After losing sixteen starters before the start of the 2016 season, the Buckeyes had to replace stars in multiple areas. Heading into the 2017 season, Ohio State will not have nearly as difficult of a time. The Buckeyes are losing nine starters, five of which who declared early and one who graduated with a year of eligibility left. Ohio State leads the FBS in players who declared early for the NFL Draft. Here is a complete list of players declaring early. Head coach Urban Meyer will have a tough task ahead, but it is nothing that he has not done before. This is a complete list of the key losses for Ohio State in 2017.
Key Losses for Ohio State Buckeyes in 2017
On offense, Ohio State only is losing three players. However, only two of them have been very influential to the Buckeyes success this season. Rimington Award winner Pat Elflein is graduating after completing his four seasons at Ohio State. In the past three seasons that Elflein has started, Ohio State has not been ranked below 11th in the FBS in rushing yards per game and have rushed for an average of 256.3 yards per game. Elflein has helped Ohio State break multiple rushing records over the past few seasons and is heavily responsible for the success that backs like Ezekiel Elliott and Mike Weber have had. His replacement as of now looks to be Brady Taylor who saw 26 snaps in his two seasons at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes will also be losing scat-back Curtis Samuel. Samuel broke out in 2016 with 1,636 total yards and 15 touchdowns. 2016 was his breakout season, where he was given 63 more touches than in 2014 and 2015 combined. He was known for his speed, coming into college running a 4.36 40-yard dash. This speed allowed him to score three touchdowns of over 70 yards. Replacing this kind of speed is hard, but Ohio State may have found a good replacement. Four-star recruit J.K. Dobbins committed last March and enrolled earlier this month. Dobbins ran a 4.41 40-yard dash in high school and has used his speed similarly to Samuel to break away from defenders.
This was the biggest shock of the six players who declared early. Noah Brown only caught 32 passes in his first season as a starter and scored seven times. While seven touchdowns seems impressive, four of these touchdowns came against Oklahoma in the third week of the season. Brown was very quiet the rest of the season. The Oklahoma game was the only game that he caught five or more passes as well. The Ohio State receiving core struggled most of the season, so it really is a toss up to see who will replace him. The spring game will likely decide who the top three receivers will be to start next season.
Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, and Gareon Conley
All three defensive backs had amazing seasons this year. Safety Malik Hooker had 43 tackles, seven interceptions, three touchdowns, and two more which were called back. His ball-hawking abilities are projecting him to be a top five pick in the NFL Draft this season. Corner back Marshon Lattimore finished the season with 41 tackles, four interceptions, and a touchdown. This was the first season that Lattimore has stayed completely healthy since arriving at Ohio State. Corner back Gareon Conley had 26 tackles and four interceptions this season. All three will be difficult to replace. Meyer will likely want to play around with different combinations of the defensive backs he has. The two safeties on the roster that have the best chances of taking Hooker’s spot are junior Erick Smith and freshman Jordan Fuller. The top choices to replace Lattimore and Conley at corner back are Damon Arnette and Denzel Ward.
Raekwon McMillan has been among the best middle linebackers in the B1G the past two seasons. McMillan has had 221 tackles over the past two seasons and has earned First Team B1G honors in both seasons as well. McMillan also was a Second Team All-American and a Butkus Award Finalist both seasons. His ability to rush the passer and chase down running backs is why he is projected to be an early round draft pick. Ohio State has a few options to replace him, but none of them are very proven. Dante Booker and Justin Hilliard are both liable options, but both are coming off of serious injuries. Booker missed several games this season due to a knee injury and in that time, Jerome Baker took his spot. Hilliard had a string of injuries which included a torn meniscus and two torn biceps. If he can stay healthy, the former five-star recruit could prove to be worth the wait.
The Australian punter has been among the NCAA’s best the past three seasons. Cameron Johnston has been a Ray Guy Finalist all three seasons. Of his 155 punts at Ohio State, he has pinned 83 inside the 20-yard line and averaged 44.3 yards per punt throughout college. In 2014, he unofficially led the FBS with eight games averaging over 50 yards per punt. Replacing a punter generally does not receive much attention, but it will be hard finding a suitable replacement for such a consistent punter. The only other punter on the roster as of now is Drue Chrisman and he certainly has the resume to be a suitable replacement. In 2016, Chrisman was the highest rated punter on 247, second highest on scout.com, and the highest rated punter in the Kohl’s Kicking and Punting Program.
Fans may have mixed reactions about Tyler Durbin after his final two performances of the season, but Durbin was consistent throughout the remainder of his only season at Ohio State. Durbin finished the season 17/22 on field goals, and going 1/5 in the last two games. Durbin also made 63 of his 65 extra point attempts throughout the season as well. However, because of how the season ended, Durbin will likely only be remembered for the bad. Replacing him next year may be a little interesting. If Sean Nuernberger is healthy next season, he will likely be the replacement. However, if Nuernberger is unable to play, it is possible that Chrisman could take over kicking duties as well. In his senior year of high school, Chrisman made 53 of his 55 attempted extra points.
The Buckeyes are heading into 2017 with a lot less questions than they were in 2016. However, there are still key losses on all fronts which will need to be addressed in the spring game. The annual Scarlet and Gray game is set to kick off on April 15th.