Ohio State’s success in the NFL Draft is well known, as the Buckeyes’ 87 first-round picks are the most all-time among any program.
The Buckeyes have had at least one first-round selection in seven straight drafts, which is the second-longest streak behind Alabama. However, Buckeye wideouts hadn’t heard their names in the first round of the draft since 2007, and wide receivers coach Brian Hartline — who was a fourth-round pick in 2009 and spent seven seasons in the NFL — was the best way to start that series to break through in April.
Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles arrived in Ohio State in January and noticed he often thought of the Buckeyes when it comes to talented players with coaches in the past. Knowles now works for a program that ranked second among the Power 5 programs in yards-per-game gains last season. He said not only the talent around his new colleague was noticed, but also Hartline’s appearance.
“There’s a saying in our industry, ‘What you see is what you coach,’ so there’s no one better than him in terms of the product he brings to the court,” Knowles said. “It’s a smart dresser and looks sharp. He just looks like what you could wish for in a great wide receiver and offense coach and I’m glad to be on his team.”
For the first time in a decade and a half, the Buckeyes had picked a wide receiver in the first round of the NFL draft when the New York Jets selected Garrett Wilson as the No. 10 overall pick April 28th.
Not only did Ohio State have one first-round wide receiver, they had two — as Chris Olave finished 11th overall to the New Orleans Saints marking a consecutive Buckeye selection. Hartline drafted in Las Vegas with Olave and Wilson and said it was memorable to see two players he coached develop into first-round picks.
“The emotional conversations that we had and there’s just so much coming back, but seeing guys achieve their dream in this way was definitely something that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life,” Hartline said. “It was very cool.”
Olave and Wilson combined for 4,924 yards and 58 touchdown receptions during their decorated Buckeye careers. During the 2019 and 2020 seasons, they shared the wide receiver room with former Buckeye Jameson Williams, who joined Alabama in May 2021.
Williams went to the Detroit Lions ranked 12th overall, tagged three consecutive first-round receivers and spent time in an Ohio State uniform. In 22 games at Ohio State, Williams caught 266 yards on 15 receptions and had three touchdowns.
Though Williams looked elsewhere, Hartline said the investment he’s making in coaching extends beyond himself to others around him, like his wife Kara Hartline, and that rewarding players is the ultimate payoff.
“We are all in it – my children, them. I’m not the only coach who does that,” Hartline said. “You’re very committed and when a guy decides to leave, you feel it. I’m not saying it’s wrong. It’s part of the equation more often now than it used to be, but pretty cool when you see these end results.”
Head coach Ryan Day said the NFL draft is surrounded by emotion for and every player, their families, coaches and beyond. From Olave and Wilson to former quarterback Justin Fields, who also went to the Chicago Bears in the first round of the NFL draft in 2021, Day said the success allowed him to reflect on what the Buckeyes’ program had to offer.
“It’s a very, very exciting time to be a quarterback and a wide receiver,” Day said. “You see a couple of guys going on the first lap so it’s starting to pick up a lot of momentum. It is very exciting to recruit in this field.”
Ohio State’s list of first-round draft picks could increase as junior wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba and second quarterback CJ Stroud could follow after increasing their worth on the heels of the record-breaking Heisman Trophy finalist caliber seasons, respectively.
Day, who has coached alongside Hartline since they both joined Ohio State in 2017, said that Hartline’s first-round picks of several of Hartline’s former wide receivers were a “testament” to Hartline and the potential for future players at Ohio State.
“A really important part of recruiting is development,” Day said. “For the guys who want to focus on that and develop into really good collegiate players and potentially NFL draft picks, Ohio State is a great option.”