With the Big Ten’s postponement of the 2020 football season, Buckeyes with their sights set on the NFL have a tough decision to make.
If the season is pushed back until early 2021, Ohio State players looking toward the NFL draft — which typically takes place in late April or early May — may have little-to-no time to prepare for the draft process. With an Ohio State roster chock-full of NFL prospects, players that feel they’re pro-ready have the option to opt out of the season in order to prepare for the draft.
With the potential for pro-ready players to leave the program without playing a season, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said that Ohio State will still allow those players an opportunity to continue to work out at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“We have everything in place here in Columbus to help those guys,” Day said in a conference call with media members Aug. 12. “We have the best strength coach in America. We have all the resources here that they would need.”
While a season still hangs in the balance for the Big Ten, star players at major Southeastern Conference programs have already turned to the opt-out choice. Georgia graduate quarterback Jamie Newman and LSU junior wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase have opted out of the fall season due to coronavirus concerns and to prepare for the upcoming NFL draft.
Among the pro-ready players at Ohio State who have this option is junior quarterback Justin Fields, who is coming off a tremendous 2019 campaign. Fields, in his first season as a Buckeye, tallied 41 touchdowns through the air and 10 on the ground while only throwing three interceptions en route to a third place finish in Heisman Trophy voting.
Fields is projected to be a top 10 selection in the 2021 NFL draft, however he said that he won’t rush into committing to the draft just yet.
“Growing up as a kid, I’ve always been a competitor. I’ve always loved to play football,” Fields said in a conference call Aug. 4. “Growing up with my family, I never really needed anything. I think my family has provided me with everything that I’ve needed so getting to the money as fast as I can isn’t really a priority for me. Just playing with my teammates and grinding everyday with coach Mick during workouts and plays and stuff like that, that’s what I’m cherishing the most right now.”
Day said that Fields is still interested in seeing how a spring season would operate before making his decision.
“In our conversations, I think Justin wants to see what the schedule is,” Day said. “I think it’s our job and we owe it to these guys to make sure that we put the schedule and plan quickly here, so that someone like Justin can plan on his next year.”
Among the guys protecting Fields on the offensive line are two stellar interior linemen who could also land in the higher rounds of the draft.
Redshirt junior center Josh Myers and redshirt junior guard Wyatt Davis played a large part in Ohio State’s rushing success last season.
Following the crushing defeat to Clemson at the Fiesta Bowl, Davis and Myers both declared that they would be returning to the Buckeyes for the 2020 season. However, with changing circumstances, Davis is keeping a positive mindset going into an uncertain fall.
“Lately, I’ve just been taking it one day at a time,” Davis said. “I’ve just been thinking very positive about it.”
Davis is projected to land in the first round, while Myers is expected to fall either in the first or second round.
Junior wide receiver Chris Olave also has the opportunity to enter the 2021 NFL draft.
Olave burst onto the scene during the 2019 season as Fields’ favorite target, hauling in 48 receptions for team-high totals in yards with 840 and touchdowns with 12.
At this point, Olave is yet to make a decision on whether or not to return to Ohio State. If Olave is to enter the 2021 draft, he is projected to land in the second round.
On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt junior cornerback Shaun Wade had the opportunity to enter the draft last year, however, he decided to return to Columbus for another season with the Buckeyes.
With an uncertain fall ahead, Wade said he had no regrets returning to Columbus.
“I had no second thoughts,” Wade said. “I’m really just taking it day-by-day and trying to enjoy what we have right now.”
Wade is projected to land in the first round of the draft.
With the Buckeyes potentially losing their big name stars, Day said that he isn’t worried about roster management if they’re able to get a season started as soon as possible.
“If we don’t play then yeah that would be a problem,” Day said. “That’s why we gotta put this plan together and get these guys going.”