One of the true powerhouses in college football, Ohio State has historically been a program known for attracting some of the most highly sought after prospects in the country and producing NFL talent. Unanimously lauded as the cream of the crop of the Big Ten Conference, the program is seemingly always in contention for a national title or a premier bowl game. Despite losing Chase Young, Jeffrey Okudah, and Damon Arnette to the 2020 NFL Draft, next season somehow looks just as promising as the one that saw them come within a touchdown of a national title berth. This piece takes a look at the best fit for Okudah and highlights the key players expected to drive the Buckeyes’ success in 2020, despite Ohio State’s losses in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Jeffrey Okudah: Best 2020 NFL Draft fit?
Despite fielding a secondary that featured the talented Darius Slay, the Detroit Lions traditionally lack playmakers on the back end and have been among the league’s worst in interceptions. They’ve also surrendered an alarming amount of big plays and squandered leads in 2019. The latter is especially problematic, considering they play in a division that features the likes of Davante Adams, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Allen Robinson.
I’m not usually one to toss around the term “generational talent”, but Okudah has the chance to be just that for Detroit; he would instantly challenge Green Bay’s Jaire Alexander for the top cover man in the NFC North. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Okudah offers exceptional length for the position. A quick-twitch defender with elite ball skills, the Ohio State standout also has the versatility to line up inside or on the perimeter. His long arms and physicality at the catch point will eliminate some of the downfield success teams have had against the Lions and will make him a force in the red zone. In a division that boasts elite wide receivers of all shapes and sizes, Okudah is best equipped to slow them down.
Currently, with the third overall pick, the Lions find themselves in prime position to restock a porous defense with one of the premier defenders from Ohio State in the 2020 NFL Draft.
No shortage of future talent
While losing three of the top defenders in the country in Okudah, Young, and Arnette would seemingly alter Ohio State’s 2020 outlook, the Buckeyes have enough talent to make another run at a national title. Aided by the nation’s top recruiting class, the Big 10 powerhouse will have some familiar faces returning next season on the defensive side of the ball, including standout cornerback Shaun Wade and linebacker Baron Browning. Quarterback Justin Fields, a Heisman favorite, also returns with what should be the country’s most formidable receiving corps in 2020.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the blue-chip talent that figure to hear their names called in the early stages of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Shaun Wade, CB
The moment Wade announced his decision to return to Ohio State, he all but solidified himself as a top-fifteen prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.
With the recent departures of the highly heralded Okudah and Arnette, Wade now finds himself in the spotlight as the top cover man — on an Ohio State team with national championship aspirations. Don’t get me wrong, Wade would have likely been a first-round selection for Ohio State in the 2020 NFL Draft, but that was far from a lock.
When we last saw Wade, he was walking off the field of the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, after a hit he put on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence prompted an early ejection. For a moment, it seemed that the overshadowed Buckeyes cornerback had played his last down at the collegiate level.
While Wade has thrived primarily as a nickel defender, he will finally have a chance to prove to evaluators that he can effectively play on the perimeter as well. While he has demonstrated inside-outside versatility throughout his career, it’s been through a small sample size. At 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, Wade projects as an outside cornerback at the NFL level, but teams will likely become enamored with his ability to play multiple positions on the back end. The lengthy cornerback is extremely fluid in and out of breaks and plays with outstanding leverage. He has shown a penchant for making big plays, as he has amassed four interceptions and three forced fumbles in just two seasons.
Wade enters the 2020 season as one of the country’s premier defenders.
Justin Fields, QB
Coming off a season in which he tossed 41 touchdowns against just three interceptions, was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and finished third in the Heisman voting, Justin Fields enters his junior campaign as one of two quarterbacks in contention for the first overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
While rising star Chris Olave figures to be Fields’ top target in 2020, and one of the best wide receivers in college football, the Heisman favorite will benefit from a strong recruiting class of pass-catchers, including five-star prospect Julian Fleming. The offensive balance that Dobbins added will now belong to promising junior Master Teague, who turned in a 789-yard rushing performance in 2019.
The nation saw Fields improve tremendously as a passer last season, and another season spent sharpening his skills and understanding the finer nuances of the quarterback position should only boost his stock. Fields has a rocket launcher for an arm and is a bruising runner in the open field, but improving his pocket presence and touch of his passes should be a point of emphasis in 2020.
Baron Browning, LB
The 6-foot-3, 248-pound Browning returns for his final campaign in Columbus.
After posting six sacks in two seasons from his linebacker spot, Browning has established himself as a proficient edge rusher. While availability had been an issue for Browning in his first two seasons, as he struggled with multiple injuries, he has overcome it and has grown into his role as one of the centerpieces on defense.
Though Browning has shined as a pass rusher, there will be questions surrounding his ability to hold up in pass coverage. He will need to prove to evaluators that he has the required fluidity and athleticism to drop back into coverage if he wants to be a three-down player at the next level. While some teams may view him as a 3-4 outside linebacker — or even a defensive end — at the next level, Browning has the skills to become a three-down linebacker in the NFL.