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Ohio State's 2015 NFL Draft Class Is One of Urban Meyer's Best Recruiting Tools

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterMay 6, 2015

The Denver Broncos selected Jeff Heuerman in the third round of the NFL draft.
The Denver Broncos selected Jeff Heuerman in the third round of the NFL draft.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In today's day and age of information, we always seem to be looking ahead.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise that even before the 2015 NFL draft came to a close last weekend, attention was already turning toward the 2016 selection show. And even though it's still a full year away, most of that premature 2016 draft talk has centered around Ohio State.

And for good reason.

Way-too-early mock drafts have projected a heavy Buckeye presence in next year's draft, with as many as five Ohio State players slotted to be selected in the first round, including potential No. 1 overall pick Joey Bosa. Joining Bosa in next year's first round could very well be quarterback Cardale Jones, running back Ezekiel Elliott, defensive tackle Adolphus Washington and left tackle Taylor Decker.

The ability to put so many players in the professional ranks at once will undoubtedly be a huge recruiting tool for Urban Meyer, albeit one he won't have to wait until next year to use. While his history of developing NFL-caliber players dates back to his days at Bowling Green—and only grew during stops at Utah and Florida before arriving in Columbus—Meyer's 2015 draft class may provide him with his best proof of player development yet.

Despite not making nearly as much noise as they're expected to a year from now, the Buckeyes were still well-represented at the draft this past weekend with a total of five players selected. But unlike the Ohio State players projected to be picked in 2016, these ex-Buckeyes weren't seemingly destined for the NFL from their recruitment, only furthering the evidence of the benefits of playing for Meyer.

“Good things happen to good people and that’s the situation here," said tight end Jeff Heuerman, whom the Denver Broncos selected in last weekend's third round. "We had a lot of good things happen at Ohio State."

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Jeff Heuerman celebrates Ohio State's national title.
Jeff Heuerman celebrates Ohio State's national title.LM Otero/Associated Press

Recruited to Ohio State by Jim Tressel as a 3-star prospect in 2011, Heuerman hardly fit the mold of a pro prospect, especially in a Buckeyes offense that rarely relied on its tight ends. 

Upon Meyer's arrival, however, Heuerman instantly became one of his head coach's favorite players and was deemed the "heart and soul" of the 2014 national champion Buckeyes, upping his draft stock without putting up the stats to match as he was hobbled by an ankle injury throughout his senior season.

And for that, Heuerman credits his time in Columbus.

"I didn’t catch as many footballs as I wanted to, but we won a national championship," Heuerman said. "I got to do a lot of things, a lot of blocking, a lot of pass protecting, things that make you a well-rounded tight end. I was extremely happy to do that and to help bring a championship to Ohio State. I’m ecstatic for that and to be a part of the Denver Broncos.”

Ohio State 2015 NFL Draft Picks
PlayerTeamRoundStar Ranking
Devin SmithJets23
Jeff HeuermanBroncos33
Doran GrantSteelers44
Michael BennettJaguars64
Evan SpencerRedskins65
NFL.com

Heuerman wasn't the first Buckeye taken off the board over the weekend, as that honor belonged to wide receiver Devin Smith, whom the New York Jets picked with the draft's 37th overall pick.

Seemingly just a speedster when Meyer took over the Ohio State program in 2012, Smith developed into more of a complete receiver over the course of the final three seasons of his college career, culminating with his selection in last weekend's second round.

Meyer's insistence that Smith—also a former 3-star prospect—continue to play special teams even as he turned into one of the Buckeyes' best offensive weapons also didn't hurt his cause and should aid him in prolonging his professional career.

Devin Smith was picked by the New York Jets in the NFL draft's second round.
Devin Smith was picked by the New York Jets in the NFL draft's second round.Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

“I’m versatile,” Smith said on a conference call. “You can move me inside, you can move me out. I’m also very good on special teams.”

Versatility should also help Pittsburgh Steelers fourth-round pick Doran Grant, who developed from special teams contributor to first-team All-Big Ten cornerback in his three seasons under Meyer. But perhaps no player benefited more from the marketing of Meyer than wide receiver Evan Spencer, whose selection by the Washington Redskins came as somewhat of a surprise.

Picked in last weekend's sixth round, Spencer hardly had the stats of a standard draft pick, recording 52 receptions for 579 yards and seven touchdowns in the four seasons that made up his college career. But the 6'2", 208-pounder's willingness to do the dirty work drew the praise of his head coach, who referred to Spencer as the MVP of the Buckeyes' national title team.

“He’s unbelievable,” Meyer said of Spencer in January. "He's the leader of our team. He's the guy that at the right time, I'll probably make an executive decision and make him a captain."

Former Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer.
Former Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For a player who caught just 15 balls for 149 yards in his senior season, it's hard to imagine a team would have picked Spencer without Meyer's unsolicited endorsements.

The 2015 NFL draft wasn't all good news for Ohio State, at least in the case of defensive tackle Michael Bennett, who slid from projected first-round pick all the way to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the sixth round. Questions of Bennett's size (6'2", 293 lbs) seemed to plague him throughout the draft process, as did a history of injuries that dates back to his sophomore season.

But while Bennett's slide may not have been ideal, the fact of the matter remains that Meyer managed to put five players in the pros through the draft, none of whom came to Ohio State as surefire NFL prospects.

Couple that with the number of Buckeyes already projected as first-round picks in next year's draft, and it's clear that the pipeline from Columbus to the pros is as stable as ever. And high school prospects are surely taking notice.

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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