Now that the NFL draft is over, I want to take a look at a recruiting class that I feel was very successful -- the small but strong class of 1998.
I once heard that a successful recruiting class is generally regarded as having about a 50% success rate, meaning that if 50% or more of a class contributes, it's considered a successful class.
Using this logic, the Class of 1998 was a huge success, and it's arguable that without this class, Ohio State football would have been in for some rough times the past two years. This was a class where numbers were limited and the Buckeyes had to be picky with who they took, and they hit the mark with almost every player. Let's take a look at the players, and I am going to label them as being a hit or miss.
Now what exactly is a hit or miss? That can be debated. Some may think that a player like Kenny Peterson might be a miss because he was this class' highest-rated player and hasn't shown that he should have been. But I am going to keep it simple and say that "hit" means they provided meaningful contributions (meaning that they were starters and/or saw valuable and important time during games) and finished their career, and "miss" means they have done neither of those things.
Let's take a look (and note that to my knowledge, OSU signed 14 players on that signing day, but I think that Douglas and Thompson are counted in this class):
QB Steve Bellisari - Saying Steve started three years and was drafted into the NFL doesn't tell the whole story, of course. It doesn't include the fact that he was possibly the most maligned quarterback in college football history (I can't think of one who was the victim of more abuse, although I guess I do recall Penn State QB Kevin Thompson once being booed by the crowd when he was introduced at a men's basketball home game). But I think Steve has to be thought of as a "hit" if you consider that he did contribute a lot. He helped lead the team to two winning seasons, and while a lot of fans tend to think about how things could have been better during his time, I tend to think about how things could have been worse. And in my opinion, they most certainly could have if for some reason he wasn't available and OSU had to go with one of the other options at QB.
RB - Jonathan Wells - Jonathan was a guy who was a top 100 player coming out of high school, so we sat around waiting to become a star, and he finally broke out in his final season as he rushed for over 1,000 yards and was drafted into the NFL (into a real good situation for him I might add as I think he could contribute a lot for the Texans this year). Hit.
FB - Jamar Martin - Definite "hit" as he played four years (and knocked people on their butt for those four years) and became the first fullback chosen in the 2002 NFL Draft.
OL LeCharles Bentley - A direct hit. His story has always intrigued me as here was a guy who wasn't going to OSU, but Coach Cooper came through with an offer at the last minute, making him an unexpected addition to the class. And what an addition it was -- 2001 Rimington Award winner for the nation's best center, 2001 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, three-year starter, and a second-round selection in the 2002 NFL Draft. And all this for a guy who once referred to himself as a fat kid who just wanted to stay home and play video games before he was encouraged to play football. One more piece of food for thought -- for all the hyped players that come out of Cleveland St. Ignatius, I'm pretty sure that no one to come out of that school over the past decade or so has come close to Bentley's college football accomplishments. I could be wrong there, and Louisville QB Dave Ragone has a chance to change that, but off the top of my head, I can't think of one.
OL Ivan Douglas - Douglas was a late addition; his spot counted against this class. He's on his way to becoming a hit, especially if he can hold down that starting tackle spot this year. That's a huge comeback for a man who had a life-threatening condition last year. I'm projecting him as a hit.
OL Scott Kuhnhein - Has one more season to show something. Hopefully he can come through this year, but currently, I consider him a miss.
DL Mike Collins - Didn't get drafted into the NFL, but he was a definite hit. He was a three-year starter and a competitor who made an impact on the defensive line.
DL James Cotton - JUCO transfer who saw time as a starter and did get selected in the seventh round of the NFL draft. Hit.
DL Kenny Peterson - As mentioned earlier, he hasn't played up to his ranking coming in as he was rated by some as one of the top 25 overall players in America coming out of high school. He has seen time and has made contributions though, and I am excited about the possibilities he brings as a defensive tackle. I am projecting that he will be a "hit."
DL Ryan Pickett - He lived up to the blue-chip billing he had coming out of high school as he started early at DT and left for the NFL as a junior and was later selected as a first-round draft pick. Hit.
DL David Thompson - This year will be the determining factor although I am still happy that he came out of nowhere last year to find himself back on the two-deep. He will make the defensive line deep this year and hopefully he can put on a good show in his final year. Incomplete.
DL Julius Yeast - The only one of this group to not stick at OSU, Julius transferred after a redshirt season and not playing during his redshirt freshman season. He was a top 100 player coming out of high school. Miss.
LB/DB Cie Grant - Cie will most likely be a starter at LB this year, and word is that he could be in line for a big season. Combine that with being a starter last year and I think that is a hit, and his athleticism alone might get him a good look on the next level.
DB Nate Clements - Big talent out of high school who proved it in college as he was a three-and-done guy who was a first-round selection in the NFL draft. He took some criticism, but he was a hit.
DB Donnie Nickey - When OSU got a commitment from Donnie Nickey, the most common reaction was "Who???" Here was a guy who was on his way to Ohio U. when the Bucks suddenly decided to take him. Turns out the Bucks were right as this one-time MAC-player-to-be will be a four-year starter for Ohio State and should get a chance to catch on with an NFL team. Hit.
DB Derek Ross - Derek had a shaky career at OSU due to other issues, but he did come back to start and have a good season as a junior, and then he left and was drafted in the third round. Hit.
So here are the numbers: 13 hits, 2 misses, 1 incomplete, with half the class already drafted into the NFL and quite possibly more to come.
I don't think we can really emphasize how big that is because many players in the class of 1997 didn't develop as well (it was a class that numbered in the 20s but has produced less draft picks than the class of 1998, none of them being above round six except Darnell Sanders and Courtland Bullard), and the class of 1999 has only eight players who are projected starters this year. So you can see that this class has been huge in helping this team to winning seasons over the past couple of years.
The Class of 2003 will also be a small one. We can only hope that the
Buckeyes will have similar success with this class as they did with their last
small class in 1998.