This position group, in my opinion, will always decide whether or not our defense will be strong and our DBs will look good.
This year, we have a lot of promising members that could provide significant contributions throughout the year that could potentially elevate the game of both the LBs and DBs.
But the question is, who starts over who? Who has gotten significantly better or who simply "has it" more than the others?
If I had to rank our DEs (as well as including our hopeful last addition):
1. Tyreke Smith (senior) - Smith has shown amazing improvements that were displayed over the course of last season. His explosiveness, his high motor, his finesse are all there and exactly what you would want to see out of a DE at Ohio State. He is the leader of this group and I'm expecting huge returns from him in 2021.
2. Jack Sawyer (freshman) - I've seen a lot of comments that you shouldn't put a lot of stock into what was displayed during the Spring Game, especially since it was thud-up and not tackle - even though there was plenty of tackling that took place. Coming from someone who has played college ball, thud up or tackle it doesn't matter - the spring game is where you're going to want to perform your best if you're looking to cement yourself as an actual starter going into the fall. Those are your last reps you take and the coaches see at the end of Spring camp. With that being said, Sawyer displayed an immense amount of potential and I have zero doubts that he will see the field in every game for 2021 to the point where he could compete with Tyreke Smith for the best performer for this group.
3. JTT (potential incoming freshman) - Hoping for the best here and anticipating that once JTT arrives on campus in Columbus that we will see him in the Scarlet and Gray this coming fall. With that being said, he instantly slots himself at least behind Sawyer and Smith for this group. His film is too impressive to disregard even if it is against HS opponents. He has similar traits to that of Smith and Sawyer where his explosiveness and speed make him so dangerous and pairing him up with the previously mentioned members of this DE group will be unbelievably amazing.
4a. Tyler Friday (senior) - Haven't seen a lot out of Friday that puts him on the elite level of the other members of this position group (but I haven't either out of the other member who is tied with 4th, who I'll get to in a moment). Friday is a player who does his job, doesn't get abused or taken advantage of by the opposing team, but not someone who you will see have over 6 total sack season, which I feel is generous considering he has 3 total sacks for his entire career and none that occurred last season (according to ESPN stats).
4b. Zach Harrison (junior) - If anyone has ever seen my previous criticisms of Zach Harrison in other posts, you'll think I have it out for him. Yeah he has 5.5 total sacks (3.5 in 2019 and 2 in 2020) in his career which is more than Tyler Friday, but this isn't a list ranking who has the most sacks - this is a list who I believe who has the most upside from what has been displayed so far (minus JTT) while in the Scarlet and Gray. In my opinion, his personal development in his initial explosiveness of the line of scrimmage is lacking especially for a five star recruit who is/was expected to be an absolute world beater. From every game I have seen, he has never been the first one off the line when pass rushing and tends to usually catch his opposing offensive lineman or attempt to bull rush them instead of using speed or finesse to maneuver past them. Bull rushing your opponent is perfectly fine, as long as its consistently successful and not practically the only item in your arsenal that you turn to 95% of the time. I'll sound like a broken record after how many times I've said it aloud and on Eleven Warriors, Zach Harrison's success as a DE at Ohio State will entirely depend upon whether or not he can develop the same explosiveness that Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Chase Young have once developed (hell, you could even throw in Hubbard - his explosiveness was slower compared to the Bosa brothers and Chase but he still had it and recorded 17 sacks in his career for developing it). Admittedly, while attending the Spring Game I did notice 1-2 plays where his explosiveness did seem to finally exist, but not consistently (see Jack Sawyer's performance for comparison). I won't pin "bust" onto Zach Harrison until his tenure at Ohio States ends and only if he becomes the world beater we all expected him to be.
5a. JJB (junior) - Not much to say here other than JJB has the potential to be very good, and rank higher than Friday - but due to multiple circumstances he has lacked in his development to have the opportunity to rank higher on this list.
5b. Noah Potter (sophomore)
Again, don't tell me the Spring Game didn't matter. Especially Sawyer's Spring Game performance. If he has the opportunity and ability to give 110% effort in a Spring Camp that will 1. develop him quicker 2. increase his stock in the eye's of the coaches 3. and make the players around him better then so did Zach Harrison. If your argument leans to "Zach didn't have as much to prove as Sawyer," I would respond that you are wrong and he, in his junior year, had more to prove than anyone else that played that day (and throughout camp) within this group.