While they missed out on the College Football Playoff, the Ohio State University football team left their mark on the 2018 season. Winners of the Big 10 and the Rose Bowl, we’ll be mentioning this team for a number of years because of all the future pros on the roster.
Among those future pro starters is Dwayne Haskins, a candidate to be the top drafted quarterback in the NFL Draft. Haskins threw for over 4,800 yards and 50 touchdowns, which means his receivers had their production as well. Three of those receivers are entering the 2019 NFL Draft; Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon.
In theory, ranking these receivers should be easy. Ohio State has an excellent coaching staff, and their wide receivers coach is former NFL veteran Brian Hartline. Haskins consistently made good decisions with the football, protecting it while spreading it around to keep defenses off-balance. So shouldn’t scouting and ranking these wide receivers be based off of their production, if their supporting factors were all effective in their roles? Not so fast, my friend.
Sometimes even the best of college quarterbacks, coaches and offenses don’t necessarily feature their future pro prospects as much as you’d expect. Another case can be that their offense runs through talented players, while others get left scrapping for looks despite having more potential at the next level. That’s the difference between college production and pro potential, as the next level can require more physical attributes or demand new skill sets.
There have been a few examples of inferior pro players outperforming their more talented teammates while in college, but there are two shining examples that stick out in my head. In 2011, true freshman Sammy Watkins out-produced Deandre Hopkins by 10 receptions, 241 yards and 7 touchdowns. Despite that season in college, for my money, Hopkins is currently the best wide receiver in the NFL.
The following season in 2012, a similar story happened at USC. Both juniors, teammates Marquise Lee and Robert Woods were poised for big seasons. Lee would more than double Woods in terms of receiving yards, while collecting 42 more receptions.
Both Hopkins and Woods are clearly better pro players than their college counterparts, and I see a similar story happening at Ohio State.
Parris Campbell was the most productive wide receiver for the Buckeyes this season, with 90 receptions for 1,063 yards. Terry McLaurin posted 701 yards and 11 touchdowns while Johnnie Dixon collected 669 yards and 8 touchdowns, respectively. Even with the lesser numbers, I view McLaurin to be the best NFL prospect, followed by Campbell and Dixon. All three should and likely will be drafted, but I expect the NFL to be higher on Parris Campbell than the other two.
Competing at the NFL Scouting Combine, McLaurin and Campbell had strikingly similar athleticism. On film, McLaurin did a better job utilizing that athleticism to win vertically, posted an insane 20 yards per catch last season. With 11 touchdowns on just 35 receptions, he was a big play waiting to happen. At the Senior Bowl, he showed exceptional route running throughout all portions of the field. With how he abuses press coverage and has dynamic qualities after the catch, he’s a well-rounded, ascending receiver prospect.
While Campbell was the focal point of the Ohio State receiving attack, he was barely asked to attack vertically. This was the main factor that lead to his 90 receptions this season. An underneath role is easily replaceable in the NFL, and Campbell's projection hinges on whether or not he has the potential to be a factor down the field. While he has the speed to do so, he lacks the refinement to stack defensive backs and too often fails to win in contested spots. His inconsistent hands can bite him a bit too often, and that problem could become exponential with NFL defensive backs covering him tighter.
Campbell has elusiveness and upside in his run after the catch ability, but I’m not fully convinced that he can take the top off of the defense just because of his straight-line speed. Even though he’s younger than McLaurin, it’s hard to see him developing to the level of deep threat or route runner that McLaurin currently resides. For those reasons, I think not only does McLaurin have the higher floor, but also the higher ceiling than Campbell.
Johnnie Dixon is no slouch himself, as the primary slot receiver had a dynamic showing at Scouting Combine as well. He’s built well in his frame, and has more than enough straight-line speed and explosiveness to hold up at the next level. Dixon had flashes of potential as a deep threat as well, but wasn't as utilized there as he could have been. Despite being a bit buried on the Ohio State depth chart, he undoubtedly has NFL-level traits. He would have been a premier receiver on most college teams, and will be an option on Day 3 of the NFL Draft.
While college production is meaningful, it’s not the sole tool used when evaluating these three receivers as prospects. While all three Ohio State wide receivers will have draftable grades, it is a natural exercise to compare the former teammates. While it’s likely that all three will have roles on NFL teams in the near future, I expect Terry McLaurin to be the best of the bunch.