Quarterback J.T. Barrett, left tackle Jamarco Jones and 17 other Ohio State seniors will play their final collegiate game on Friday when the Buckeyes take on USC in the Cotton Bowl.
They will be joined by a select group of redshirt sophomores, junior and redshirt juniors who will decide to forgo their remaining years of eligibility to test their mettle in the NFL draft. None of them have declared their intention of entering the NFL draft yet, though more than a couple will suit up for the final time in Scarlet and Gray on Friday.
Here is a look at the situation of each offensive underclassman who might declare early for the 2018 NFL Draft and play their final game for Ohio State on Friday. Also, read about which of Ohio State’s defensive players might declare early for the draft.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Johnnie Dixon
Why he would leave early: After battling injuries for the majority of his collegiate career, Dixon is finally healthy and, early in the season, was a primary playmaker for Ohio State. He has pulled in 18 catches for 422 yards, an average of 23.4 yards per reception. Dixon could capitalize on his health and declare early for the NFL. Though the health issues and lack of long-term production would hurt him in the eyes of NFL evaluators, he would have a shot at hanging on an NFL roster. If Dixon returns, he could have another injury issue that would limit him his final year and potentially end his profession football career before it begins. Also, he would once again have to fight for touches at a crowded receiver position.
Why he wouldn’t leave early: Though Dixon has been an integral part of Ohio State’s offense, he ranks just eighth on the team in catches. With another season in college, Dixon could expand his role and work for more touches. He could also improve how NFL teams view his future role. Given his high yard per reception average, Dixon is seen as a deep threat by many, but believes he can be much more. Another season would allow him to prove that to the NFL. Also, with Dwayne Haskins likely stepping in as starter, Dixon could get more opportunities catching passes from a more prototypical pocket-passing quarterback.
Prediction: Finally healthy, Dixon leaves early for the NFL. If he sees an opportunity to get paid, especially after dealing with devastating injury issues, it would be hard to imagine him turning it down. Even though he might go undrafted, Dixon would have a shot at latching onto an NFL roster, something he would have no shot to do if he, once again, gets injured.
Redshirt junior H-back Parris Campbell
Why he would leave early: One of the fastest players on Ohio State, Campbell would offer NFL teams a versatile weapon capable of gashing teams on the ground, in the air or on kick returns. In his second year as a starter, he ranks second on the team with 39 catches for 587 yards and the former high school running back has added 90 yards on seven carries. He has three 57-plus yard catches. Campbell’s return ability — he averages 36.6 yards on nine kick returns — might be most appealing to NFL teams, though. He has already started two seasons and, if he returns for his redshirt senior year, would still be fighting for touches since most receivers will return.
Why he wouldn’t leave early: Though Campbell has showed his game-breaking speed and the ability to stretch short catches into long gains, he has not been the prototypical NFL receiver. Specifically, he has struggled to catch the ball, an ability usually in demand for wide receivers. If he returns to Ohio State, Campbell could show an improved catching ability which could make teams view him as more of a receiver rather than an athlete who returns kicks and can catch short passes.
Prediction: Campbell declares early for the NFL draft and forgoes his final collegiate season. With two years of starting — one at receiver (2016) and one at H-back (2017) — he has proven his strengths and weaknesses. If here were to return to college, Campbell would be unlikely to make drastic enough strides to dramatically improve his draft stock. NFL teams have seen his speed and ability to break plays. Another year in college would not do much to the draft stock of Campbell, a known commodity.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Terry McLaurin
Why he would leave early: One of head coach Urban Meyer’s favorite players, McLaurin has reeled in 28 passes for 434 yards and six touchdowns, including an 84-yard score in the Big Ten championship win against Wisconsin. But Meyer does not like him for his receiving ability. Instead, he appreciates the wideout’s blocking and unselfishness. In the NFL, McLaurin could offer teams a versatile option who could go out for routes, but also block and make plays on special teams.
Why he wouldn’t leave early: McLaurin’s style of play is not a natural fit for the NFL. Teams pay players to make catches, not to block. Though he has 28 receptions, neither his catching ability nor his athleticism stand out in comparison to other NFL prospects. If McLaurin returns for his final year of eligibility at Ohio State, he could show marked improvement in skills most valued by NFL teams.
Prediction: McLaurin will be back for his redshirt senior season. Despite ranking third on the team in catches and receiving touchdowns, McLaurin is viewed less as a receiving option and more as a blocker. In order to show NFL teams he can be more than a blocking receiver, he needs to make improvements in his receiving skills.
Redshirt junior right guard Demetrius Knox
Why he would leave early: Though he has just seven collegiate starts, Knox played well in his limited snaps. The redshirt junior took over for Branden Bowen after the opening-game starting right guard after Bowen went down with a broken leg. Though he lost the position battle to Bowen in the offseason, Knox filled in admirably for him. If he were to return for a fifth collegiate season, Knox would have to hold off Bowen, Matt Burrell, Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and a bevy of other talented linemen to hold onto his starting spot.
Why he wouldn’t leave early: Without much film of Knox playing, NFL teams would be wary to select the 6-foot-4, 308-pound interior lineman. Though he would have to battle Bowen and others for a starting spot, the chance to return to school would allow Knox to prove the small sample size of five games is not a mirage. Recent Ohio State offensive linemen who have succeeded in the NFL were multi-year starters in college, something that would benefit Knox.
Prediction: Knox will return for his final collegiate season. If he were to declare, Knox likely would not get drafted, despite his large frame and physical style of play. Another year of collegiate play would allow NFL teams to have a better idea of the player they would get.
Junior right tackle Isaiah Prince
Why he would leave early: Prince is just a year removed from a turbulent season during which he faltered at key moments and fans called for him to be replaced as starting right tackle. But now, after his second season as a starter, Prince has positioned himself as an intriguing potential early entrant into the NFL draft. With a massive 6-foot-7, 310-pound frame, Prince has learned to maximize his power and has improved agility in pass block sets. He has the size NFL teams desire and is physically ready for the next step.
Why he wouldn’t leave early: Though he has improved in his second season as a starter at Ohio State, Prince has the ability to further improve his draft stock by continuing to make advances in his pass block ability, mobility and footwork. With left tackle Jamarco Jones and center Billy Price graduating, he also would have the opportunity to step into a leadership role with a fellow two-year starter, sophomore left guard Michael Jordan.
Prediction: Prince returns for his third year as Ohio State’s starting right tackle. Next year’s spotlight on him and the ability to continue making dramatic improvements in his weak spots could dramatically improve his draft stock. After a horrific first season and good second season as a starter, Prince has the ability to continue the trend line in a positive direction by returning to Ohio State for his senior season.
Redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber
Why he would leave early: Weber entered the year as the presumed starter after rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a redshirt freshman. But after suffering a partially-torn hamstring, Weber lost his starting spot to freshman phenom J.K. Dobbins, who will be back next year and in 2019. Though Weber is a solid back who etched his name in program history with the 1,096-yard season, he would likely not be able to reclaim the starting job. Entering the NFL draft would allow him to move on from what likely would be an unwinnable position battle and maximize his NFL potential while healthy.
Why he wouldn’t leave early: Though he would like have to split reps, Weber could return in a successful one-two punch with Dobbins, similar to that of former USC running backs Reggie Bush and Lendale White. Weber showcased improved speed at times, but dealt with injuries and a lack of playing time. Those two factors prevented Weber from demonstrating improvements from the season prior. Another year of college would allow NFL teams the ability to scout the player they would expect to draft.
Prediction: After three years at Ohio State, Weber decides to leave college for the NFL. The challenge of competing for carries with Dobbins seems steep. The added mileage on a running back’s body combined with a lack of opportunity make the NFL an appealing option. He expected to be the starter, but was unexpectedly usurped. Though he would also have to fight for carries in the NFL, he would be getting paid and is now healthy enough to maximize the opportunity.
Redshirt sophomore H-back K.J. Hill
Why he would leave early: Often lost in the shuffle of Ohio State’s unusually large cast of six starting wide receivers, Hill finished with a team-leading 55 receptions for 546 yards and three touchdowns. He was quarterback J.T. Barrett’s safety valve and always seemed to come through at key moments of the game. A possession slot receiver, Hill is an advanced route runner. He also has the versatility to impact the game on special teams, a skill NFL teams value highly.
Why he wouldn’t leave early: Hill is far from an explosive wideout. None of his 55 catches went for more than 29 yards and he 9.9 yards per catch, the lowest amount of any Ohio State wide receiver with more than three catches. In order to not just make an NFL roster, but to thrive at the professional level, he will need to maximize his technical receiving skills. Another year or two at Ohio State, would put him in position to showcase his strengths to the NFL and work on converting more explosive plays.
Prediction: Hill returns for his fourth collegiate season. The benefits outweigh the costs for Hill, who would likely be a low draft pick or even go undrafted. With his current lack of explosiveness, the pressure would be on to either make a team as a punt returner and special teams ace or somehow convince teams he can translate a seeming lack of speed into production at a higher level, which seems unlikely.
Redshirt sophomore tight end Rashod Berry
Why he would leave early: On a team stocked with some of the best athletes in college football, Berry stands out. A physical freak who has played on both sides of the ball, he seems to have settled in at tight end. But he retains the ability to play defensive end. NFL teams have shown the willingness to take risks on physical specimens. Mo-Alie Cox, a former VCU basketball player, was signed by the Indianapolis Colts after not playing football since he was 14 years old. Berry, who also has a basketball background, would likely be given a shot by a team.
Why he wouldn’t leave early: Berry does not even have a steady position and has never started a game in college. He played behind tight end Marcus Baugh this season and has a chance to step into the starting role next year. Another year or two of development could do him wonders and potentially make him a well-regarded prospect not just for his combination of lifting and jumping abilities, but his football skills, as well.
Prediction: Berry returns for his redshirt junior season at Ohio State. Sure, his body is ready for the NFL, but he does not have an obvious position in the NFL. In a year or two, his football skills could match his physicality, which would pique the interest of NFL teams.