Taking the place of last year's national championship, this year, it was the NFL playoffs—and the Super Bowl in particular—that Ohio State used as a walking billboard for its recruiting efforts as the 2016 cycle came to its close.
With 12 alums taking part in playoff games—including five in the Super Bowl, the most of any college program—the Buckeyes were more than well represented in the professional ranks this winter. From tweets posted from OSU's official Twitter account to assistant coaches and Urban Meyer himself, Ohio State made sure to let everyone know that when you were watching this year's NFL playoffs, you were also watching at least one former Buckeye.
Urban Meyer @OSUCoachMeyer
https://t.co/FxdFMkwcS61/25/2016, 9:36:18 PM
As it turns out, the playoffs were just Phase 1 of Ohio State's pro-friendly pitch.
Just like in the Super Bowl, there won't be another college program better represented in this week's NFL Scouting Combine, where a nation-high 14 former Buckeyes will do their best to improve their respective draft stocks.
These aren't just players hoping to be picked either, but some of the draft's highest-profile players. Former Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa could very well be the No. 1 overall pick, while Ezekiel Elliott will likely be the first running back to come off the board. In Bleacher Report lead draft writer Matt Miller's most recent mock draft, seven ex-Buckeyes are projected to be taken in the draft's first 31 picks, with another seven appearing in rounds 2-7.
Fourteen selections from Ohio State would match the NFL's record of the most players taken from a single school in one year—which, incidentally, was set by Ohio State in the 2004 draft.
But regardless of whether the Buckeyes match, break or fall short of their own mark, Meyer and his staff will be promoting their presence in the professional ranks throughout the NFL draft process.
"That's a big part of recruiting now," Meyer said after nine Ohio State underclassmen declared themselves eligible for this year's selection show. "Of course we're using that."
Although the Buckeyes made sure to let prospects know about Braxton Miller's standout showing at the Senior Bowl, this week at the combine will provide Ohio State with its most publicity since the 2015 season came to an end.
With workouts divided between position groups, each day will present the ex-Buckeyes in attendance with an opportunity to steal the show, starting with Friday's workout for running backs, offensive linemen and special teamers, where Elliott and potential first-round left tackle Taylor Decker will take the field.
Saturday will give quarterback Cardale Jones, tight end Nick Vannett and wideouts Miller, Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall opportunities to shine, while Bosa, defensive lineman Adolphus Washington and linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry will perform on Sunday.
With defensive backs Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell working out on Monday, Ohio State could very well find itself dominating the spotlight for four consecutive days—during one of the slower times in sports, no less.
After the combine, the Buckeyes won't have to wait long to receive even more national attention, with Meyer already hyping Ohio State's pro day on March 11.
"It will probably be the biggest pro day in college football," Meyer said. "I don't know how you gauge that."
While the three-time national champion head coach has been known to use hyperbole—especially when it comes to his recruiting pitches—it'd be tough to argue otherwise. No other school's pro day will possess as many high-level prospects, with Matt Miller's mock draft projecting 12 ex-Buckeyes to be taken in the first three rounds.
Ohio State's pro day will also be crucial for prospects who teams have no shortage of questions about, like Jones, who was benched one season after helping lead the Buckeyes to their national title and Miller, who is less than a year into his transformation from quarterback to wide receiver.
That will only attract more scouts, front office executives and head coaches to Columbus next month, which will speak to Ohio State's ability to put its players in position to get to the NFL.
At least that's how it will be sold by the Buckeyes staff on the recruiting trail.
"It's [director of player personnel] Mark [Pantoni]'s job and our job to make sure that that's out in full force," Meyer said of Ohio State pitching its NFL pipeline to prospects.
That pitch will only continue through the spring, culminating at an NFL draft and the Buckeyes' potential record-breaking showing. Couple that with the success Ohio State has found on the field with Meyer in his first four years and it's no wonder why he's one of the nation's top recruiters, laying claim to the nation's top-ranked 2017 class.
"Everybody talked about what do we do to sell? Do we have to do certain things to sell our program?" Meyer said on signing day. "The draft, people are throwing around numbers like 15 players or something, maybe potentially six first-rounders. And then you throw in the highest graduation rate and highest APR in Ohio State football history. And a 50-4 record."
"So there's a lot of things to sell here."
Come April, the Buckeyes might have even more to sell.
According to SportingCharts.com, 47 Ohio State alums played in the NFL in 2015—the eighth most from a single school this past year. Putting another 14 or so players in the league would inch the Buckeyes closer to the top—Miami (Fla.) laid claim to the most pro players with 61—and serve as just another weapon in what's become a war chest of recruiting tools for Meyer.
Of course, what happens in Indianapolis this weekend could ultimately go a long way toward determining how many players from Ohio State land in the NFL next season.
But if it follows the recent trend of their success in the professional ranks, look for a big showing from the ex-Buckeyes in the Circle City this weekend.
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