Ohio State's NFL Draft Impact Down Lately

Cameron Heyward

Ohio State boasts 405 draft total NFL draft picks, third-most all-time, and 67 first-rounders, the second-most of all time, but the last few years have not done as much as the ones before them to contribute to those figures.

If it seems like Ohio State has had less of a presence in the NFL draft in recent years, that is because it has.

While the school proudly -- and rightfully -- proclaimed its rich draft history in a recent news release, the pro talent coming out of Columbus has been on the wane, particularly in the early rounds.

Going back to 1994 draft, the year after Ohio State won its first Big Ten title under head coach John Cooper and (conveniently for this story) the first year the draft was only seven rounds, Ohio State has averaged 5.9 draft picks per year. That figure includes 1.45 first-rounders and 3.0 picked in rounds 1-3.

If we break those 20 drafts into five-year increments, an obvious trend emerges: The past five years have lagged behind their predecessors, particularly in terms of early round picks.

Average picks

The best of the four five-year periods is 2004-08, when an average of 7.4 Buckeyes per year heard their names called at draft time. That also included the highest average of first-rounders (2.2) and the most in rounds 1-3 (4.2). (It is perhaps worth noting this group contains 13 players signed by Cooper and 24 signed by Jim Tressel.)

Next is 1999-03, a period that saw some of the last of Cooper's recruits matriculate and get drafted at an average of 6.6 men per year. That period wasn't second in terms of high quality, however, as averages of 1.2 first-rounders and 2.4 "first day" picks (to use a term from that time made obsolete by the change in the draft schedule a few years ago) rank behind the players of 1994-98.

Yes, while the first group of this study had only 4.8 picks on average to equal the most recent group (2009-13), the quality of the picks was considerably higher at 1.8 first-rounders and 3.6 first-day picks. It should probably be noted, too, that the first five years of our study included the only year ever to see no Buckeyes drafted, 1998.

At any rate, that brings us to the past five years, when 4.8 Buckeyes have been drafted, including only three in the first round (for an average of 0.6). There have not been as many players on the cusp of the first round, either, as the average of players picked in rounds 1-3 is only 1.8, again the lowest of our five-year periods.

So what exactly has caused this change? That is not immediately clear, but recruiting rankings do not do much to bring clarity to the situation.

Scout rankings go back to 2002, and that happens to be when the Ohio State class with the most NFL draftees was signed by Tressel. That class was pegged No. 3 nationally and ended up having 16 starters and 12 draftees. Meanwhile, the 2003 class that was ranked only 25th nationally produced five draft picks, including two first-rounders (Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Whitner) and four "first-day" picks overall (adding third-rounders Ashton Youboty and Anthony Schlegel). Those totals are all better than the 2004, '07 and '08 classes that were all ranked higher on signing day.

The 2009 class, ranked No. 1 in the nation, has had two players drafted already and figures to add at least a couple more before all is said and done, but that group still risks joining the '08 class (ranked fourth in the nation) as the only ones since the '99 signing class not to have at least one first-rounder.

It's possible player development waned toward the end of the Tressel era even as he signed more players the recruiting services loved. The coaching change and NCAA scandal of 2011 surely had an impact on some draft stocks and led to some attrition that might have brought down the number of draftees as well.

There are still players on the roster recruited by Tressel who have a good chance to be drafted (including members of a 2011 class ranked No. 3), perhaps high, and of course Urban Meyer's arrival and subsequent recruiting also figure to make a difference when we add up the next five years to compare to the ones that just passed.

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