Ohio State football: How Taylor Decker developed into an elite NFL prospect

A look at how Taylor Decker went from struggling against Khalil Mack in his first OSU start to becoming one of the top prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft.

When Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker is selected in the 2016 NFL Draft – which experts think will come in the middle of the first round – he’ll be the fourth and final member of the 2013 OSU starting offensive line to reach the NFL.

Decker has unparalleled size (at 6-7, he’s the tallest lineman at the NFL Combine) and unquestioned work ethic, but he also appears to be a product of perfect conditions for a budding lineman’s development.

Even before he reached Ohio State, Decker developed his footwork by playing basketball at Vandalia (Ohio) Butler. By the time his prep career was over, he was the No. 13 offensive tackle and No. 77 overall prospect in the class of 2012.

“Not that defending in basketball is kind of like pass protection but you’re kind of mirroring a guy so you’re reacting to what other guys are doing,” he said. “Just foot speed, foot movement. When you're posting up a little bit, you have to get leverage a little bit to get them out of the way. Same with boxing out. But I do think it helped me a lot in my progression as an offensive lineman for sure.”

Decker wasn’t recruited by the Buckeyes’ previous coaching staff, but the hiring of Urban Meyer re-opened the home state school as a possibility. Meyer brought Notre Dame offensive line coach Ed Warinner to Columbus, and the former Irish commit Decker was more than happy to join Warinner as a Buckeye.

In his first game as a starter in 2013, Decker lined up at right tackle against Buffalo’s Khalil Mack and surrendered multiple sacks. Three seasons later, he said Mack is still the best defensive lineman he ever faced in college. Facing a future top-five draft pick in his first start showed Decker he wasn’t where he needed to be and gave him a glimpse of where he’d need to be to fend off elite defensive ends.

Not that he didn’t already have an idea. In addition to facing Mack, Decker also got to see star defensive end Joey Bosa and a number of other future NFL players every day in practice.

“I mean, that can't be understated,” Decker said. “Getting to play against a guy like (Bosa) and a guy like Noah Spence for two years and even Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, John Simon, John Hankins. I got to play against a lot of really good guys, more than I ever would have saw reps in a game against someone like that.

“Joey is an incredible player, he's really complete. Plays the run really well and he's strong, he's quick off the ball and good with his hands. He's just such a complete player, at least from my perspective. So if you do something wrong, he's going to figure out what it is and expose you. Going back to executing at a high level and being consistent, he helped me with that and he made me a lot better player.”

And then, of course, there were his teammates in the offensive line room. Led by Warinner, Ohio State’s starting offensive line unit developed into a group that produced three NFL starters and will add a fourth when Decker eventually gets his shot.

With Jack Mewhort playing for the Colts, Corey Linsley playing for the Packers and Andrew Norwell playing for the Panthers, there is no shortage of options for Decker to consult for advice both on and off the field.

“It's been pretty consistent with all of them,” Decker said. “Jack is a guy who, he helped me a lot in my time at college and he’s a guy I do keep in touch with. It's the same thing: It's just the level of competition is consistently going to be the best you're ever going to see. In college, yeah, you're going to see some really good players but at the next level, in the NFL, it's completely different because every week is going to be a high-level player.”

Even after his career ended, he had a former Ohio State offensive lineman to turn to for help. Decker has been working with former Buckeye LeCharles Bentley, who was a two-time Pro Bowler for the New Orleans Saints.

"Going into this combine draft process, he was the No. 1 guy I wanted to work with," Decker said. "I'm fortunate to be able to do that, because he himself was a really, really good player. Barring injury, who knows what he could have done with his career? It's cool to have that Ohio State connection. We wore the same number at Ohio State, both were the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. To have somebody like that to want to help me, want to help me achieve my goals and be successful has been amazing. I think he's the authority on offensive line. He knows a lot about the position and I think he'll help me become a better player. Without a doubt."

Because of his exposure to those elite opponents, teammates and coaches, Decker is primed to become a high-level player himself.

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