|QUARTERBACK||DESHAUN WATSON, CLEMSON (SO)|
|RUNNING BACKS||DERRICK HENRY, ALABAMA (JR); LEONARD FOURNETTE, LSU (SO)|
|TACKLES||TAYLOR DECKER, OHIO STATE (SR); SPENCER DRANGO, BAYLOR (SR)|
|GUARDS||JOSHUA GARNETT, STANFORD (SR); LANDON TURNER, NORTH CAROLINA (SR)|
|CENTER||JACK ALLEN, MICHIGAN STATE (SR)|
|RECEIVERS||COREY COLEMAN, BAYLOR (JR); JOSH DOCTSON, TCU (SR)|
|TIGHT END||HUNTER HENRY, ALABAMA (JR)|
|ALL-PURPOSE||CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY, STANFORD (SO)|
|KICKER||KA'IMI FAIRBAIRN, UCLA (SR)|
|ENDS||SHAQ LAWSON, CLEMSON (JR); CARL NASSIB, PENN STATE (SR)|
|TACKLES||A'SHAWN ROBINSON, ALABAMA (JR); ANDREW BILLINGS, BAYLOR (JR)|
|LINEBACKERS||REGGIE RAGLAND, ALABAMA (SR); TYLER MATAKEVICH, TEMPLE (SR); JAYLON SMITH, NOTRE DAME (JR)|
|CORNERBACKS||DESMOND KING, IOWA (JR); VERNON HARGREAVES III, FLORIDA (SO)|
|SAFETIES||JEREMY CASH, DUKE (SR); VONN BELL, OHIO STATE (JR)|
|PUNTER||TOM HACKETT, UTAH (SR)|
|QUARTERBACK||BAKER MAYFIELD, OKLAHOMA (JR)|
|RUNNING BACKS||DALVIN COOK, FLORIDA STATE (SO); EZEKIEL ELLIOTT, OHIO STATE (JR)|
|TACKLES||JACK CONKLIN, MICHIGAN STATE (JR); RONNIE STANLEY, NOTRE DAME (SR)|
|GUARDS||SEBASTIAN TRETOLA, ARKANSAS (SR); PAT ELFLEIN, OHIO STATE (JR)|
|CENTER||RYAN KELLY, ALABAMA (SR)|
|RECEIVERS||WILL FULLER, NOTRE DAME (JR); JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, USC (SO)|
|TIGHT END||JAKE BUTT, MICHIGAN (JR)|
|ALL-PURPOSE||MORGAN BURNS, KANSAS STATE (SR)|
|KICKER||JAKE ELLIOTT, MEMPHIS (JR)|
|ENDS||JOEY BOSA, OHIO STATE (JR); DEFOREST BUCKNER, OREGON (SR)|
|TACKLES||ROBERT NKEMDICHE, MISSISSIPPI (JR); SHELDON DAY, NOTRE DAME (SR)|
|LINEBACKERS||JOE SCHOBERT, WISCONSIN (SR); KENTRELL BROTHERS, MISSOURI (SR); ERIC STRIKER, OKLAHOMA (SR)|
|CORNERBACKS||JOURDAN LEWIS, MICHIGAN (JR); JALEN RAMSEY, FLORIDA STATE (JR)|
|SAFETIES||TRAE ELSTON, MISSISSIPPIE (SR); JAYRON KEARSE, CLEMSON (JR)|
|PUNTER||DREW KASER, TEXAS A&M (SR)|
Who Could be Going or Staying
By Tony Gerdeman
Player: Cardale Jones
Why stay: I’m not sure a good argument can be made for why he should stay. You could argue maybe that he should transfer down to the FCS for a year to finally show what he can do for a full season of play, but I don’t think sticking around for another year at Ohio State would do anybody any good. I wrote last year that he should leave, and I still feel the same way now.
Why go: I know there are people who think he won’t get drafted if he leaves this year, but those people are wrong. Cardale Jones has what the NFL wants — size and arm strength. They always believe they can mold those two attributes into a professional quarterback, and you can see that by the mediocre college quarterbacks who get drafted every single year. Jones would have been a second round pick, and possibly a late first round pick last year, had he come out. He still has the same tools he did a year ago.
Prediction: Considering that he has already said his goodbyes via Instagram, I will predict that he is leaving for the NFL. Urban Meyer said last week that he and Jones will sit down after the season and talk, but the decision has already been made. At this point, Jones would have to be talked into staying.
Player: Ezekiel Elliott
Why stay: Well, Ezekiel Elliott is about 1,800 yards away from being Ohio State’s all-time leading rusher, so that would be an incentive to come back. It would also be an opportunity to avenge the Michigan State loss and try to win another national championship.
Why go: It is tough to turn down the opportunity to be a first round NFL draft pick, and that’s where Elliott is right now. Plus, as a running back, you only have so many carries in you. Fortunately for
Elliott, he only has two seasons of a starter’s workload on his wheels, which is even more of a draw for NFL teams. His speed and power and size are also a plus, as is his versatility as a receiver and a blocker. Basically, he is the prototype, and it is time for the prototype to be put into the marketplace.
Prediction: Sources tell me that Ezekiel Elliott will be leaving for the NFL Draft. My source on this one is pretty good, but I can’t reveal him to you. Let’s just call him “Ezekiel E”. No, that’s too revealing. Let’s call him “E Elliott”.
Player: Michael Thomas
Why stay: With Ezekiel Elliott leaving, the 2016 season will be an opportunity for playmakers to have a much larger role in the offense than they did in 2015. Having one quarterback starter for the entire season will also make the passing game more consistent, you would think. Instead of the four catches per game Michael Thomas got this year, maybe he can get six per game next year and leave as the No. 1 receiver draft prospect.
Why go: Thomas is a fourth-year junior who also spent a year at prep school, so he might just be ready to move on with the next phase of his life. With his size, speed, and ability to compete for the football, he is certainly a first round possibility. He is pretty much a constant in the top 40 picks in most mock drafts.
Prediction: I expect him to enter the NFL Draft. He is likely a top three receiver in the draft, so that could very well put him in the first round.
Player: Jalin Marshall
Why stay: He could be the No. 1 receiver for the Buckeyes next year, which should considerably help his draft stock. A more consistent passing game next season will also help him.
Why go: He shouldn’t, unless he wants to, of course. The purpose of college is to help you get a job, and Marshall has certainly showcased an ability to get open as a slot receiver, as well as a punt returner. He also played outside all of 2015, so he has that experience to offer as well.
Prediction: I think Jalin Marshall will be back. Next season will be a better opportunity to show what he can do.
Player: Pat Elflein
Why stay: Pat Elflein is already one of the top guards in the draft, but if he comes back and plays center next season he will only increase his value to NFL teams.
Why go: Elflein is a fourth-year junior who will be seeing fellow classmates Taylor Decker and Jacoby Boren leaving Ohio State, as well as Chase Farris. As one of the top guards in the NFL Draft, maybe he decides to move on like his linemates. And if he projects to be in the same round next year after a year at center, why wait to leave?
Prediction: I go back and forth on Pat Elflein and what he is going to do, but right now I think he comes back for his senior season. That being said, he is projected as high as the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by CBS, and if that is the same kind of feedback that he receives from the NFL, that’s going to be hard to say no to. Probably impossible to say no to, actually.
Player: Cameron Johnston
Why stay: Punters rarely leave early for the NFL Draft, at least not successfully, anyway.
Why go: Johnston is one of the best punters in the nation and given his excessive life experience at this point, perhaps he is ready to move on and see if the NFL is as easy as college football.
Prediction: I think he returns, but it’s a good thing the Buckeyes are going to sign one of the nation’s top high school punters in the 2016 recruiting class just in case.
Player: Joey Bosa
Why stay: As Joey Bosa himself has said, the only reason he would stay would be to play with his younger brother Nick, who will be at Ohio State next season. Of course, considering that none of us would ever pass up $25 million just to play with our brother, we shouldn’t expect it here either.
Why go: Bosa is the No. 1 prospect on just about every “Big Board” you can find out there, and for good reason. While some will point at the Cleveland Browns’ draft position and how it might make Bosa want to stay at Ohio State for another year, I would point out that the Browns’ draft position is never going to change, so there will be no avoiding it for Bosa.
Prediction: If you are the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, you need to go, and it was no surprise that Bosa has already essentially announced that he is gone.
Player: Darron Lee
Why stay: Redshirt sophomores don’t generally leave early, so getting a third year of starting under Darron Lee’s belt would certainly be a good thing. There is also the fact that it’s a pretty good draft for “outside linebackers” this year. Guys like UCLA’s Myles Jack and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith are already projected ahead of Lee by some.
Why go: One of the reasons this is such a good year for outside linebackers is because of Lee, who is being projected as a first or second round pick. He can stop the run and cover tight ends, and even had experience covering slot receivers. If the NFL feedback pegs him as a first or second rounder, then you can understand why he would leave. Even as a mid-second round pick, he is looking at a $5 million contract, with half of that guaranteed.
Prediction: Darron Lee is one of the most confident players you are ever going to come across, so I can definitely see him being ready to take the next step. I do not expect him to be back at Ohio State next year, and that opinion is shared by plenty of folks in the NFL.
Player: Eli Apple
Why stay: Eli Apple is just a redshirt sophomore, and as we mentioned earlier, redshirt sophomores generally stick around for a fourth year. Apple could use that third year of starting to certainly fine tune his skills at cornerback. A second-team All-Big Ten selection by the B1G coaches, another season is only going to help his draft stock.
Why go: He has good size for an NFL cornerback, has experience playing press and off-man coverage, and is outstanding in run support. He would need a strong NFL Combine to get into the first round, but the first round is not the be all, end all.
Prediction: I think he comes back and continues to follow the Bradley Roby path of starting as a redshirt freshman, thinking about leaving as a redshirt sophomore, but ultimately returning and playing as a redshirt junior.
Player: Gareon Conley
Why stay: Gareon Conley has only started for a season, so there isn’t enough experience here to warrant leaving. Plus, with the improvement he showed from 2014 to 2015, if he continues that in 2016, he could be one of the top cornerbacks on the 2017 board.
Why go: His size, speed and athleticism are certainly coveted attributes, and he excelled on the field this season.
Prediction: Conley will be back, but this will be a much more serious discussion next year.
Player: Vonn Bell
Why stay: It is going to be difficult for a safety to get into the first round of the NFL Draft this year, but with another year at Ohio State maybe Vonn Bell can find a way to get it done. Known as a playmaker, another year in the Scarlet and Gray may be enough to convince an NFL team that they can’t let him slip into the second round.
Why go: If Bell enters the 2016 NFL Draft, he will be one of the top two or three safeties available depending on who you ask. If he comes back, he’d be in the same position next year, with no guarantee he’d be slotted higher in the draft. Bell said a month or so ago that he hasn’t made a decision yet and he would wait to talk it over with his coaches and family once the season was over. If he’s just as likely to be a second round pick next year like he is this year, then he should go.
Prediction: I expect him to leave, just like his position coach Chris Ash. Bell may not be in the mood to deal with a third position coach in four years.
Player: Tyvis Powell
Why stay: There isn’t really a lot of talk from the NFL Draft types about Tyvis Powell leaving, so that’s usually a sign that somebody should come back. Powell was an Honorable Mention All-B1G selection this season by both the media and coaches, but with an All-B1G season in 2016 he will certainly help his draft stock.
Why go: Powell is already graduated and may be ready for the next move in his life. The NFL is always intrigued by 6-foot-3 safeties, especially ones who have also played cornerback. And, as mentioned above, maybe Powell doesn’t want to begin a new relationship with a new safety coach.
Prediction: I expect Tyvis Powell to return to Ohio State because he can dramatically improve his draft stock with a great 2016.