After Justin Fields was taken in round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, Ohio State saw nine more Buckeyes taken on Friday and Saturday. Which one of the nine will have the best NFL career?
As you might have noticed yesterday, a new series debuted at Land-Grant Holy Land called “You’re Nuts”. We figured what better way to pass the long days of spring and summer than by debating current topics around Ohio State athletics. Just think of this as First Take or Undisputed, except without the annoying hosts.
Since we are just a couple days removed from the 2021 NFL Draft, we want to know which Ohio State player that was drafted that isn’t named Justin Fields will have the best NFL career? Writers Meredith Hein and Brett Ludwiczak have their thoughts on which Buckeye will ball out the most in the NFL.
Just think of these articles as a jumping off point. If you have your own thoughts on the question of the day, feel free to sound off in the comments, or hit us up on Twitter to tell us how right or wrong we are.
Today’s Question: Which Ohio State draftee not named Justin Fields will have the best NFL career?
Brett’s Take: Trey Sermon
This marks the third straight season that Ohio State has seen a running back taken in the NFL Draft, and the sixth time in the last 10 drafts that a Buckeye running back has been chosen. Some of those running backs have been hits, while there have been a couple misses in that span. I’m banking on Trey Sermon to be a hit in the professional ranks.
Sermon was taken in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers with the 88th overall pick. The 49ers liked Sermon so much that they traded up to snag the Georgia native before another team called his name.
Even though Sermon’s time with Ohio State was short, as he transferred into the program from Oklahoma following the 2019 season, the running back certainly got better as the shortened 2020 season went on. The defining performance from Sermon came in the Big Ten Championship Game, where he broke Eddie George’s school record by rushing for 331 yards in the win over Northwestern. Sermon followed that performance up by rushing for 193 yards against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl before suffered a broken collarbone on Ohio State’s first snap against Alabama in the national title game.
While every player wants to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft, Sermon couldn’t have found a better spot to start his NFL career. Sermon joins third overall pick quarterback Trey Lance in San Francisco, and neither has to step in immediately since the 49ers do have some depth at each position. This will allow the two some time to get comfort, with head coach Kyle Shanahan hoping he has found his quarterback and running back of the future in the same draft.
Sermon won’t be asked to step in and make an immediate impact since the 49ers have three running backs with NFL experience on the roster. Even though there currently are some running backs sitting ahead of Sermon on the roster, all three of those running backs aren’t signed past the 2021 season.
Even with a plethora of running backs on the roster currently, it doesn’t mean that Sermon won’t see carries since he is the least experienced of the bunch. Raheem Mostert figures to be the “feature back”, but he has injury issues at times during his career. Even when healthy, Mostert has never carried the ball more than 20 times in a game.
Behind Mostert is Jeff Wilson Jr., who filled in admirably when Mostert was injured last year. Wilson put together the best season of his young career, rushing for 600 yards in 12 games. The 49ers added Wayne Gallman in the offseason, and it’s likely he’ll be used as a short yardage and goal-line running back.
Kyle Shanahan hasn’t been shy about spreading the football around to his running backs during his coaching career. In the 2019 season which saw the 49ers make the Super Bowl, San Francisco had three backs rush for over 500 yards. If Lance is forced onto the field early for the 49ers, expect to see plenty of running plays to help the North Dakota State quarterback get comfortable as an NFL quarterback.
So why am I so high on Sermon to find success? His running style fits perfectly with what Shanahan and the 49ers are likely to try and do. Shanahan loves utilizing an outside zone rushing attack. Sermon is at his best when he is able to take the football to the outside. Even though Sermon isn’t a burner like Mostert, he does have size that makes him tough to bring down.
Some teams were probably concerned with Sermon’s injury history, but I’m looking at it a different way. Compared to other running backs who spent four years in college, Sermon has relatively low mileage on his body for a running back. I don’t expect Sermon to turn into a running back who is going to carry the football 25-30 times in the NFL, but who really does that these days? When paired with the right running back, Sermon could be part of a scary combination in the backfield. Almost like what Urban Meyer is trying to do with James Robinson and Travis Etienne in Jacksonville.
Sermon might not have quite as long of a career as some of the other Ohio State draft picks from the 2021 NFL Draft, but I think he will provide the biggest impact when he is on the field. Running backs have a short shelf life in the NFL because of the pounding they take. Sermon has already shown that he can put up huge numbers in a short time frame, so I’m betting he can do it at the next level. San Francisco already has a lot of pieces in place on both sides of the football. Sermon could be the x-factor that could lead them back on another run to the Super Bowl.
Meredith’s Take: Josh Myers
All fair points, Brett. Sermon brings a lot to San Francisco, but there are other Buckeyes who, while not at skill positions, are poised to kick off great NFL careers. I’m talking, of course, of the offensive linemen in this year’s draft which, frankly, made this delineation even more challenging. There is a rich history of Ohio State offensive linemen achieving great success in the NFL, from Orlando Pace to LeCharles Bentley to, more recently, Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein and Billy Price.
This past weekend, of course, saw center Josh Myers taken with the 30th pick in the second round by the Green Bay Packers, while his fellow lineman Wyatt Davis went with the 23rd pick in the third round to the Minnesota Vikings.
Like the running back position, Ohio State offensive linemen have been a mainstay in the NFL Draft. In fact, the last draft that didn’t see a Buckeye’s name called was in 2015. As seen from the aforementioned list, many of those former Buckeyes have had great NFL careers.
At the center position in particular, Corey Linsley, who, coincidentally, just left Green Bay in free agency, became the highest paid center in the league in March when he signed a five-year, $62.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers. Linsley finished last season as the highest-rated center in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
Back to Myers. Like Sermon, Myers didn’t take as many snaps as some of his other linemen, but his impact in Columbus was felt quickly. After redshirting as a freshman and backing up Michael Jordan in 2018, Myers started all 14 games in 2019 and earned second team All-Big Ten honors. In 2020, Myers started seven games in 2020, having missed one due to COVID-19, and played through injury in the Big Ten Championship game (and against Clemson and Alabama) to earn first team All-Big Ten and Rimington Award finalist honors.
Myers was part of an offensive line that paved the way for JK Dobbins in 2019 – the first 2,000-yard back in Ohio State history – and Sermon in 2020. The Buckeyes boasted one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, with a top-10 rushing attack in 2020 totaling 257 yards per game (see why it was hard to pick just one lineman?). When it came to rushing up the middle, Ohio State boasted 5.7 yards per carry, another top-10 stat.
The Ohio State center is joined in Green Bay by fellow draft picks including cornerback Eric Stokes (first round, Georgia) and wide receiver Amari Rodgers (third round, Clemson). While the Packers did take a couple additional linemen in later rounds, Myers has the clearest path to a day one start in Green Bay. While he was just the second true center taken in the 2021 draft, Myers brings versatility and an ability to play any of the Packers’ interior linemen roles. Of note, Myers didn’t play at the center position in high school, and was instead recruited as an offensive tackle.
The Packers are thin at offensive line, both with the departure of Linsley and long-term injury to All-Pro guard David Bakhtiari, which means Myers could have the opportunity to make an immediate impact as a rookie.
What makes Myers so set up for success? Despite being new to the center position, Myers picked it up quickly and was able to enhance Ohio State’s rushing attack in two seasons as a starter, while opening things up for highly mobile quarterback Justin Fields.
Additionally, as Brett noted, Sermon is at something of a disadvantage when it comes to longevity, simply because running backs don’t tend to have as long of careers as, oh I don’t know, centers. Myers, despite having a turf toe injury that impacted him for the final three games of the 2020 season, played through injury and ended up starting 21 of his final 22 games as a Buckeye.
But what’s working in Myers’ favor is also something that has nothing to do with Myers himself, but rather the fact he is literally following in the footsteps of another successful Ohio State center. Because of the situation he is walking into, Myers has the chance to start from his first professional game and kick off his NFL career earlier than many of his peers.