COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State football is closing out its regular season against Michigan, which is serving as both a chance to go to the Big Ten championship game and College Football Playoff.
It’s also serving as Senior Day and potentially the last game for some very important underclassmen. Who will stay and who will go is something cleveland.com’s Nathan Baird, Stephen Means and Doug Lesmerises like to predict.
Last season, only one underclassman declared for the NFL Draft: Garrett Wilson was the first Buckeye taken. The only other player anyone else predicted would leave was Ronnie Hickman, with Nathan being the only one to predict otherwise.
In 2020, five underclassmen declared: Justin Fields, Shaun Wade, Wyatt Davis, Josh Myers and Tommy Togiai. We all predicted Chris Olave would leave, and he didn’t, while everyone but Nathan thought Jeremy Ruckert would stay.
In 2018, six Ohio State underclassmen declared for the draft: Nick Bosa, Dwayne Haskins, Dre’Mont Jones, Michael Jordan, Mike Weber and Kendall Sheffield. Jordan was the only one that Doug predicted on Senior Day would stay.
in 2017, only three underclassmen went pro: Denzel Ward, Jerome Baker and Sam Hubbard. On Senior Day, our consensus had six Buckeyes leaving.
In 2016, six OSU underclassmen left: Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, Malik Hooker, Curtis Samuel, Raekwon McMillan and Noah Brown. We called all of them on Senior Day except Brown.
In 2015, nine underclassmen declared, which was the moment when everyone knew how serious this could get as the Buckeyes started flooding the NFL draft with talent. That’s a number the Buckeyes could pass this season. Here are the candidates, with guesses from me, Nathan Baird and Doug Lesmerises as to what might happen.
C.J. Stroud, quarterback
Stroud might be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft come April, so it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Saturday will be his last game in Ohio Stadium. He’s set to become the third straight Ohio State quarterback to go in the first round, joining Haskins and Fields. If he does go No. 1, he’ll be the first Buckeye to do so since the then-St. Louis Rams drafted Orlando Pace in 1997.
Miyan Williams, running back
Miyan Williams has been a better running back than most expected him to be. He’s gone from being viewed as the running back OSU settled on after missing on all its initial 2020 targets to possibly its best option this season when everyone’s healthy.
Williams is a running back that operates more like a bowling ball violently rolling down the lane. He’s shown that with every carry. His situation has some similarities to Weber’s after the 2018 season. He may need to leave because his stock is as high as it might ever get.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver
It’s been unfortunate that Smith-Njigba hasn’t been able to put together an encore performance from his record-breaking 2021 season. Whether he plays on Saturday or not, it’s been assumed that this would be his last season in Columbus as a guy with a chance to be the first wide receiver taken off the board. A hamstring injury might eliminate his chances of doing so, but he should still be the third straight — or fourth, depending on how you want to look at it — OSU wide receiver to go in the first round.
Julian Fleming, wide receiver
Julian Fleming finally got a chance to continue as a wide receiver for the Buckeyes this season after spending his first two years stuck behind Olave, and also battling a multitude of injuries. He started the year off strong, scoring a touchdown in each of his first five games. If anybody was going to repeat what Lattimore did in 2016 by turning himself into a first-round pick in one year simply by finally getting healthy, it would be him.
He’s trailed off in recent weeks. He’s got 24 catches for 415 yards and six touchdowns this season which is a quality start for a player who’s the third option in the passing game. But it isn’t enough to make him NFL-ready.
Paris Johnson Jr., offensive tackle
It’s unfortunate that it’s a real possibility Ohio State only gets to have Paris Johnson Jr. as its left tackle for one season. But that’s what happens when you have too many tackles and ask him to spend a year playing right guard.
Johnson has been everything he was hyped up to be as a five-star recruit and top tackle in the 2020 recruiting class. He has given up one sack in his career, and that came when he was a true freshman playing guard. This year was about validating what everyone already knew about him, and he’s done that. Now the question is if he feels like it’s enough for him to move on and whether he’ll be the first tackle off the board in April.
Luke Wypler, center
Luke Wypler’s timeline as a starter got fast-tracked last year because Harry Miller was no longer in the mix. He took advantage of the opportunity and has now spent the past two years being a quality center. The problem is he plays a position that isn’t always valued as high, which may lead to him coming back, which would benefit the Buckeyes as they’re already expected to lose three players off this offensive line. There’s a chance that Wypler eventually leaves Ohio State as a four-year starter at center.
Lathan Ransom, safety
This is not a list anybody would’ve had Lathan Ransom on to start the season. It was impressive enough that he recovered from a broken leg in the Rose Bowl so fast, but he’s turned himself into a weapon for a safety-driven defense. Ransom leaving will be because he has no choice but to. He’s undoubtedly raised his draft stock this season. The question is whether he’s raised it so high that it’s too good to pass up on.
The 19 scholarship seniors that were expected to play their final home game against Michigan:
WR Kamryn Babb, CB Cameron Brown, DT Jerron Cage, RB Marcus Crowley, DE Tyler Friday, LB Palaie Gaoteote, DE Zach Harrison, DE Javontae Jean-Baptiste, WR Xavier Johnson, OL Dawand Jones, OL Matthew Jones, OL Harry Miller and TE Mitch Rossi, SAF Josh Proctor and DT Taron Vincent.
To see the full list of players participating in Senior Day, click here.
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