The Proof Is In The Putting (Receivers Into The NFL)
The Buckeyes were on display in this year’s NFL Draft as receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave were selected 10th and 11th overall, respectively. They were followed by former teammate Jameson Williams, who went 12th overall. Together, the three of them were Ohio State’s starting wide receivers in 2020.
Late last month, former Buckeye receiver Terry McLaurin signed a three-year, $71 million contract extension with the Washington Commanders. It also featured a $28 million signing bonus, which is the most for a receiver in NFL history.
Such currents events as these have obviously allowed OSU receivers coach Brian Hartline to discuss the NFL when talking to recruits.
“I think it’s always a part of the conversation and I’m definitely not one to shy away from that conversation,” Hartline said back in May. “I mean, these guys have a small window to try to accomplish a goal that not many guys can accomplish. If you go through every year, and it’s always fun, I kind of did it with the 2018 class and the 2019 class, and obviously I focus on receivers, but there’s five to 10 to 15, 20 receivers, all those guys probably thought going into college like, ‘Hey, I’m going to be a first-round pick.’ Two or three of those guys actually were.”
Olave and Wilson were the first Buckeyes to actually be selected in the first round since Teddy Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez in 2007. They are not expected to be the last, especially with junior Jaxon Smith-Njigba already being projected as high as a top-five pick in the 2023 draft.
“A lot of people can talk about it and say what we can do with a player like you. Actually, we just do it,” Hartline said. “So if that’s something you’re looking for, you can be the next man up. But if you want to go be the first one somewhere, that’s okay too. But we just really pride ourselves on we know the path, we know the recipe, we know what it takes. And if we tell you you can be one of those guys, you can be one of those guys.”
It also helps that Hartline himself has gone from high school recruit to NFL receiver. And since the day he was drafted in 2009, 12 other Buckeye receivers have followed suit.
“It’s just a proven course,” he said. “It’s not like we don’t know what it takes. It’s a common goal and it’s a common path that many guys have taken with us.”
Jones A Student Of The Game
The Buckeyes are going to have a couple of new starters on the offensive line this season. One of those new starters is fifth-year senior Matt Jones, though calling him a “new starter” isn’t entirely accurate. He started three games last year and three other games prior to that, and he’s been a valuable and productive reserve at both guard spots over the last couple of years.
The Ohio State offense didn’t miss a beat when he has been in the game, especially last year as a fourth-year junior.
“The game slows down when you start learning the game, and Matt did that,” OSU offensive line coach Justin Frye said back in May. “When it clicks and that light bulb goes off like, ‘Oh, that’s what we were talking about. That’s what we were looking at.’ And then that hits, the game slows down. You don’t get incrementally faster or that much stronger at age 21, 22, 23 in the back end of your career, but the game slows down because you see it better.”
And the game has definitely slowed down for Jones, and not just because he’s been around forever, but because he’s put in the work to make it happen.
“He’s a student of the game,” Frye said. “He’s texting, we’re texting stuff back and forth all the time. ‘Did you see this clip? Did you look at this? What’s this guy doing?’ So he’s a student of the game, as they say, but he lives that way every day. He just loves ball. So that’s how he’s able to continue to get better and better and dive into the scheme, understanding the schemes, understanding the techniques, understanding the why as opposed to just doing it because we told him to do it.”
NIL Is Nice, But Development Is Nicer
There is no debating that Name, Image, and Likeness has had an impact on college sports. It was never in question that it would, but whether that impact would be good or bad was the real question. And with all things where big-time money is considered, good and bad will both follow.
Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford has seen the good in his own position room, but has been around long enough to know there is also a downside.
“I’m all for players making money off of their name, image, and likeness. I’m all in,” Alford said this spring. “I’m all in. I think the hard part right now is in the recruitment, the inducements, if you will. Where you look at guys like Trey Henderson, I’ll use him for an example and the benefits of NIL which have been chronicled. But those were earned. He got that after he came here, and he earned those opportunities. And so when you’re doing it that way, then I’m all in.”
An area of concern for Alford and all coaches is having their players lured into the transfer portal for the promise of lucrative NIL deals from other representatives. All he can do until things slow down or some kind of real governance is instituted is put his efforts into developing his players the best he can. And then one way or another, the rest will take care of itself.
“In the interim, I still think at the end of the day, you’ve got to get developed,” he said. “Take all the recruitment and all the money, at some point in time, you’ve got to put your hand in the ground and you got to go defeat the guy against you. That NIL deal is not helping you do that. So I would say in recruiting, I’m all in. I get it. But at some point in time you’ve still got to go get developed. And at some point in time the Trey Hendersons of the world, the Evan Pryors, the Miyan Williamses, they’ve got to buy into being developed. And the better you play, I would like to think the more NIL deals you’ll get.”