A 2019 Crystal Ball
Updated: Jan 24, 2019
Now that things have settled a bit after coaching changes were made, and the deadline for a player to declare for the NFL Draft has passed, it’s time to pull out the crystal ball, and see what the Buckeyes’ depth chart may look like when they open the season in just over seven loooooong months. I’m not so pretentious to present this as what will, or should happen. These are simply my opinions on what I think might happen. I’m not advocating one player over another. I’m a fan of every player who puts on a Buckeye uniform. I could care less who starts, and who doesn’t. No predictions on how many games I think the Buckeyes will win next season, or talk of key games, etc. I’m only dealing with what I think the depth chart may look like when Ryan Day’s team takes the field August 31st against Florida Atlantic.
Well, this position certainly got interesting in a hurry. Dwayne Haskins has left for the NFL. Georgia transfer Justin Fields joined the program. The NCAA hasn’t yet ruled on his waiver request to play immediately, but I don’t see them turning it down considering the circumstances. Tate Martell transferred to Miami. Walk-on quarterback Kory Curtis has announced he is transferring to Bryant College (an FCS school in Rhode Island). Why am I mentioning a walk-on transferring? Because the Buckeyes could have a depth problem at the position. Like Urban Meyer, Ryan Day likes to have four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. Right now Fields, Matthew Baldwin, and Chris Chugunov are the only scholarship quarterbacks. I'll be surprised if they are able to flip a recruit from another school by signing day. That’s why the news of Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel entering the NCAA transfer portal, and has the Buckeyes high on his list is big news. He’s on track to graduate in June, and would join the team for August camp. He began 2017 as the Aggie starter, but injured his foot in their first game, and did not return until late in the season. He played sparingly this past year. The Buckeyes would get some needed depth if he joins the program.
Unless Fields doesn't pick up very well on Day's offense, I think he's the opening day starter. I think Baldwin is going to be a very good quarterback for the Buckeyes someday, but if Fields is everything thing he's advertised, he's going to be the guy.
This is another position where depth is a concern right now because of a few departures, but there is no doubt who is The Man. J.K. Dobbins has rushed for over a thousand yards in each of his first two seasons as a Buckeye. I expect him to get the overwhelming majority of the carries, but the season is too long to rely on one running back.
Mike Weber declared for the NFL Draft, and Brian Snead has left (or was asked to leave) school. Snead had a great start to his freshman season, but was suspended early in the year, and never reinstated. That leaves the Buckeyes a bit thin behind Dobbins, but not without talent.
Late in the season it appeared the offensive staff had finally figured out how to use Demario McCall. He had bounced back and forth between running back and H-back, but settled into a role as a third-down running back; similar to that of Darren Sproles of the Eagles. I think you're going to see McCall's contribution to the offense expanded in 2019. Unless one of the two incoming freshman blow away the coaches, I think redshirt freshman Master Teague will get his share of carries next season. He's only three pounds heavier than Dobbins (215 to 212), but if you watched last year's spring game you know he runs bigger than what he is. He's a physical, mean runner who could help in short yardage. One of those freshman who could blow away the coaches is Marcus Crowley. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida, already has good size (200 pounds), and is an early enrollee. Keep an eye on him.
A lot was lost, but a lot returns. The returnees are led by H-back K.J. Hill, who decided to forego the NFL Draft. Sometime next season he should become the school's all-time leading receiver. Although C.J. Saunders returns also, I don’t think he will be the main backup to Hill. After he was injured against Purdue, he was used sparingly the rest of the season. I think redshirt freshman Jaelen Gill will be the guy listed second on the depth chart for the opening game. He’s almost identical in size to Hill, and fast. Really fast. I’m interested to see if they use him on the jet sweep like they did with so much success with Parris Campbell.
Austin Mack returns at the X receiver spot. A broken foot against Purdue ended his 2018 season. Forget about his first half struggles against TCU, he’s a dependable receiver who gives this position a boost with his return because the other returnee at this spot hasn’t been that reliable. Binjimen Victor has shown flashes of brilliance (the touchdown catch against Penn State), and has a ton of potential, but has yet to put it all together.
I’ll be surprised if anyone other than Chris Olave is the starter at the Z spot. He wasn’t a part of the receiver rotation until the Nebraska game, and really didn’t see a lot of time until two weeks later against Maryland. It was his breakout performance against Michigan (2 receptions for 48 yards and 2 touchdowns, and a blocked punt) that let you know he is very talented, and a star in the making. The sophomore had just twelve catches for the season, but three went for touchdowns. Behind him is where it gets interesting because that second spot on the depth chart is very much up for grabs. Kamryn Babb, Elijah Gardiner, L’Christian “Blue” Smith, and Jaylen Harris could all get a look. Harris is the only one of that
group to have a catch last year (2 for 22 yards). Because of his size (6’5”, 215 pounds) I’d love to see him take a big step forward in his development during spring practice. But, the guy I’m going with to win that second spot on the depth chart is true freshman Garrett Wilson. He’s already a part of the program as an early enrollee, so he has the benefit of going through the winter conditioning program, and can spend time learning the offense before spring practice. I don’t think there is any question you’ll see him on the field early next season.
Luke Farrell returns after catching 20 passes in 2018. The redshirt junior from Perry, Ohio quietly got better and better. Because of their depth at receiver, the Buckeyes didn’t use him much in the passing game. But, make no mistake he’s very talented, and will be one of the better tight ends in the conference in 2019. Sophomore Jeremy Ruckert caught just one pass, but was used often in two-, and three-tight end formations. Urban Meyer said he was the best tight end prospect he’d ever recruited. I think Ruckert makes the leap forward this spring, and takes the number two spot away from Rashod Berry.
Most will tell you the Buckeyes have lost four starters from 2018. While that is technically true, it is somewhat misleading when you look at who could make up the 2019 offensive line. Two of the players I project to replace the 2018 starters have starting experience. Branden Bowen started the first six games of 2017 at right guard before a broken leg ended his season. He missed all of spring practice, and most of this past season rehabbing that injury before returning to be a
backup at right guard. I see the only Buckeye from the state of Utah being the starter at left guard when the season begins. At right guard I think Wyatt Davis will pick up where he left off. When Demetrius Knox, the starter for the season’s first twelve games, was injured late against Michigan, Davis took over, and made his first career start the following week in the Big Ten Championship game; he started the Rose Bowl as well. The expectations for the redshirt sophomore are VERY high. If Josh Alabi makes the move to right tackle that could make it three players with starting experience. Alabi was the backup to Thayer Munford at left tackle last season. He played extensively against Maryland when Munford went out with an injury, and performed well enough for a first-time
starter in the Rose Bowl when Munford was unable to play. But, I don’t think Alabi will be the opening day starter on the right side. I’m going with redshirt freshman Nicholas Petite-Frere, who was the top offensive line recruit in the country for the 2018 recruiting cycle. He’s ultra talented, and I think it is going to be hard to keep him off the field. Redshirt sophomore Josh Myers will be the center. Even before 2018 starter Michael Jordan announced he was entering the NFL Draft, Ryan Day said Myers would be the starter at the position in 2019 (Jordan was going to move back to left guard). Thayer Munford returns at left tackle after a solid 2018.
Because I bounced around a bit, here’s a recap:
LT: Thayer Munford
LG: Branden Bowen
C: Josh Myers
RG: Wyatt Davis
RT: Nicholas Petite-Frere
The problem with this unit is depth. There is a decided lack of it, and this is one of the bigger concerns for the team going into spring practice. Outside of those I have already mentioned there is only one other player with any game experience at all. Left guard Gavin Cupp saw the majority of his playing time come on special teams last season. Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa really has a lot of work to do.
Chase Young returns at one defensive end spot after reaching his goal of 10 ½ sacks last season. He did that while playing most of the year on gimpy ankles. Jonathan Cooper also returns after a solid, if unspectacular, 2018. My hope for Cooper is he becomes more of a pass
rush threat. Fifth-year senior Jashon Cornell also returns to add depth, but the guy you need to watch is Tyreke Smith. He played nearly 200 snaps last season (according to Eleven Warriors), was used at times as a defensive tackle in the Rushmen package, and showed flashes of his potential. I think he can be a real beast this season, and give the Buckeyes a second outstanding pass rusher. Tyler Friday didn’t get as much playing time as Smith, but he did see spot duty here and there. The hidden gem in this group just may be redshirt freshman Javontae Jean-Baptiste. He came to OSU weighing just 215 pounds, but is extremely athletic, and I heard rave reviews of his time on the scout team. Keep an eye on him. If Jean-Baptiste is the hidden gem, true freshman Zach Harrison is the wildcard. The top weakside defensive end in the country, and a top-ten player nationally, is already on campus as an early enrollee, and most expect him to play next season. The Buckeyes could have seven players in the rotation at this position; competition for playing time in the Rushmen package is going to be intense.
Haskell Garrett looks to be in line to take over the 3-technique tackle position (lines up on the outside shoulder of the guard) with the departure of Dre’Mont Jones. I liked what I saw from him late in the season, and expect him to become a force on the inside. Sophomore Taron Vincent will most likely be second on the depth chart here. As the season progressed, the sophomore was used as a nose tackle when the Buckeyes went to a 3-3-5 look. He played a season-high nineteen snaps in the Rose Bowl. Robert Landers and Davon Hamilton both return at nose tackle. Landers took the majority of snaps when healthy, and I don’t see that changing.
The guy to watch on the defensive line is Tommy Togiai. As a true freshman he was behind Landers and Hamilton at nose tackle, but still saw his share of playing time. He finished with ten tackles, including two for a loss, and may be too good to keep on the sidelines very much.
What a headache this group has been. Hopefully the coaching change (Bill Davis out, Al Washington in) will help them become a strength of the defense again. The only thing I think is certain right now is Malik Harrison will be a starter at one outside linebacker position. I thought he was easily the most steady performer in this group, and is another who showed flashes of just how good he can be. I see a real battle developing at middle linebacker between Tuf Borland and Baron Browning. Borland is a smart, intense player, but I don’t think he ever really recovered from the achilles injury he had suffered in the spring. He did not seem as quick as he was in 2017, and was replaced on passing downs by Browning this past season. Browning is a former five-star recruit who hasn’t come close to reaching his potential. I expect him to take a leap forward in development, and really push Borland to be the starter. Pete Werner drew the ire of fans for his play in 2018 at the other outside linebacker spot. At times he made plays, but too often he looked lost, and out of position. Last season’s backup, Dante Booker, is gone, but I don’t
expect a battle to see who is number two at this position. What I’m expecting is to see a battle for the starting spot. Dallas Gant and Teradja Mitchell are two names to watch. Meyer raved about Gant during last year’s spring practice, so it was no surprise to see him play in all fourteen games as a true freshman on special teams. Mitchell earned such a reputation on the kickoff team that his teammates would make it a point to watch him run down the field, and blow up an opposing blocker. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Dallas Gant starting the opener with Werner backing him up, and Mitchell serving as backup to Harrison.
With cornerback Kendall Sheffield moving onto the NFL I fully expect Shaun Wade to move into the three-man rotation at cornerback. Wade spent last season mostly covering the slot receiver in the nickel package. He also spent a little bit of time at field safety when the Meyer was trying to find a solution at that position. Like a lot of Buckeye defenders he had his moments, but struggled at times as well. However, he did lead the team with three interceptions. After telling reporters he was leaning towards leaving for the NFL Draft, Damon Arnette decided to return for his senior season. I thought he played well in the Rose Bowl, and hope that serves as a spring board for 2019. Jeffrey Okudah had what I thought was an outstanding Rose Bowl, and showed the type of ability that had him ranked as the top cornerback in the country when the Buckeyes
recruited him. There has been no word from the coaching staff if there are plans to continue the three-man rotation at this position, but I’d be surprised if it changes. I look for Sevyn Banks to take over Wade’s role as the nickel back covering the slot receiver. Former defensive coordinator Greg Schiano spoke highly of Banks in the time leading up to the bowl game. Due to injury he did not make his debut until the Nebraska game, but became a regular on special teams. Banks is best remembered for returning Chris Olave’s blocked punt for a touchdown against Michigan.
Jordan Fuller returns for his third season as the starter at free safety. The Academic All-American is not happy with his performance last season despite leading the team in tackles. He has the potential to be the best safety in the conference, and one of the best in the country. Rose Bowl Defensive Player of the Game Brendan White provided the Buckeyes with the stability they had been searching for when he took over at field safety. But, it didn’t happen until the tenth game of the season, and only because he performed so well the previous week when he filled in for Fuller, who had been ejected for targeting. Isaiah Pryor and Jahsen Wint struggled so much at this position I wouldn’t be surprised to see Josh Proctor pass them on the depth chart. Proctor spent virtually all of his freshman season proving himself on special teams. But, this kid is very talented, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him push White for playing time. I think White will be the opening day starter, but I really believe Proctor will see the field in more than just token appearances.
Drue Chrisman, the Big Ten’s best punter, returns. The redshirt junior averaged just over 43 yards per kick last year, but was a master at dropping punts inside the 20-yard line (remember the Michigan State game?). He’s also college football’s best bottle flipper. Blake Haubeil is back after taking over for the injured Sean Nuernberger midway through the season. Up to that point he had been the kickoff specialist. He connected on 10 of 13 field goals, and all 37 extra points. He has a strong leg, and I expect the junior from Buffalo to expand his range to over 50 yards next season. Long snapper Liam McCullough is also back for 2019. Why do I mention the long snapper? Can you recall seeing a bad snap in recent years? Me neither. That’s why I mention him. By the way, his younger brother is waiting to take over in 2020.
That’s my look at what the depth chart may look like when the Buckeyes take on Florida Atlantic on August 31st. That’s a long way off, and a lot of things can happen between now and then. But, it’s a lot of fun to speculate.
Reports have surfaced that Tate Martell had to be talked out of transferring last year. I’m not surprised by this. There is no sense going into this any deeper. I’m more concerned about who is a Buckeye rather than who is not.
Linebacker Keandre Jones has entered the NCAA transfer portal. Jones came to the Buckeyes as one of the top outside linebacker recruits in the country, but could never crack the starting lineup. But, he was invaluable special teams player, and is best known for blocking a punt against Nebraska last season. By all accounts he has been an outstanding teammate, and done everything the coaches have asked of him. I’m hoping he finds a program where he can excel.
I have no idea what happened with Johnnie Dixon’s appearance in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl last weekend. He was on the roster, but was nowhere to be found during the game, and I saw nothing on his Twitter feed addressing it.
Terry McLaurin is representing the Buckeyes in the Senior Bowl this week. I saw nothing but rave reviews of his first few days of practice. One guy to keep an eye on is Slippery Rock running back Wes Hills. He was very impressive in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and received a late invite to the Senior Bowl. He’s a physical, no-nonsense runner who is a lot of fun to watch. The Senior Bowl is THE college all-star game. The squads are coached by NFL staffs, and scouts and general managers spend the week scrutinizing the players up close. You can watch McLaurin and Hills on NFL Network at 2:30 Saturday afternoon.
Spring practice begins March 4th, with the Spring Game being scheduled for April 13th.
Just three Buckeyes still have a chance at a Super Bowl ring. New England’s Nate Ebner and John Simon, along with Rams’ long snapper Jake McQuaide are all that remain. Ebner is going after his third; it will be the first for Simon or McQuaide.
Ok, we’ve all seen it, and heard thousands of opinions. Without question Saints receiver TommyLee Lewis was interfered with by Los Angeles defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman. Here’s my problem with the no-call. All through the season NFL officials were hypersensitive to any kind of contact with a receiver. It felt like there was penalty for interference, holding, or hitting a defenseless receiver every other play. But, in one of the three biggest games of the year the officials choose to let an egregious interference call go when the game was on the line. Coleman could have just as easily been called for hitting a defenseless receiver. In the Canadian Football League you can challenge interference calls/non-calls. It really may be time for the league to consider this.
I’ve also heard a lot of complaints about the league’s overtime format. Many feel the Patriots-Chiefs game was decided by a coin flip. Um…no, it wasn’t. The Chiefs lost because their 31st ranked defense failed to get a stop all three times New England had 3rd and 8 yards or more.
The Patriots were methodical in going 75 yards in 13 plays for the game-winning touchdown. New England’s offense continually made plays when needed; Kansas City’s defense did not. The Rams and Saints went to overtime as well. New Orleans had the ball first, but the Rams forced a turnover, and won the game on a 57-yard bomb of a field goal. The coin flip didn’t decide this game. So, why do those people feel it decided the Chiefs and Patriots? The answer is simple. The Patriot haters have their knickers in a knot because the wrong team won according to them. If the Chiefs had won the toss, and Patrick Mahomes had thrown a 75-yard touchdown pass on their first play, you wouldn’t hear a peep from these people. There’s nothing wrong with the NFL’s overtime format.
Former Buckeye receiver Devin Smith has been signed by the Cowboys. Knee injuries have caused him to miss the last two seasons. He has just ten catches in fourteen career NFL games with the Jets.
Well, this one got a little long. What can I say? I enjoy writing about the Buckeyes, and if you made it all the way to this point you enjoy reading about them. Have a great weekend everyone!