be a constant scramble threat.

Compact, well-built frame with the requisite body armor to take punishment. Bounces off of would-be tacklers, showing impressive core strength and determination with the ball in his hands, without being reckless. Good awareness and vision from the pocket, exhausting passing opportunities before scrambling. Uses the threat of his running to suck up defenders, before calmly flipping the ball over them. Showed his grit and competitiveness by returning to action after a big hit vs. Michigan and promptly throwing a touchdown…

Entering just his second season as a starter and should only be scratching the surface of his potential. Showed commitment to his craft this offseason, working as a counselor during the Elite 11 QB camp this summer.

Weaknesses: Currently just a one-year starter, though his production was admittedly through the roof… Starred in a player-friendly scheme which created openings for receivers with clever play design and was surrounded by a virtual all-star game, including with a Joe Moore-caliber offensive line. Was not often asked to anticipate throws, instead typically waiting to see receivers open before making his deliveries… Accuracy drops slightly while on the move, occasionally forcing receivers to adjust their routes. Some “ballpark” rather than ballistic accuracy, getting away with some 50-50 balls that Ohio State’s athletes either turned into receptions or at least helped ensure they weren’t intercepted… Slightly shorter than scouts would prefer. Generally does a nice job of protecting his body but takes a lot of hits, raising concerns about his long-term durability.

NFL Player Comparison: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks – To be clear, Fields is not yet as accurate from the pocket as Wilson, who is already the Seahawks’ all-time leading passer after just eight seasons. And it remains to be seen if he possesses Wilson’s leadership and durability. Even as more athletic quarterbacks have become increasingly popular in the NFL, however, few possess true dual-threat talents while also boasting the frame necessary to hold up to the punishment. Fields won’t have to wait until the third round to hear his name called like Wilson did, but he projects similarly to the NFL as a future franchise signal-caller and possible All-Pro.

Current NFL Draft Projection: First Round

The Top 10 NFL Prospects at Ohio State:

1. Justin Fields, QB, 6-2, 223, 4.50, JR

2. Shaun Wade, CB, 6-0, 194, 4.40, rJR

3. Thayer Munford, OT, 6-5, 310, 5.20, SR

4. Wyatt Davis, OG, 6-3, 313, 5.15, rJR

5. Chris Olave, WR, 6-0, 185, 4.40, JR

6. Josh Myers, C, 6-4, 310, 5.20, rJR

7. Pete Werner, OLB, 6-2, 239, 4.70, SR

8. Trey Sermon, RB, 6-0, 221, 4.50, SR – Oklahoma transfer 

9. Baron Browning, LB, 6-2, 248, 4.65, SR

10. Luke Farrell, TE, 6-5, 250, 4.75, rSR

*All 40-yard dash times are estimates