If Mitch Rossi entered the NFL draft after last season, he wouldn’t have been able to fully showcase his skills during the pre-draft process.
After suffering a shoulder injury last season, Rossi underwent surgery this winter. That would have prevented Rossi from completing a full practice session on Ohio State’s pro day, where he would have had to put in a strong performance to improve his chances of picking up.
Had the NCAA not given all players an additional year of eligibility in 2020, Rossi – who was five years older last season – would have had no opportunity to play another season at Ohio State. But since he did, Rossi decided to take advantage and stay with the Buckeyes in Columbus for a sixth year.
“Early on last year I just wanted to have the best senior season possible. And then, midway through the season, I realized that the NFL was more of a realistic possibility. And then my shoulder came out at the same time,” said Rossi. “So it kind of came down to me having to rehabilitate it and still do it because it bothered me. And I wanted to work with (Adam Stewart) here because he’s the best physical therapist in the country. So all together and then they put together a pretty good pitch for me to get me into a good graduate program and help me with some connections beyond football. So everything was fine.”
Playing in the NFL seemed like a pipe dream for Rossi when he joined the Buckeyes as an errand boy in 2017. He didn’t even plan to play college football until Ohio State invited him to continue while he attended OSU alongside high school teammate Max Wray (who signed on scholarship with the Buckeyes in 2018 and spent three years at Ohio State, before leaving the program) in the spring of his senior year of high school.
However, as Rossi’s role has steadily grown over the past five years, it has at least become feasible that Rossi could play professionally.
He’ll likely need a productive sophomore at Ohio State to have any real chance of getting drafted considering he has just five career catches for 36 yards and one touchdown. That said, he could potentially fill a niche for an NFL team as a fullback — where he starts as a Buckeye for many of his 256 offensive snaps — and as a core player on special teams, where he regularly kicks off return and field-goal teams for the Buckeyes.
The success of NFL fullbacks like Kyle Juszcyzk – who signed a five-year, $27 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers last offseason – has inspired Rossi to believe he could follow in their footsteps.
“I think that role is starting to come back, you see the 49ers and some other teams using the full-back in creative ways,” Rossi said. “And I find it exciting that I have these skills. It would be great to use that here and maybe at the next level.”
Right now, Rossi is focused on making as much impact as possible for Ohio State this fall. And he has a chance to play his most significant role yet. With Jeremy Ruckert now in the NFL, Rossi is expected to be one of the leaders of the tight end unit this season along with Cade Stover.
How Ohio State will split snaps at the end of this season remains uncertain, with Joe Royer and Gee Scott Jr. also in the mix for the season. It’s probably still more likely that the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Rossi will be a role player rather than a regular starter, as Stover (6-4, 255) is a more conventional inline tight end, while Royer ( 6-5, 245) and Scott (6-3, 225) offer higher upside potential as downfield pass catchers.
However, Ohio State offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson believes Rossi can be a valuable addition to the Buckeyes’ offense. Wilson has made a conscious effort to use Rossi in the way that best suits his abilities and he plans to do so again this year.
“Last year we did a little bit better, I thought with Mitch, when Mitch was there we played to the strengths that suit him,” Wilson said this spring. “So over time, I see Mitch as this (guy who plays in two-back packs), a little bit tight end but a little bit like a full-back who moves around.”
Uncertainty over exactly what Rossi’s role will be this season is partly due to the fact that he was unable to attend spring training due to shoulder surgery, but he said this spring he’s back to full force in time for next month’s preseason camp would .
It gives Rossi a chance throughout the month of August to prove he’s capable of doing even more for the Buckeyes this year than he has in years past — and potentially impressing NFL teams in the process — and he’s excited on this occasion.
“I kind of developed that confidence by stepping into a bigger role, especially towards the end of last year. And I think breaking that kind of barrier, being in the game and being in the first, second, third quarter, takes some time,” Rossi said. “And now that I’ve done that, it definitely gives me more confidence.”