Don't Sleep on These Guys

By Joe Beale on August 22, 2013 at 11:30a
His moment will come...Eleven Warriors 2013 Ohio State Football Preview

When you talk about a "sleeper" pick, something like a late-round draft pick of some player no one else seems to think highly of, the idea is that this guy will achieve unexpected success or recognition. How to recognize such a player before the fact, however, is anyone's guess. Most of the time it's luck, or some bit of inside information gained during covert activities or via some extra-connected individual.

For this year's Ohio State football team, it's going to be hard to call a guy a sleeper, since most of these guys step on campus with big expectations and lots of high school accolades to back them up. So what I'm going to do is look at the depth chart plus comments from the coaches and players about who is standing out, and I'll try to talk about some guys who are not getting a lot of mentions. From there perhaps I can at least make an educated guess as to who will be this season's Rod Smith.

Last year Smith was not mentioned a lot coming out of fall; most of the talk was about freshmen Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball. Smith had started well his freshman year in 2011, but a bout of fumble-itis had relegated him to the bench and there were rumors of a transfer. But he rededicated himself in 2012 and ultimately surpassed both of the freshmen (in fact Ball did not see action), rushing for a nifty 6.7 yards per carry on his 32 opportunities.

In the same way, there will be players who are currently being overlooked but who will get their share of playing time this fall. Freshmen are typically hyped to the stars and then if they do not immediately make a splash they tend to be forgotten the next season in the wake of the latest freshman class. So in my opinion, the majority of sleepers will come from the sophomore and junior classes. That is where you typically find your late-bloomers and I-better-get-my-butt-in-gear-or-my-career-will-be-over types.


The four-star linebacker prospect from Roxbury, MA got some playing time last season on special teams and earned his first varsity letter. He's in the mix at the Mike position this season but there has been little buzz about him. The focus has been mostly on the perceived resurgence of junior and former five-star prospect Curtis Grant, plus some well-deserved attention for freshman Mike Mitchell. 

Grant has been down lately with some concussion issues, but Mitchell has stepped up and is now listed as second team. Is it now time to forget about Williams? I don't think so. It could be that Mitchell jumps in and starts right away, ala Chris Spielman or Andy Katzenmoyer. But even in that case I think Williams will increase his playing time from last year and perhaps eventually surpass Grant at this position.


The secondary is expected to be a strength for the Buckeye defense this fall, and with good reason. The return (however clouded by recent events) of Bradley Roby plus both safety starters from last season gives the team reason for confidence. Doran Grant has assumed the starting role at cornerback opposite Roby and a lot of attention is focused on upcoming players like redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell and incoming freshmen Vonn Bell and Eli Apple.

Future winner of the Bam Childress award?Thomas had another strong spring.

With the ongoing saga of Roby's legal troubles, the battle for the "star" position has taken a back seat. With all the focus on Powell and Bell, 5th-year senior Brown looks like he could get lost in the shuffle. But it could be time for the PA native to shine. He had an excellent spring, prompting Urban Meyer to remark that Brown could be this season's Reid Fragel. That would be nice.


His name was all over the fall headlines last season, but in 2013 he is in danger of becoming the Invisible Man. The suspension of Carlos Hyde has opened up opportunities at running back, but it does not appear to have helped Dunn get back in the spotlight. The return of Jordan Hall, plus the rapid development of several freshmen and the resurgence of Rod Smith puts the sophomore letterman in a difficult position.

While I believe that Smith benefits the most from Hyde's troubles, I think eventually Dunn will find his way into the action. It could be at the expense of Smith, or Hall, or even Hyde. Ohio State has an embarrassment of riches at the running back position, but when one guy makes some plays then he tends to eclipse the others. Dunn could be that guy this season. 

Michael thomas

In 2012, Thomas was one of the stars of the Spring Game and it appeared that he was ready to make a splash in the fall. But his freshman year did not turn out like he planned. While he did manage to see action in 11 out of 12 games, he caught only 3 passes for 22 yards on the season. 

Lately the coaches have raved at the strides made by receivers Evan Spencer and Corey Brown, but no one is talking about Thomas. The second-year player originally from Los Angeles has been down this road before. Seemingly a late-bloomer, he exploded for 86 receptions for 1656 yards and 21 touchdowns on his way to being named the most improved player in Southern California his senior year in high school. From there, he went to Fork Union Military Academy and ultimately enrolled early at Ohio State.

While Thomas' excellent spring performance did not translate into success in 2012, that did nothing to dampen his enthusiasm for working on his game. Thomas had another outstanding spring in 2013 and, if busting your rear means anything in this game, he should be primed for a breakout year once again. Will he get the opportunity, with the improvement of the other veterans and the flashy speed of the newcomers? Time will tell, but I'm guessing there is a place on this team for a tall target who can go up and get the ball. 



Comments Show All Comments

pjtobin's picture

I would love to see Mike Thomas have a great year. We all know he has it in him. Plus he was working out with Braxton this summer in Cali. Hopefully that gave him a edge. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Larryp713's picture

I really was surprised Michael did not get on the field more last year. I think he must have hit that freshman wall in the fall. I would like to see him get some chances this year, but WR is suddenly another crowded position, thanks to competition elevating the games of so many folks. This offense is loaded.



whobdis's picture

I agree on Thomas. I think he's the kind of guy that may not get WIDE open but he'll take the ball from anyone. The problem may be..does Braxton become comfortable throwing to a guy who has decent coverage. Watching some of the BTN replays last week I could see guys open..maybe not wide open..but Braxton elected to run it. I also agree on Dunn though Ball is a favorite of mine. He has all the tools and more burst and vision that Dunn (imo). Whether he get's many carries remains to be seen. I think Elliiot is the best back we've recruited since Beanie..but that's for another time

OurHonorDefend09's picture

Dunn looks MASSIVE in that picture. Maybe it is just the angle, but wow is he a beast. Always favored Ball over him, not so sure why, but that doesn't mean I'm not excited to see him get carries as well. 
Would also love to see Thomas step up too, like others have said. I wonder how many 4-5 WR sets Urban is going to start throwing at teams with all these playmakers that need to see the field. I think we're in for a great season either way.

Don't give up... Don't ever give up.

BuddhaBuck's picture

Loved seeing Michael Thomas in short-yardage & Goal Line situations. He proved that he's probably the best blocking WR which shouldn't be ignored (see: Brax360 v. PSU). 

Don't text while driving.

Rapping Bum's picture

How far is Warren Ball down the depth chart?

Help is on the way.

UrbzRenewal's picture
  1. Hyde
  2. Hall | Split Wilson, who will likely vulture some of his carries as a true RB.
  3. Smith
  4. Dunn/Elliott (who Meyer has said will get playing time)
  5. Ball

So that's 4-6 guys ahead of him, depending on how you slice it.

81Alum's picture

I agree with all of the above, but also want to show Chris Carter some love. He has the makings of being a force on the D-Line, especially if opponents try to run the ball up the middle against us, with his size clogging the running lanes. Opponents will be forced to go outside, only to be eaten up by Diesel Washington or Noah Spence.

UrbzRenewal's picture

I think he could've made the list, but Urban says he won't play him unless he's below 340, and he's still a little above that.

81Alum's picture

Yeah, I know about the weight issue, but that was entering fall camp. From some of the write ups about his efforts to get his weight down, I'm confident that once coaches Mick & Vrabel get done with fall practice, he'll be below 340 and be part of the D-line rotation. 

FROMTHE18's picture

Dunn needs to get the ball, he is a stud

skid21's picture

The talent this offense has is embarrassing. The hard part is giving everyone their due. I would imagine it is hard for the staff to sit any of these guys.

stittracer99's picture

Really hoping that Steve Miller can provide some quality minutes off the bench this year. He was very highly rated coming out of HS but it just hasn't clicked for him yet. He was guy that two years ago I was very excited to see play. Never hurts to be too deep on the DL.

Orlando Pancakes's picture

I'm with you on Steve Miller (Band). I was hoping he might be one of the "sleepers" in this article. However, if there is any time for him to step up, it's the year after all four D line starters have departed.

cinserious's picture

Michael Thomas I don't think will get the opportunity to take significant PT away from so many talented and more experienced upper classmen. However, I think he will have an increased role in red zone situations and in the second halves of a few blowout games. Next season, I can see him making more of a push to become a starter.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

InHartWeTrust's picture

Who leaves after this year?  Philly and Fields, correct?  I don't see where Thomas is going to take over a true starting role for Philly's vacancy.  Devin Smith stays, Spencer stays, and you will have Wilson, Marshall (likely replacement for Philly), Samuel and other frosh speedsters showing up and looking for PT, with the potential of Brown as another big target.  Not to mention transfers of Green, Corey Smith, and others.
As much as I hope I am wrong, I feel like Thomas will need to have a "Spencer like" improvement in the next year to really establish a spot.  If not, he may always be a role player.  Hope to hell the kid proves me wrong and he kicks ass, whether it be this year or the next couple.
For this year, I think the emergence of Spencer and Fields (both called "starters" this offseason) keeps Thomas in the background for this season, with a sprinkling of PT here and there.

Mirror Lake Jump's picture

I would love to see Cam Williams take over for Shazier if he leaves this year.

RedStorm45's picture

Williams - thought he was getting a look at SAM?  Because when Urban mentioned the MLB spot he said Grant, followed closely by Burger and Mitchell.
Brown - Where is he going to get his PT?  Powell and Bell seem to be in a battle for that STAR position and both safety spots are locked down.  How does he get on the field?
Dunn - I think the position is just too loaded for him to break out.
Thomas - we're hearing very little about him in camp.  Urban named Spencer, Brown, and Smith the top 3 guys, and spoke highly of Chris Fields.  Is Thomas maybe the 5th/6th WR on the team?

Joe Beale's picture

Brown - Where is he going to get his PT?  Powell and Bell seem to be in a battle for that STAR position and both safety spots are locked down.  How does he get on the field?

According to Kyle, Brown is currently your "dime" safety. That's a limited opportunity, but if he makes a few plays they might consider giving him more time.


RedStorm45's picture

Ah, I haven't looked all the way down to "dime" safety - I heard he was battling with Bell for the #2 STAR position a couple weeks ago.

WolverineKiller's picture

Unless Washington and Spence double up on sacks ALL year long. :)

Just Win.

RBuck's picture

Not enough balls to go around for the RB's. Kind of a good problem to have.

Long live the southend.

Brandon26841's picture

Very good problem to have, but I just wonder which player is going to transfer out after this season... not that it's a guarantee, but I wouldn't blame a kid at all that was buried on this RB depth chart. You're going to have starting-caliber RB's being 6th and 7th string this year. 
Depth chart for next season IMO is looking like:
1. Smith (SR*)
2. Wilson (SO) - since apparently he's going to be more of a RB than H-back / WR, which was a little surprising to hear since they're so log-jammed at RB
3. Dunn (JR) / Ball (SO*) / Elliott (SO)
There just doesn't seem to be enough carries to go around, but hopefully they can work it out and get touches for everyone.

InHartWeTrust's picture

I, personally, believe the "Wilson will play more RB than WR" is a lot of smoke blowing by the staff.  Do I think he will carry the ball?  Yes.  Do I think he will line up as the standalone back often? No.  If he lines up in the backfield, it will be because he motioned back there.
Elliot is the RB of the future, not Wilson, IMO.

Brohio_born's picture

How has Corey Smith preformed? I haven't heard anything about him. Any chance he is on the 2-deep?

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Dunn will play a big role in the first few games with Hyde and Smith out.  Look for him to make a big impact and also to continue to get carries as the year goes on.  I like his chances to get upwards of 500 yards rushing which is pretty good considering all of the firepower in the backfield.
Go Bucks!

InHartWeTrust's picture

Big, powerful back.  I like his odds, seeing how things worked out in Urban/Herman's O last season with Hyde and Smith.

gravey's picture

I'm hoping that Michael Bennett will be that guy that surprises everyone.  It's always hard to tell when interior D linemen are killing it, because there aren't many stats for "kept guards and centers occupied thereby allowing Ryan D Shazier to rack up 432 tackles"....but I'll be watching to see if the flashes he showed before his injury become a steady blinding light of doom.

cinserious's picture

One thing I know is as fans, we have seemingly a universe full of Q's and not many answers. We are about a week away from the first game of the season and don't have much certainty about our two-deep at WR, RB, LB, DL, DBs, Etc. Maybe the staff knows more than they show or we won't have this resolved for a few more weeks!

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

willshire58's picture

Steve Miller? Haven't heard anything about him this camp. He's certainly a depth guy with Spence and Adolphus locking down the ends, but he is an upperclassmen now.