Preview: The National Wide Receiver Landscape and Where Ohio State's Experienced Unit May Fit in

By Andrew Ellis on July 29, 2018 at 8:30 am
Austin Mack and Parris Campbell will be two key components for Brian Hartline.

Ohio State's group of wideouts will look very much the same as it did in 2017 as the roster features four seniors and a trio of juniors that should all see playing time this season. Despite the lack of changes on the roster, the position is still expected to go through a bit of a transformation in 2018.

The firing of Zach Smith brings new leadership to #Zone6 with Brian Hartline taking over as the interim wide receivers coach. We've often talked about Smith's prowess as a recruiter and the criticism in terms of player development. This season we'll get to see exactly what the wideouts can do under the tutelage of a former Buckeye great and NFL starter. 

The biggest development for Ohio State's passing game, however, comes in the form of Dwayne Haskins. With Haskins at the helm – and even with a potent running game – most are expecting the Buckeyes' passing attack to take a big step forward. The talent is certainly in place for that to happen in 2018.

Parris Campbell is the burner who can take it to the house at any moment whether it be on a crossing route, screen, or a long ball. And while the senior does drop a few passes on occasion, some outlets have him pegged as a first-round Draft selection and one of the top wideouts to watch this season. K.J. Hill is viewed as more of a balanced wideout, and the junior led the team in receptions last year with 56. 

Austin Mack hauled in a Haskins' pass in Ann Arbor which may have been the most important play of the entire season. Mack and Binjimen Victor will both be integral parts of Ohio State's passing game. Terry McLaurin – another senior – caught 29 passes last year and averaged a hefty 15 yards per reception. Then there are guys like Demario McCall, Johnnie Dixon, C.J. Saunders, and sophomore Jaylen Harris who should also have roles. 

Overall, Brian Hartline has plenty of experience and talent at his disposal and it could be one of the best in the conference. There's a nice mix of speed, size, hands, and big-play ability within the unit. It's fair to expect at least one player to take his game to the next level under a new-look passing game. 

Elsewhere in the conference, D.J. Moore was the top player at the position in 2017, but the former Maryland star is now suiting up with Cam Newton (and Curtis Samuel) in Carolina. This year Michigan State's Felton Davis III, the Nebraska duo of Stanley Morgan Jr. and J.D. Spielman, and Penn State's Juwan Johnson are widely expected to be a few of the best at the position.

Morgan and Spielman are the Big Ten's top returning wideouts having recorded 986 and 830 yards respectively a season ago. Morgan also led the conference with 10 touchdown receptions. The loss of DaeSean Hamilton is a big blow for Trace McSorley and the PSU offense, but the talent is there in the form of Juwan Johnson and others. Felton Davis III was second in the conference with nine touchdowns in 2017 and will once again be Brian Lewerke's top target. 

Jim Harbaugh still hasn't named a starting quarterback, but Michigan does have plenty of young talent at wideout. Tarik Black started from day one as a true freshman in 2017 and former five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones is a breakout candidate. Black had recorded 149 yards and a touchdown through three games before breaking his foot against Air Force. Peoples-Jones will have an expanded role in 2018, but a lot of it is going to depend on the quarterback play in Ann Arbor. 

The national outlook for the position may not look incredibly strong on paper, but players are bound to emerge in 2018. Gone are the likes of Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton, Christian Kirk, Anthony Moore, and James Washington. Each one of them was taken in the first two rounds of this year's NFL Draft. 

This year's crop of talent is led by Mississippi's A.J. Brown who caught 75 passes for 1,252 yards and 11 scores as a sophomore in 2017. Arizona State's N'Keal Harry and South Carolina's Deebo Samuel are two other names you'll see on plenty of preseason lists.

The Buckeyes will deal with TCU on Sept. 15 in Jerry World, and many pundits have the Horned Frogs' Jalen Reagor as a breakout candidate for 2018. He went for 576 and eight scores as a true freshman and went out with a bang in the Alamo Bowl victory over Stanford. Reagor caught 5 passes for 169 yards and a score against the Cardinal.

West Virginia's Will Grier is expected to be in the Heisman race this season, and the offense will be fun to watch with two of his top targets back in Morgantown. Gary Jennings caught 97 passes for 1,096 yards while David Sills went for 980 yards and a ridiculous 18 touchdowns. His 18 scores tied for tops in America. Not bad for a former quarterback.

We previously looked at the national quarterback and running back pictures. Heading into the season, the outlook at quarterback doesn't appear to be all that strong, which should give Dwayne Haskins a real chance to showcase his skills. It's much different at running back with names like Bryce Love, Jonathan Taylor, Cam Akers, and Ohio State's one-two punch of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber.

As for the wideouts, it's not looking like a real star-studded group, but several players emerged last season and you can expect much of the same in 2018. Ohio State has an experienced group at the position, and a new quarterback and wide receivers coach should bring plenty of opportunity and excitement to the Buckeye passing game.

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