For the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly crunching the numbers on every first-round draft pick from Ohio State from 2000-2009. I got curious about whether there was a high percentage of first-round busts from that school in that time and decided to investigate. I couldn’t evaluate the prospects on an external scale because that would require rating all first-round picks in that time, but I can at least assess the picks that were made.
Players were rated based on their production with the team that drafted them. A Jason Babin-type prospect that only finds success with his second or third team is still a bust for the original team; his success doesn’t help the team that drafted him and may well hurt it. The ratings included regular-season performance, playoff performance, games started, big-play production (interceptions, touchdowns, etc. where applicable) and so forth, as well as the overall offensive or defensive rankings of each team.
Because my theory was originally that Ohio State first-rounders did have a high bust ratio, I grew concerned about my own potential to show bias by assigning the players lower grades. To combat that, I enlisted my friend Sidney Helfer, a dedicated football fan and Ohio State diehard. Together, I hoped, we would balance out on the bias scale and provide moderately objective player rankings.
Sid and I rated players on a scale from 1 to 10, with a 1 being a complete waste of a pick and a 10 being a fantastic player, one of the best in the league at his position. There being two of us, the maximum rating of a prospect was 20 and the minimum was 2. A rating of 10 or 11 indicates a decent prospect, perhaps not one who has performed up to his draft status but not a wasted pick either. Players below the 10-11 level are considered “busts”, players above “Hits”; players in between are “journeymen”.
Setting aside the last two drafts on the grounds of insufficient time for the players to develop*, fourteen players fell within our purview; that is, first-round picks from Ohio State in the 2000-2009 period. (Obligatory caution: Absolutely everything about this entire thing is subjective, of course; it is certainly not definitive, it’s two mens’ opinions, but they at least took a whale of a lot of information into consideration in forming them. Take it as you will.)
Our results are as follows:
We graded five players as “hits”, that is, players who have performed at the level one would normally expect of a first-round pick or beyond that level. These were Santonio Holmes, Will Smith, Nate Clements, Chris “Beanie” Wells and Malcolm Jenkins.
Three players were “journeymen”, solid picks who nevertheless haven’t quite played up to their draft status. That was A.J. Hawk, Donte’ Whitner and Ryan Pickett.
And six were “busts”, players who were either injured too often or simply couldn’t hack it in the NFL: Ahmad Plummer, Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Michael Jenkins, Vernon Gholston and Bobby Carpenter.
Nine of the fourteen players did not perform up to the level at which they were drafted, by our estimation. They ended up as decent, mediocre or poor players, at least in the cities where they began their careers (it is only fair to note that Whitner and Pickett have performed well in San Francisco and Green Bay respectively).
Of the top five, three (Jenkins, Smith and Holmes) have Super Bowl rings. Although Holmes played just four seasons with Pittsburgh before exiting due to character concerns, he caught nine passes for 131 yards in Super Bowl XLIII, including the game-winning touchdown. Clements performed at a high level for six years in Buffalo, and Wells made it based on his 2011 thousand-yard season.
What does it all mean? With the chance of a “hit” slightly better than one in three over the past ten years, fans might justly be a bit nervous when the commissioner calls a Buckeye’s name next to their favorite team’s. OSU players are typically picked in the second half of the first round; nine of the 15 picks were picked 18th or later. Only one first-half pick—Malcolm Jenkins at 14—was rated a “hit”, while picks at #5, #6, #8 and #9 were rated “journeyman” or “bust”. The takeaway is, teams tend to come away unsatisfied when “reaching” for a top OSU prospect, but can find some value picking in the second half of the first round.
*This eliminated DE Cameron Heyward, the Steelers’ 31st overall pick in 2011.