Ohio State focusing on struggling pass rush is key to Buckeyes making national title run in 2022 season

While the NFL Draft is not the perfect gauge to show the talent drop-off of any college program, it is a good indicator of where programs stand. And the last couple of years have shown some concerning signs for the Ohio State defense — signs coach Ryan Day saw firsthand from the sideline and fans could see from their seats every Saturday.

From 2016 to 2020, 25 defensive players from Ohio State were drafted into the NFL. Of those 25, 11 were first-round selections and five were top-five picks in their respective drafts. That’s an average of five players taken per draft with an average selection of pick at 60.5.

Five more Buckeyes defenders were taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, but none before linebacker Pete Werner at No. 60. A glimpse at Ryan Wilson’s latest three-round mock draft on CBSSports.com shows four Ohio State players coming off the board in the first three rounds of this year’s draft, but none of them from the defensive side of the ball. On CBSSports.com’s prospect rankings, the highest-rated Buckeyes defender is defensive end Tyreke Smith at No. 111.

That highlights why Day went out and plucked Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State to be his program’s new defensive coordinator. As Knowles partakes in his first set of spring practices with the Buckeyes, his mission statement is clear: bring the defense back to a level that sends players to the NFL and helps the team compete for a national title.

But how?

Let’s go back to that five-year span from 2016-20, when premier pass rushers made up three of Ohio State’s five defenders who became top-five selections. In 2016, Joey Bosa went to the Chargers with the third pick; his younger brother, Nick Bosa, went to the 49ers with the second pick three years later. Then, it was Chase Young going to…

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