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 Washington with the second pick in 2020. When those three left Columbus, it seemed like they took the Ohio State pass rush with them, and the Buckeyes have suffered the consequences ever since.

From 2017-19, Ohio State's defense ranked third among 65 Power Five programs in pressure rate (36.5%) and fourth in sack rate (9.5%), according to Tru Media. Over the last two seasons, the Buckeyes have fallen to 13th in pressure rate (31.1%) and 28th in sack rate (6.8%). While those latter numbers are still well above average nationally, they're subpar for a program expected to compete for national titles annually.

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As college football continues to evolve into a passing-dominated sport, a defense's ability to get to the quarterback becomes more important. With the evolution of RPO (run-pass-option) offenses and schemes that have quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly, putting pressure on them to disrupt the flow of the offense is paramount. It's an area where the Buckeyes have suffered over the last few seasons.

Look no further than Ohio State's three losses over the last two seasons. You might remember seeing its linebackers or defensive backs getting beat by open receivers. While those players shoulder some of the blame, life would have been much easier on them if the defensive front had been able to put pressure on the quarterback ... but it didn't. 

In the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship loss to Alabama, the Buckeyes had a pressure rate of only 12.2% -- the second-lowest mark in any of the 21 games they played over those two seasons (the lowest was a hilarious 1.9% in a 59-31 win over Purdue last season). In last year's losses to Oregon and Michigan, the Buckeyes had pressure rates of 24.3% and 23.8%, respectively, ranking as the 15th-and-16th-worst performances of the 21-game sample size. They finished with only two sacks in those three games, both coming against Alabama.

This is where Knowles comes in. Before Mike Gundy brought Knowles to Oklahoma State, his Cowboys had experienced plenty of success. Like many Big 12 programs, though, they were seen as an offense-first team. A defensive stop was typically viewed as a result of the offense screwing up. Knowles changed that.

From 2010-17, Oklahoma State's defense averaged 34.7 sacks per season (2.34 per game). In Knowles' first season in 2018, the Cowboys finished with 39 sacks (3.0 per game). After a dip in 2019 to 2.15 per game -- still good enough for fourth in the Big 12 -- the Cowboys rebounded to 3.0 per game in 2020 before exploding to 4.0 per game last season. The only defense in the country to finish with more sacks last season than Oklahoma State's 56 was Alabama with 57, and the Crimson Tide did it with an extra game. No program averaged more than Oklahoma State's 4.0 sacks.

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During Knowles' four-year tenure in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the Cowboys' defense ranked 12th among Power Five programs in pressure rate and seventh in sack rate. If we narrow that down to the last two seasons, the Cowboys ranked first in pressure rate and third in sack rate. And that success came despite only two Oklahoma State defenders getting drafted. Defensive end Jordan Brailford went in the seventh round (253rd overall) in the 2019 draft, while cornerback Rodarius Williams was a sixth-round pick (201st) last year.

It's fair to say Knowles will have more talent to work with in Columbus than he did in Stillwater, and considering the results he got with the Cowboys, you can't blame any Buckeyes fan dreaming of what he can do at Ohio State. If he succeeds, Ohio State will be in a position to win its first national title since 2014, and Knowles will be seen as Ryan Day's biggest recruiting win since taking over the program from Urban Meyer.