One of the largest storylines from the 2016 NFL draft was the unequivocal presence of the Ohio State football program. The 12 OSU players selected in the three-day event in Chicago last weekend set numerous records and added to coach Urban Meyer’s impressive mark of former players picked in the draft which, now, totals over 80.
Truly, no one knows the worth of a draft class until approximately three years after that draft. But on the surface, OSU’s NFL-record-breaking group stacks up against the top draft classes ever produced by any one school.
Matched up against former OSU classes, the 2004 and 2006 draft groups are regarded as two of the best in school history.
OSU’s 2004 class, oddly, is very similar to the 2016 group. Each manufactured a championship the year before it entered the draft and then failed to repeat the following year after entering the season as overwhelming favorites.
The 2004 class produced three first-rounders in defensive end Will Smith, cornerback Chris Gamble and wide receiver Michael Jenkins, but the bulk of the class came in the later rounds. OSU saw an NFL-record 14 players selected in 2004, which still stands as the all-time mark by one school.
Smith played nine seasons with the New Orleans Saints in his tenure in the league and started as an integral cog in the Saints’ defense for seven of those nine seasons. Gamble, too, played nine seasons in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers and started in the secondary from his rookie season until he retired after the 2012 season. Another notable NFL performer from the 2004 OSU class is current Pittsburgh Steelers safety Will Allen.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk, safety Donte Whitner, linebacker Bobby Carpenter, wide receiver Santonio Holmes and center Nick Mangold rank atop the list of notable Buckeyes who have been drafted in recent years. All five of those former OSU legends made All-Big Ten teams in 2005, and two of them achieved All-American honors. Excluding Carpenter, the first-round picks found great success at the next level. Holmes was the Super Bowl XLIII MVP, where he snagged the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter, securing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ sixth championship against the Arizona Cardinals.
As for the other first-round picks in that class, Hawk played nine seasons with Green Bay and won Super Bowl XLV in 2010. The two-time All-American totaled 20 sacks and nearly 644 total tackles through 10 seasons thus far. Whitner just finished playing his 10th season in the NFL and has reeled in 11 interceptions and 619 tackles over the course of his career while earning three Pro Bowl bids. Mangold has been known as the game’s best center for close to five years with the New York Jets. The former Buckeye center is one of the most decorated players to come out of Columbus. Mangold has been voted first-team All-Pro twice, once second-team All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler.
As for draft classes that did not come out of the capital of the Buckeye state, look no further than the 2004 Miami Hurricanes’ group. We already covered the 2004 Buckeyes who still hold the draft record for most picks from one school. Now let’s turn our attention to the class who still holds the first-round draft pick record. Miami saw six of its former players taken in the first round in 2004, a mark that has not been surpassed or met in any following draft.
The 2002 national championship game between OSU and Miami featured a complete arsenal of NFL talent, and Miami was a large portion of that. Between the six first-round picks from Miami in 2004, the rare draft class racked up three Super Bowl championships and 11 Pro Bowl appearances. Much of those impressive accolades were accomplished by defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Wilfork won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and was selected for five Pro Bowls, and Vilma won a Super Bowl with the Saints as well as being selected for three Pro Bowls.
Other notable classes include the 2009 USC draft class that had the lethal trio of linebackers of Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga who dominated the college scene. 2014 LSU, 2011 Alabama and 2010 Florida all had draft classes that have several starters in the NFL at the moment.
But if there is one class football analysts and fans should look to when comparing any draft class, it’s the 2002 Miami Hurricanes. Regarded by many as the greatest college football team in history, the ‘02 ‘Canes were a more-than-impressive bunch. Dominating on the field in college winning the 2001 national championship, this group from the Sunshine State lived up to the hype.
The ‘Canes had 11 players picked from their national championship team in 2002, including five first-rounders. Two of those first-round picks, safety Ed Reed and tight end Jeremy Shockey, are likely bound for the Hall of Fame in Canton in the coming years. A second-round pick, running back Clinton Portis is likely to have his name enshrined in NFL glory in the future as well.
Between Reed, Shockey and Portis, the three were elected to a laudable total of 15 Pro Bowl selections and three Super Bowl championships. Bryant McKinnie, the seventh overall pick in 2002, also played in a Pro Bowl and won a Super Bowl with Reed playing for the Baltimore Ravens.
Portis nearly eclipsed the 10,000-yard career rushing mark in his nine-year career, and Shockey ranks in the top 10 all-time in receiving yards by a tight end. As for Reed, if his nine Pro Bowls don’t speak for themselves, Reed is known as one of the best safeties to ever play in the NFL. He racked up 64 interceptions over his tenure which ranks seventh all time.
Most rookie minicamps around the NFL wrapped up on Sunday, and only time will tell if the Buckeyes’ 2016 draft class is boom or bust. 12 former OSU players drafted in the first four rounds was completely unprecedented and absurd no matter how you look at it. Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Taylor Decker and Michael Thomas figure to start right away with Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Darron Lee getting plenty of reps in their rookie seasons as well.
Six of the seven picks from OSU in the first two rounds were underclassmen which speaks volume to how fast these former Buckeyes progressed. The senior class racked up a program record 50 wins over four seasons, so there’s no question the draftees know how to win. Each and every member of the 2016 draft class was a critical part in the 2014 national championship, too.
Elliott collected 696 yards in three games on the way to the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship with Bosa being a consistent force on the defensive front the whole season and stepping up in the biggest moments. Apple shadowed some of Alabama’s and Oregon’s top receivers in the semi-final and championship game in the College Football Playoff. Bell had an interception in both the Big Ten championship game and semi-final matchup, and Thomas was a constant deep threat averaging over 11 yards per catch with one score in the final two games of 2014.
Former quarterback Cardale Jones—drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the fourth round—has a story that is well-documented in leading OSU to a championship. As for offensive lineman Taylor Decker, he’s been the best lineman at OSU for two years and performed at his best under the spotlight. One thing to know about the record-breaking group from Columbus is that they know how to perform at the largest venues.
It would be a grand disappointment if this talented class didn’t accomplish much at the next level. But if there is one thing people know about the Buckeyes’ football program, it’s that OSU coach Meyer knows how to produce NFL-ready players.