With the 2017 NFL season coming to a dramatic end last night with the Philadelphia Eagles’ 41-33 win over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, another group of Ohio State rookies has capped their first seasons in the NFL.
Let’s take a look at how they fared.
CB Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Picked 11th overall by the New Orleans Saints in the 2017 NFL Draft, Marshon Lattimore was brought in to shore up what was the second-to-last ranked pass defense in the NFL last season.
But it wasn’t long into the season that Lattimore proved he could do so much more.
In week six, after a lackluster 2-2 start from the Saints, Lattimore would secure his first interception of his career, taking an errant throw from the Lions’ Matthew Stafford for a touchdown (also the first of his career).
Lattimore — who made a name for himself at Ohio State with his lockdown man coverage — had made a seamless transition into the NFL.
New Orleans would go on to win 11 games this season, making the NFC playoffs for the first time since 2013. Lattimore, leading the way with his team-high five interceptions, transformed the Saints’ defense from laughing-stock to playoff-caliber in just one season.
To almost no one’s surprise, Lattimore was announced as the Defensive Rookie of the Year last week; making him the second Buckeye in a row to win the prestigious award (Joey Bosa in 2016).
S Malik Hooker, Indianapolis Colts
After bursting onto the scene two years ago in his first full season at Ohio State, expectations were high for safety Malik Hooker heading into his first season in the NFL.
Hooker, who drew comparisons to NFL-great Ed Reed during the draft process, made a name for himself at Ohio State for his game-changing interceptions. So for the Colts, who finished 26th in the NFL last season in takeaways, selecting the ball-hawking safety at 15th overall in the NFL Draft was a no-brainer.
Hooker wouldn’t start week one against the Los Angeles Rams — a 46-9 loss — but would make his first start the following week against the Arizona Cardinals. And just like he did for the Buckeyes so many times, Hooker would register his first career interception in his first start in the NFL.
The following week — this time against the Cleveland Browns — Hooker would get his second interception. And in week four, Hooker would get his third interception of the season against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.
With one-quarter of the 2017 NFL season in the books, Hooker was making a strong case for defensive rookie of the year. But in week seven against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hooker would suffer a season-ending knee injury; an ACL tear.
It’s unclear at this time what the exact timetable for Hooker’s recovery is, but the hope is that he’s back in action for the Colts’ first game of the 2018 season.
CB Gareon Conley, Oakland Raiders
Selected 24th overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2017 NFL Draft, cornerback Gareon Conley was looked upon to shore up the Raiders’ 23rd-ranked pass defense in 2016.
However, just days into summer minicamp, Conley would aggravate his shin, forcing him to miss both fall camp and the preseason.
It was week two of the regular season when Conley would finally make his NFL debut, registering two tackles and a pass defended in the Raiders’ 45-20 victory over the New York Jets.
But evidently, Conley had not yet fully recovered from his shin injury, as the corner would make only one more appearance in the regular season before being placed on the injured reserve list in November.
Reports have recently come out that Conley did not make a positive impression on both coaches and teammates during his first season in the NFL, with some coaches privately questioning the cornerback’s drive and passion for the game.
Regardless, Conley is slated to make a full recovery in time for the start of the 2018 season, where he will look to start anew with recently hired head coach Jon Gruden.
WR Curtis Samuel, Carolina Panthers
After an impressive performance at the NFL Combine highlighted by a 4.31 40-yard dash, wide receiver Curtis Samuel shot up general managers’ big boards heading into April.
Samuel, originally thought of as a mid-round pick, made his way to the early second round, having been selected by the Carolina Panthers at 40th overall.
For Carolina, who selected Stanford standout running back Christian McCaffrey with their first pick in the draft, clearly prioritized speed in the early parts of the draft.
The Panthers — after a 15-1 record and Super Bowl appearance the year prior — failed to rekindle that flame during the 2016 season, missing the playoffs entirely with a lackluster 6-10 record. McCaffrey and Samuel were brought in to change that, using their dynamic rushing and receiving abilities to help quarterback Cam Newton return to his MVP-caliber self.
Unfortunately for Samuel, however, that game-breaking speed was put on very short display, as the wide receiver would suffer a season-ending ankle injury against the Dolphins on November 13.
Ironically, Samuel’s first career start also came that day against the Dolphins, as the rookie assumed the role left by now Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Samuel managed to register five catches for 45 yards (both career highs) in his first start, but left the game in the third quarter never to return.
The good news for Samuel is that his starting role alongside Devin Funchess should be waiting for him when he returns to the field next fall. The Panthers’ wide receiving corps was somewhat lacking without Samuel catching passes, so look for 2018 to be Samuel’s breakout season in the NFL when he’s finally 100% healthy.
LB Raekwon McMillan, Miami Dolphins
Before linebacker Raekwon McMillan’s season could even begin with the Miami Dolphins, it was already over.
Just two minutes into his first preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons — literally his first snap in the NFL — McMillan collided with then-teammate Deon Lacey. Immediately McMillan was seen clutching his right knee, which was diagnosed as a torn ACL a few days later.
McMillan, selected 54th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, was projected to start for the Dolphins this season, but obviously that goal never quite came to fruition. The hope is that McMillan will be 100% ready to go in 2018, but there’s still a long way to go in the linebacker’s grueling recovery.
C Pat Elflein, Minnesota Vikings
Selected 70th overall in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, center Pat Elflein can already be considered a steal after his stellar rookie campaign with the Minnesota Vikings.
Elflein played in all but two of Minnesota’s games this season, helping the Vikings to an NFC-best 14-2 record. The guard-turned-center was a bonafide starter for the Vikings week one, and never gave up that role throughout the season. Elflein was unsurprisingly named to the All-Rookie Team by the PFWA earlier this month, and will look to only improve as his NFL career continues.
Elflein did, however, suffer an ankle injury against the Eagles in the NFC Conference Championship; an injury that forced the center to be carted off the field.
Last week Elfein had surgery to repair said ankle, and should be more than ready to go when the NFL season resumes next fall.
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