Is Ohio State the New Miami?
Welcome to the new home of the unofficial minor league system of the NFL. After previously flourishing in beautiful Miami, Fla., the past eight years, the league has relocated to Columbus, Ohio, where the next great NFL star is just a draft pick away from changing an entire franchise.
Since the unofficial league's creation in 2001, the Miami Hurricanes have produced an astonishing 25 first-round picks, including at least one first-rounder in each draft.
Over that eight-year span, a total of 57 Hurricanes heard their name called by the commissioner, more than an entire professional team.
Miami has flooded the pros with its former alums, and not just on one side of the ball. Pass-catching phenoms Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, and Roscoe Parrish spent time in Coral Gables.
Ball carriers like Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, and Frank Gore and defense-stretching tight ends like Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, and Greg Olson, did also.
On defense, the list is even more impressive. Stars like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Devin Hester, who was originally a defensive back and now a receiver, Jonathan Vilma, Dan Morgan, Vince Wolfork, and Jon Beason all played ball for Miami.
However, after a record-setting six first-rounders were drafted from the school in 2004, the list of names have been slowly shrinking, with only one Hurricane earning a first-round selection in 2008.
Quietly, Ohio State has given 56 different players a ticket to the NFL. Leaders like A.J. Hawk, Chris Gamble, Troy Smith, Donte Whitner, Santonio Holmes, and most recently Vernon Gholston, all helped to dot the I on Saturdays at one point in their careers.
And unlike Miami, the path from college to the pros is likely to continue for years to come.
The Buckeyes have a potential four first-round picks in next year's draft, led by seniors linebacker James Laurinaitis and corner Malcolm Jenkins. Both Laurinaitis and Jenkins are rated as the top players at their position.
Junior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is considered the nation’s most talented back. All three have been projected to go in the Top 10 of the draft, with several teammates to follow in later rounds.
Among the other Buckeyes who expect to hear their names called come April's draft includes linebacker Marcus Freeman, receiver Brian Robiskie, and offensive tackle Alex Boone.
Even bench players are expected to be drafted in the late rounds. Backup quarterback Todd Boeckman and second-string running back Maurice Wells both project as late-round picks.
After the 2009 draft, the unofficial minor league is still loaded with future talent, especially at the quarterback position.
Freshman sensation Terrelle Pryor's name already appears in multiple mock drafts, albeit in ones that won't happen until at least 2011. When asked about Pryor’s potential, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper, Jr. compared him to a former overall No. 3 pick from three years ago—"He's got a little bit of Vince Young in him."
That's high praise for a guy who has played only 10 college games, but since this is the minor league of the NFL. That's the standard.
The man snapping Pryor the football, center Jim Cordle, ranks as one of the top juniors at his position.
Heck, even punter A.J. Trapasso is garnering national attention.
Pryor looks to be one of many future top high school players to choose Ohio State and the Sweater Vest look over flashy destinations like Miami and USC.
Come April, don't be surprised when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seems to be saying Ohio State a lot more than Miami—he's just reminding everyone where his minor league system resides now.
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