After grading all the games this year, I wanted to aggregate all the performances to see the players’ scores across an entire season. While for most players, it is somewhat easy to remember how their season went without adding up all the numbers, it is still a useful dataset to have, especially when comparing my perception of their play to how I graded them.
Not coincidentally, the position groups that scored the lowest for me were the same position groups that received new coaches, with a new offensive line coach, linebackers coach, cornerback coach, and defensive backs coach being hired to help right the ship. I was initially a little surprised by the totality of the defensive changes, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been, given these results.
The offensive chart is posted below:
|nicholas petit-frere||44||48.5||-4.5||47.6%||Much worse than I anticipated. He fell off a cliff in the second half of the year. The good edge rushers destroyed him.|
|thayer munford||50||35||15||58.8%||Played decent, but nowhere near as good as he probably should have. Still, his performance against Michigan was in a spot that he hadn't played in a while, so I think this grade is a little lower than it should be.|
|luke wypler||55||64.5||-9.5||46.0%||First season starting, and it showed. He was not particularly effective this year, though he is very young. He will need to improve a lot to keep his spot for next year.|
|paris johnson jr.||62.5||44||18.5||58.7%||At one point in the season, he was the lowest rated offensive lineman. Now, he is in a virtual tie for second best lineman, only behind Matthew Jones. He is easily the most improved member on the line and the best lineman down the stretch. I think he could have a huge year next season.|
|dawand jones||69||64||5||51.9%||I never thought he played up to the accolades that he received. He's very hit or miss. On some plays he won't block anyone, while on other plays he will pancake two players at the same time. I hope he comes back for another year, because he could be the first pick in the draft if he figures it out.|
|Matthew Jones||42.5||15.5||27||73.3%||The most consistent lineman all season. I thought he faded a bit down the stretch, but he was still quite good.|
|harry miller||4||1||3||80.0%||Disappointing season due to injuries. He is a guy that could start at center next season, or at one of the guard spots at the very least.|
|enokk vimahi||4.5||4.5||0||50.0%||Seemed a little undersized for a tackle. Played okay. I don't expect him to pass D. Jones, PJJ, or Fryar.|
|toby wilson||7.5||1||6.5||88.2%||Surprisingly effective. Way better than he should be as a walk-on.|
|Donovan Jackson||11.5||1.5||10||88.5%||I wouldn't be shocked if he starts next year. He was great whenever he was in, and it was obvious he was college ready as a true freshman. Five star guy for a reason.|
|josh fryar||8||0.5||7.5||94.1%||He nearly started this year, correctly. He's a talented player with great size. He could easily start next year too.|
|trey leroux||2||0||2||100.0%||Just a few snaps|
|jakob james||0.5||0||0.5||100.0%||Only appeared in one game I graded.|
|total||361||280||81||56.3%||Lowest graded position group on the team according to my grades.|
|cj stroud||192.5||63.5||129||75.2%||Unbelievable first season. The best news for me is the improvement he showed over the year. Might be the favorite for the Heisman next year, or at least the number 2 guy behind Bryce Young. Arguably the best quarterback in the country.|
|kyle mccord||1||0||1||100.0%||Decent first year backing up Stroud. He did beat out Miller and Ewers, which is impressive in its own right. He wasn't great when he came in, but I wasn't expecting him to be. QB is hard. He will have a chance to start in 2023.|
|jack miller||1.5||0||1.5||100.0%||Better than I expected. He will hopefully do well at Florida. He might even start.|
|miyan williams||42.5||7.5||35||85.0%||He ended up grading out better than Henderson. While he isn't anywhere near the pass blocker or receiver that Henderson is, he gets the most out of the blocking he receives. He is the better runner, especially as the field shrinks and efficiency is valued over explosiveness.|
|treveyon henderson||103||50.5||52.5||67.1%||Great true freshman year, though he did hit the freshman wall. That's fairly typical. Still, a good foundation for the future, especially since most players' sophomore year is when the biggest jump in development happens.|
|master teague iii||18.5||6.5||12||74.0%||Teague played well when he was in, but injuries and better backs beat him out. Still, I think he improved a lot this year, and he has the power/speed combination that few people have. A poor man's Derek Henry (though I highly doubt he will improve as much as Henry has in the NFL).|
|evan pryor||6.5||2||4.5||76.5%||He showed some good flashes in his true freshman year.|
|marcus crowley||10||0.5||9.5||95.2%||Maybe the best running back at actually running the football, but he has the fewest physical gifts, at least from what I've seen. I'm bummed that he's been injured so much. He could be a good back.|
|chris olave||46.5||6.5||40||87.7%||Another exceptional season for perhaps the greatest Ohio State wide receiver ever. I would have loved to see him get 1,000 yards, but alas.|
|garrett wilson||59||9||50||86.8%||Showed his versatily moving to the outside and didn't lose a step. Elite.|
|jaxon smith-njigba||85||9||76||90.4%||Possibly the best wide receiver on the team, even with two other first rounders on the team.|
|julian fleming||14.5||0||14.5||100.0%||Probably less involved than some expected, but I don't think you could take the top three receivers off the field much. Already an excellent blocker. Will have a chance at starting next year.|
|jeremy ruckert||65||35.5||29.5||64.7%||A somewhat disapointing year for him after enormous expectations. He didn't block as well as Stover or Rossi did, but he wasn't a huge improvement as a receiver either, somehow. Some of this was the offensive structure, but some of this was him failing to take advantage of opportunities.|
|cade stover||20.5||7.5||13||73.2%||Decent blocker, but it sounds like he is moving to linebacker. That is a better spot for him, if you ask me.|
|Mitch rossi||26.5||7||19.5||79.1%||Great blocker throughout the year. Non-existent as a threat with the ball in his hands (except for his play in the Rose Bowl).|
|emeka egbuka||13.5||1||12.5||93.1%||A couple of huge plays throughout the year. He and Fleming will compete for the starting spot. Either guy will be excellent, even if neither improve much.|
|marvin harrison jr.||14||5||9||73.7%||Even though I graded him lower than Egbuka and Fleming (almost exclusively for blocking), it looks like he will be one of the starters, especially with all of the hype that he came in with after the spring.|
|jayden ballard||0||1||-1||0.0%||Didn't do a ton this year, but he did play quite a bit as a true freshman.|
|sam wiglusz||2.5||0||2.5||100.0%||I have always been really impressed with him. I was convinced that he could start somewhere else in the Big Ten.|
|chris booker||3||0||3||100.0%||Great blocker as a receiver and special team ace, though he didn't play much in games.|
|joe royer||1||0||1||100.0%||Limited playing time.|
|gee scott jr.||3||2.5||0.5||54.5%||He plays so hard. He's a guy that I think could start next year, and I am excited to see his improvement. He still needs to improve significantly with blocking.|
|total||354||84||270||80.8%||Best position group on the team, honestly. The TE's drag down the excellent receiver play.|
|protection||90||62||28||59.2%||Pretty good protection all year. As I have said ad nauseum, Stroud hurts this grade a bit because he gets the ball out of his hand quickly. They were better than this number.|
|play calling||171.5||70.5||101||70.9%||There were no major issues with the play-calling on offense as far as I am concerned. The run calls were often RPOs where the defense forced the Buckeyes to run, which they couldn't do due to their offensive line play.|
A quick note on this chart: for about half of the year, this chart was a running game only chart. While normally I wouldn’t aggregate data from two different sets with different rules, the only two positions that were affected were quarterback and receiver. The only reason I made the change was to make this chart a more accurate representation of their overall play.
Having said that, the offensive performed exceptionally well this year. This was the best offense in the country for a reason. The only issue on the offense was the offensive line. According to my grades, this was my lowest rated group on the entire team, though this is primarily a running grade only. It’s hard to judge every pass protection rep unless they completely whiff, so I will rarely give positives on pass plays, unless the lineman picks up a stunt or an extra blitzer or something. While I have tried to be better about this all year, time constraints made it difficult. The pass protection grade is posted separately as a group grade, although this number too was lower than I would have expected. I may end up changing the way that I grade this in the future.
As far as the individual players go, Nicholas Petit-Frere went from my highest rated offensive lineman to my second lowest, only to Luke Wypler. I don’t think NPF is a bad player at all, but he did not play well in the second half of the season as shown by his below average grade. These grades are supposed to be averages for P5 teams, so I had him graded as a below-average P5 tackle, which, while harsh, belies the issues he had in the second half of the season. Given how he played in 2020 and the first half of 2021, I am inclined to think that it was an aberration, though it doesn’t matter much now that he is going to the NFL.
Thayer Munford had the opposite type of season from NPF. He was my lowest rated lineman at the midpoint, but he improved significantly in the second half of the season. He had to switch positions, so this wasn’t all that surprising. I was happy with his effort given what he had to do this season, and I think he should be remembered as an outstanding player. Yes, the Michigan game was ugly, especially when he moved out to tackle. Him being shifted around constantly is not his responsibility; it’s the coaches’. I will not punish him for Studrawa/Wilson/Day’s mistakes.
Luke Wypler was my lowest graded lineman of the season, despite the solid start to the year. The run game was almost entirely correlated with his performance. The lack of rushing effectiveness late in the year can be matched up with his poor performances. He’s another guy who will improve a lot; good coaches can make a huge difference. If he doesn’t improve, there are guys behind him that can play the position as well, particularly Harry Miller and Matthew Jones.
Speaking of Matthew Jones, he was the highest graded lineman on the team by a mile. He should have been starting, except the two other guards were the next two highest rated lineman on the team. I still think that starting him at center over Wypler made a lot of sense – Ohio State would be replacing their worst lineman with their best, and Matthew Jones would return to the position he was recruited for. He is going to start next year, and I would be shocked if he isn’t 1st Team All-B1G.
As I alluded to in the previous paragraph, the guard position had two spots for the three best linemen on the team, and the only player I haven’t talked about in that group was Paris Johnson Jr. Like Munford, he was at one point the lowest rated offensive lineman on the team, and eventually improved to the point where he was essentially tied for the second-best on the team. Furthermore, he was the only offensive lineman in the Michigan to play well; in fact, he had arguably his best game of the season in that game. Moving back over to tackle is the right move for him. His success at guard and his improvement throughout the year essentially guarantee a starting spot for him. Even outside of his recruiting ranking, his play has me most excited about the next year for him.
Dawand Jones is the final member of the offensive line, and he is the player that I most strongly disagree with the consensus on. While PFF and others were lauding him as one of the best linemen in the country, I couldn’t help but be bothered by his polarizing play. Some plays he looked like Orlando Pace, where on other plays it looked like Ohio State was playing with four linemen. Assuming he comes back, he has a chance to be an All-American next year, but that is if he gets better coaching than he has received thus far. With Justin Frye being hired to replace Greg Studrawa, I think that this is a possibility.
Regarding Frye, I got to watch him more than most as I watch a lot of Pac-12 football out West. UCLA was a better run blocking team than Ohio State this year, even when DTR was out and had to play the backup. I fully expect the line to improve next year, though I don’t expect close to the same quality of lines that they had with Ed Warinner. Still, a small improvement in the offensive line’s performance is needed to get to that next step, and I think Frye, at least potentially, provides that. I am certainly cautiously optimistic about the hire.
The line’s improvement will certainly help the running backs, who had a wonderful season. Henderson is the clear starter, and he should be. He’s easily the most explosive back on the team, he’s got the most speed, he’s the best pass protector (from what I’ve seen), and he provides a genuine threat out of the backfield on passing downs. Even his patience and vision, which I have criticized intermittently throughout the year looked to be vastly improved in the Rose Bowl, especially the second half. Having said all of that, I would like to see Williams get more carries, especially toward the endzone. I actually rated him higher than Henderson because of his actual runs. He consistently gets more yardage than Henderson on the same blocking, especially when big plays aren’t as available or when passing isn’t as big of a priority. Both of these occur as the field shrinks. Williams should be the back in these scenarios. Also, considering Henderson explicitly wanted to be in a 2-back system in college, this seems to be the best solution.
The other “back” is the quarterback position, which was one of the highlights of the 2021 season despite the questionable start. Here is the quarterback chart:
|C.J. Stroud||Perfect||Good||Scramble||Pressure||OK||Batted||Throw Away||Inaccurate||Bad Read||RPOs||Options||Passing Percentage|
|Kyle McCord||Perfect||Good||Scramble||Pressure||OK||Batted||Throw Away||Inaccurate||Bad Read||RPOs||Options||Passing Percentage|
|Jack Miller||Perfect||Good||Scramble||Pressure||OK||Batted||Throw Away||Inaccurate||Bad Read||RPOs||Options||Passing Percentage|
Not like anyone has forgotten, but Stroud was maligned by a significant portion of the fanbase for his performance in the first three games of the season. Nine starts later, he was arguably the best quarterback in the country. And while I have been effusive in my praise of Stroud, I will go a step further than most: I like Stroud better as a quarterback than I did Fields at the end of their respective first seasons. I don’t say this lightly either, as I think Fields is the best quarterback to ever play for Ohio State.
While I mostly scoffed at the concerns about Fields’ ability to read defenses (and justifiably so after the end of the 2020 season), Stroud does read defenses better at the same point in their careers. Perhaps the biggest difference was his ability to make reads quickly. Sacks rate was down significantly, from 2.5 per game in 2019 (98th in the country) to 1.3 per game in 2021 (14th in the country). While the 2019 line was universally lauded, the 2021 line had some issues. That was one of Stroud’s biggest improvements over Fields. Finally, while Stroud doesn’t have the same running ability, and may not have quite the same deep ball, his arm talent was on full display as soon as he recovered from his arm injury. As I mentioned back in the Maryland game, I don’t think he was fully healthy even then. He will likely need more rest this offseason to get back to full strength, where I imagine he will be even better. This physical improvement will be in conjunction with the mental and emotional improvements that I expect next season, as Fields made a big leap in Year 2 of the offense, despite the statistics.
With regard to the one backup who stayed, I think Kyle McCord looked much better after the Akron game. This year will be valuable experience for him in the future, as he was placed in several game situations where he was expected to make throws, but he was never relied on to be the hero. He will be a fine starter one day.
The highlight of the team wasn’t the quarterbacks, however, even with Stroud nearly winning the Heisman. The best position group on the team were the receivers. Here is their chart:
|gee scott jr.||2/4||2/2|
|marvin harrison jr.||1||0/1||1/2||11/11|
The ESPN dubbed Earth, Wind, and Fire of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba were the best receiver room in the country by a massive margin. While they are all unquestionably first round talents, and they had the same guy throwing to them for the entire season, each guy had a wildly different year.
Olave was the victim of a lot of uncatchable balls, as is clear from the chart. This was due to a couple of different factors. First, as was the most common complaint, Stroud missed him a lot early on in the season while he was struggling with his arm injury. Second, as the Z-receiver in the offense, he was the deep threat in the offense. Therefore, whenever Ohio State was looking for a big play, they would go to Olave. While they figured out a better balance later in the year, they struggled in the middle of the year against good defenses when it came to these big plays. They had not yet realized that the offensive line was not good enough to pass protect effectively against pass rushes on deep routes, whether straight drops or play-actions. This was made especially difficult, as play-actions were rendered ineffective regardless, as the offensive line struggled run-blocking. Some of it was on Henderson as well, absolutely. Regardless, the lack of a running game hurt the offense’s ability to get big plays through the air, as the safeties for the other team were never forced to play in the box and respect the run. That is why Olave finished with a measly 936 yards.
Wilson had a huge year, and he seemed to be the main target when Stroud needed a spark in the offense, especially early on. After a huge, but uneven season last year that featured a lot of targets early and little production afterwards, he finished his career with an incredible season. I criticized him early on for not getting as much after the catch as I would expect, but I was clearly off the mark. It was a short slump after a couple of games. He was excellent after the catch for the remainder of the season.
Any other season, Garrett Wilson or Chris Olave each would easily possess the best performance of the year, and one of the greatest seasons from a wide receiver in Ohio State history. Instead, it took a back seat to a first-year starter in Jaxon Smith-Njigba. JSN was the best receiver on the team, and he still has to stay for another year. Coming into the season, I wasn’t sure how he would live up to his recruiting ranking out of high school. He wasn’t as fast as Wilson or Olave. He couldn’t jump as high. Olave had a reputation as the best route runner in college football, and Wilson was known for his outstanding hands. JSN didn’t appear to be better than either of the two in any physical regard. He certainly did not appear to be more physically gifted than Jameson Williams being smaller and slower. Why was he starting?
It didn’t take long to figure out why Smith-Njigba was so special. Despite not getting the ball much against Minnesota, JSN was, for whatever reason, constantly open throughout the year. Yes, he was absolutely an outstanding route runner. K.J. Hill had a reputation as an outstanding route runner though, and he never did this. JSN wasn’t that big, either. Still, he was always open, and he was always making the play. I am not the greatest judge when it comes to balance or body control or any of that. All I know is that JSN is a hell of a receiver, and I have absolutely no idea why. He has no business being as good as he is.
Even though the offense must replace Olave and Wilson, the young guys behind them might be just as good (eventually). The three that will have the best chance to make an immediate impact are Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and Julian Fleming. None of these guys challenged the others in the starting rotation, but that’s not a huge surprise given their excellence. Harrison is the guy who I expect to start, but I loved what I saw from Egbuka and Fleming too. Hopefully, all three guys will play a lot of minutes next season, as they will be the presumed starting lineup in 2023 as well.
I would almost be surprised if Ohio State is not the best offense in the country next year. Though the sample size is small, Day’s record with quarterbacks in their second year is quite good; Justin Fields improved enormously in his second year despite the statistics. I think a similar improvement can be expected with Stroud. He will be the best quarterback in the country next year.
Treveyon Henderson will only continue to improve as well. Not only was this his true freshman year, but he it was only his third or fourth year of playing running back in his life. Those are two reasons to expect massive improvement for Henderson next year. He also has a chance to be the best running back in the country next year, though I think his potential status as the top of his position is not as likely as Stroud’s. I have been critical of him all year, but his future is exceptionally bright. If Williams just maintains his performance from this year, this backfield as a whole has a great chance of best in the country.
The wide receivers are all young, but they have certainly flashed in their limited playing time so far. I expect a little bit of a drop off next season, but not much. Maybe they will only be the second-best wide receiver room in the country (though, I can’t think of a better one off the top of my head).
The offensive line is the only position group that I am worried about on the offense. Here too I am optimistic, though. There are five guys that have starting experience coming back to play next year which is always nice to have. While the recruiting hasn’t been exceptional, there will still be the requisite talent on the line next year. If Justin Frye lives up to his reputation, this group should improve as well. With three position groups improving and one position group worsening only slightly, I see no reason why this offense can’t be even better than it was in 2021, particularly with short yardage runs and more consistency on big plays. While it isn’t set in stone yet, I can say unequivocally that I have never been more confident in a side of the ball entering a new season. We will see if that confidence bears any fruit next year.
The 2021 Ohio State defense is not as fun to remember as the offense. Still, on an individual level, they played better than I would have expected. The secret sauce to their mediocrity was the way the defense was organized as a whole, which lies squarely on the shoulders of the coaching staff. While it’s hard to take that into account for grading, it was no less a factor for their play this year. Here is their chart:
|zach harrison||86||16||70||84.3%||A good season for him, despite the stats. He consistently won matchups.|
|tyreke smith||70||14||56||83.3%||Similar to Harrison, I thought he played great all year. I have a theory about why these good individual performances didn't lead to excellent production.|
|haskell garrett||62||16||46||79.5%||A good season, but not as good as he was last year due to injury problems all year.|
|antwuan jackson||34.5||7.5||27||82.1%||Played well in most games, but struggled quite a bit against Oregon. He was largely invisible against the best teams all year.|
|taron vincent||33.5||6.5||27||83.8%||Relatively quiet most of the year. Played his best game in the Rose Bowl, which significantly improves his grade.|
|javonte jean-baptiste||32||8||24||80.0%||Many predicted a huge season for him, and while he was pretty good, he was certainly not leaned upon like Harrison and Smith were. Was splitting a lot of time with the true-freshmen throughout the year.|
|j.t. tuimoloau||30||4.5||25.5||87.0%||Almost no pass-rushing ability right now, but he was great against the run. He rarely got beat, and was mostly just really solid.|
|jack sawyer||39.5||10.5||29||79.0%||Stood out more than JT, both in good ways and bad ways. He's a little light for a defensive end, but he might be perfect for the Leo spot.|
|tyleik williams||35||8.5||26.5||80.5%||Huge start to the year, but he hit the freshman wall hard. Still, he's a guy that could explode next year.|
|ty hamilton||22.5||3.5||19||86.5%||He played really well at the 1-tech, even though I think he's a bit small for the spot. He's an impressive player for his age.|
|cormontae hamilton||3||0||3||100.0%||I don't know if he will contribute in the next year or two, but I love how hard he plays.|
|jacolbe cowan||5.5||4||1.5||57.9%||Made a lot of mistakes early, but he made a couple of plays in the middle of the year.|
|jerron cage||38||21||17||64.4%||Started fairly slow, then had a huge middle part of the season to grab the starting 1-tech job away from Jackson. This season was going great until he had a disastrous game against Michigan.|
|darrion henry-young||1||0||1||100.0%||Transferred to Kentucky, though he didn't get much time here.|
|michael hall||6||4||2||60.0%||I was really impressed with his ability to get into the backfield. Reminded me a little of Robert Landers, but bigger. His negatives were all penalty related, which he will need to fix.|
|jaden mckenzie||5||0||5||100.0%||The staff seemed excited about him before 2020, but he didn't do much this year. He has good size and he plays the position fine.|
|total||503.5||124||379.5||80.2%||One of the better position groups on the team. Individually, they were consistently winning matchups. Collectively with the rest of the defense…there were some issues.|
|teradja mitchell||33.5||29.5||4||53.2%||A disappointing season for him after being elected captain. He isn't terribly athletic, but I still think he can work in certain defenses, especially against run heavy teams. Since he plays in the Big Ten, he can still have a role.|
|cody simon||34.5||35.5||-1||49.3%||This is the one guy that I have disagreed the most with common wisdom. He was one of the worst tacklers on a team that struggled with tackling the entire year. Still, I don't think all is lost with him, and I do think that he is a potential All-B1G talent in the future as soon as he gets healthy.|
|tommy eichenberg||66.5||30||36.5||68.9%||My highest graded linebacker on the team. He had a horrendous game against Oregon, but he kept getting better all year, and was genuinely a good player following the Tulane game. I got some comments about being soft on him early, but I think the Rose Bowl validated what I was seeing earlier in the year. He's a good player.|
|palaie gaoteote||8.5||6||2.5||58.6%||Didn't play much, but I imagine this is partially due to starting at Sam linebacker before he was forced to move inside due to transfers. This in cojunction with showing up late, and I am not surprised he didn't play much. I am curious to see if he plays any more next year, though I think he will have a legitimate shot in 2023 if he uses his Covid year.|
|steele chambers||65.5||34||31.5||65.8%||A surprise player who kind of hit the freshman wall even though this is his third season. It was his first at linebacker, and it showed toward the end. Half of his negative points are from the Michigan game alone. Still, he was the best linebacker on the team for most of the year, and I think he is a future NFL linebacker.|
|k'vaughan pope||3||3||0||50.0%||Quit in the middle of a game. I thought that he might be able to contribute, but after struggling against Tulsa, he quit.|
|dallas gant||0.5||0||0.5||100.0%||Transferred at the beginning of the season. His position was essentially gone from the defense by Week 3.|
|cade stover||5||6||-1||45.5%||One real game as a linebacker, but it was promising enough against a good Utah team. I think he's most intriuging as a Leo next year, but I could also see him as a traditional linebacker. We will see where he plays.|
|cade kacherski||4||3.5||0.5||53.3%||Walk-on that got a decent amount of playing time.|
|reid carrico||0.5||2||-1.5||20.0%||True freshman year was a bit rough, though it isn't easy to contribute year one. He will have a bunch of talented guys coming into the program, so it will be an uphill battle for him to play for the next couple of years.|
|ryan batsch||2||0||2||100.0%||Played well in the few opportunities he was given. Probably the best of the third string.|
|total||223.5||149.5||73||59.9%||A hugely disappointing group this season, but it has enough individual talent with Chambers, Eichenberg, and the incoming freshman class where I could easily see this unit turning around quickly.|
|cameron brown||31||20.5||10.5||60.2%||He was good in coverage, but it's hard to grade off-ball coverage from the camera angles that we get during the game. Still, I thought he played mostly well this year. When he didn't have great coverage, it was often just intentionally soft coverage .|
|Denzel burke||54.5||24.5||30||69.0%||Outstanding freshman year; probably the best true freshman corner I have ever seen at Ohio State. When he matched up with David Bell, it felt like an NFL matchup. Completely fell apart in the Michigan game, as many people did.|
|josh proctor||5||0.5||4.5||90.9%||Looked to be the most competent defender on the team before his injury. I imagine he will start next year, unless he is not healthy.|
|lathan ransom||27.5||28.5||-1||49.1%||He was a guy that played a lot, but he struggled for most of the year. He was a particularly bad tackler, and he wasn't a great coverage guy. Williamson, Young, and Martinez performed better. Still, he was the best blitzer of the group, so he got playing time when blitzing became more common.|
|bryson shaw||24.5||30.5||-6||44.5%||Started extremely poorly. His first two games were really bad. After that, he was largely a solid player. He too missed too many tackles throughout the year to be a great safety. Shouldn't start over Proctor, but his level of play was good for a backup (following his first two games).|
|marcus williamson||48||18||30||72.7%||The best cover safety by the end of the year, and he was probably the best performing member of the secondary. He was arguably the best tackler on the team, and he had great moments in coverage.|
|lejond cavazos||3.5||11||-7.5||24.1%||He has a great frame for a corner, and physically he looks the part. He struggled in coverage this entire season.|
|craig young||11||4.5||6.5||71.0%||Transferred to Kansas. He was said to be perhaps the most athletic player on the team. Kind of a guy without a real position. I think he could have thrived under Knowles.|
|ronnie hickman||55||41.5||13.5||57.0%||He was very consistent throughout the year, but he rarely made great plays. I thnk that this defense needed a consistent player that could be relied on, but I don't know how high his ceiling is.|
|kourt williams||17.5||4||13.5||81.4%||While he didn't stand out early in the year, he was starting to look really impressive at the end of the season. I wouldn't be surprised if he starts next year. He's a good tackler, he takes good angles, and he looks good in coverage.|
|cameron martinez||21||16.5||4.5||56.0%||He was playing fairly well early in the season, but he got moved around a little bit. He was not a particularly good defender against the run, which limited his usage. Still, I think he did well in any situations where he could stick in man coverage.|
|ryan watts||5||1.5||3.5||76.9%||Transferred to Texas. He didn't look phenomenal in coverage, but he did have a nice pick six early in the year.|
|sevyn banks||13||8||5||61.9%||A weird season for him. He had one game where he played very well (I believe Penn State) and was largely a non-factor for the rest of the year. I thought he was better last year, in all honesty.|
|jk johnson||1.5||2||-0.5||42.9%||I was genuinely impressed with him in the short time that he was out there. He looked natural in coverage. Only has a negative grade because of a penalty.|
|marcus hooker||1||0.5||0.5||66.7%||Didn't play much on defense. It's kind of nice to see him continue to play on the team and not transfer out though.|
|Jantzen Dunn||0.5||0||0.5||100.0%||Early injury limited his playing time.|
|demario mccall||9.5||1||8.5||90.5%||Shockingly good as a cover corner as well as a willling tackler. I would have been okay if he had gotten more playing time. He probably should have been the first guy off the bench.|
|jordan hancock||2||0||2||100.0%||Like JK Johnson, he looked like a natural in coverage despite the limited playing time. He's going to be very good.|
|andre turrentine||0.5||1||-0.5||33.3%||Didn't play a ton this year.|
|total||331.5||214||117.5||60.8%||An okay performance for this group. The coverage was largely okay. The tackling was not good. Changes in the defense mid-season limited the ceiling of this group.|
|pressure||209.5||34.5||175||85.9%||This is too high for this group, and this is a failure on my part to keep the number lower. Still, I didn't like giving them minuses on a lot of plays because the offense would just throw quick passes. This was due to the rest of the defense not being in a great spot.|
|coverage||180||98.5||81.5||64.6%||The coverage was excellent downfield for the vast majority of the season, though the short passing game tore them up at times. It was never bad, but it was never amazing either.|
|tackling||72||73||-1||49.7%||This is a disappointing number. Lots of missed tackles.|
|play calling||59||129.5||-70.5||31.3%||This wasn't entirely due to plays called; this was also due to the structure of the defense as a whole. I might need to add a defensive coordination section next year.|
The defense had a rough year, but I think the individual parts/units of the defense were all better than the whole. Looking at the grades now, the defensive line straight up played well, with the linebackers and the secondary performing only slightly better than the offensive line. Still, the offensive line wasn’t really a disaster this year, even though I wouldn’t call it good. How can a defense look that bad with parts of the defense being competent? There are two answers to this: coordination and perception.
The defensive coordination is not a new criticism, and Day seemed to have the same concerns, considering he turned over the defense completely after two games. While some people have claimed that he was panicking, I don’t think he was. The defense was abjectly atrocious despite the talent that was there. As my grades show, the individual pieces of the defense weren’t all that bad, either. While the linebackers and safeties certainly struggled early on, they weren’t helped out by a defense that failed to coordinate the different units so that they always played gap sound against the run. A change needed to be made, and it was.
The other answer to the defense’s whole being lesser to the sum of its parts is the perception around the defense. I have seen lots of comments saying that this defense was the worst defense in Ohio State history. Not only do I disagree with that vehemently, but I don’t even know if they were one of the five worst defenses in the last decade. According to SP+, they were better than the 2012 undefeated defense, the 2013 defense (which is my personal pick for worst Ohio State defense in living memory), the 2014 National Title defense, and the 2018 defense. While SP+ rated the 2020 defense higher than the 2021 version, I think some of this was a lack of pre-season expectation being filtered out due to the short season and being the #1 ranked defense the year before. I also know that SP+ filters out garbage time. Much of the Indiana game, for example, was considered garbage time, and so those statistics do not count. There is a case to be made that the 2021 defense was one of the better defenses of the last decade, which is perhaps more an indictment on the state of the program’s defenses rather than praise for this defense.
Having said all of that, I don’t think the 2021 defense was a complete disaster in its totality. Yes, it started and ended about as badly as it could. Still, the season is more than just four games, and some of the other performances were excellent, even after adjusting for opponent quality. Their performance gets even better if you judge the defense post-defensive staff changes early in the year. The Utah game started poorly but ended pretty well against a top ten offense, though the Michigan game doesn’t look much better. Still, this defense won games this year against Penn State and Nebraska, while they looked utterly dominant against MSU.
If you judge a unit/team by their worst moments, sure, this year’s defense was worse than 2012, 2014, and maybe even 2020. I don’t think that this is a reasonable way to look at a unit/team, though. The 2014 team were National Champions, but they also got embarrassed at home against a mediocre Virginia Tech team. How should they be remembered? The offense in 2021 also struggled at points, but they were the best offense in the nation by a massive margin. Both the good and the bad matter when evaluating a team, and the 2021 defense had a lot of good along with a lot of bad.
With that discussion out of the way, the grades here make a little more sense. The defense does have a lot of good parts, and they weren’t a complete disaster last year. Still, there’s a huge room for improvement. No position group on defense serves as a better microcosm for the defense than the defensive line.
The defensive line was the second highest graded position group, only behind the wide receivers. Some of this is my fault; this was the inverse of the problem I had grading the offensive line. I largely expect the defensive linemen to get blocked during a pass for a particular amount of time, and if they are, then both the offense and defense did their job as expected. Because the passes were getting thrown quickly for both the offense and the defense, it was hard to grade the defensive line harshly for getting to the quarterback, and it was hard to grade the offensive line well for protecting the quarterback. Again, I think I will change the way I do the pressure grade.
Still, I thought that on an individual basis, the defensive line played quite well. This matches up with Larry Johnson’s reputation as an excellent defensive line coach and the production that the unit has had in recent years. Zach Harrison and Tyreke Smith, for example, were nearly winning their matchups every snap. Whether against the pass or the rush, they beat the offensive lineman far more times than they did not. However, neither of these two players managed to get to the quarterback very often. This leads me to believe that the defensive line’s job was subverted by the overall coordination of the defense.
A lack of sacks is due to defensive players being unable to tackle the quarterback before he throws the football. While this is nearly a tautology, I want to put it in the most general terms to explore all the different ways that defensive players can achieve pressure. The lack of pressure can occur for a few reasons: the quarterback can throw the ball before a defense is reasonably expected to cause pressure, the defense could be set up in a way that prioritizes coverage players over rushing the quarterback (dropping eight), the defense could be getting individually beaten while attempting to rush the quarterback, and the offensive gameplans could be catered to having extra blockers on passing plays. Some of these do not need to be observed any deeper. For example, while I was almost certainly too generous on the grading here, I still think that the defensive line (particularly the ends) won most of their reps against the offensive line, so that’s not a particular point of concern. Additional, individual offensive gameplans vary from week to week, so I don’t think having extra blockers was necessarily a big reason either. Finally, Ohio State rarely rushed three, unless the game was all but over. In fact, after the defensive change, the Buckeyes started blitzing quite a bit.
The reason that seems to be the most plausible is that the opposing quarterbacks were able to throw the ball quickly, leading to few opportunities for the defense to get sacks. The biggest reason was, even after the switch in coordinators, the defense was incredibly vanilla the entire year. At the beginning of the season, there was an argument to be made that Ohio State was the most vanilla defensive team in the P5, as they only ever ran Cover-1 or Cover-3, and they would announce before the snap which one they were doing based on alignment. When they would do a corner blitz, they would align with two high safeties, just to bring one down at the snap to replicate a Cover-3 Buzz zone to help “disguise” a corner blitz. The defensive changes did bring a couple of new concepts, like Cover-2, Cover-4 variations, and Dogs blitzes, but it still was limited. Since the quarterback knew what was going on before the snap (especially against Minnesota and Oregon), it wasn’t particularly hard to know where to go with the football, and they were able to get the ball out quickly because they didn’t have to think during the play. There was no indecision.
When the defensive changes came, it helped disguise things for a few weeks. Eventually though, these new formations showed plenty of issues as well. Perhaps chief among these issues was the spot drop technique that was used with all the new zone packages due to their installation in the middle of the season. Normally, zones are used with a pattern-matching technique, where defenders will be responsible for certain route concepts around their part of the field. This allows for zone concepts to still provide tight coverage. However, these pattern-matching techniques take a lot of time to learn, where a spot-drop technique can be learned mid-season. This involves literally dropping to a spot or guarding a part of the field and attempting to defend anything that enters your zone. This is easily exploitable by modern passing concepts. Quick passes targeting the zones normally covered by the linebackers were free yards most of the time. Combine this with the good run-defense (post coordinator change) and good downfield defense from the corners, and you have a situation where short passes is the easiest way to attack the Ohio State defense. This left the defensive ends with few opportunities for rushing the passer.
Speaking of the running game, the success against the run was almost entirely due to issues with coordinating the defensive line and the linebackers. These issues were especially obvious against Oregon, where the two were never on the same page. On zone reads, both linebackers and defensive end were either playing the dive or the pull. Rarely in that game was a defensive end playing a dive, and the linebacker was playing the pull, or vice versa. The Michigan game was somewhat of a special case of this, where the defensive line was not able to properly defend power or counters. This is hard to punish individual players for because they are executing what they are supposed to do, but their play as a unit disrupts the play. I usually marked these down as issues with play-calling, which is why that number on defense is so atrocious. The individual efforts are fairly decent, but the coaches put them in horrible positions all season.
Even though that was frustrating to figure out as I was grading these throughout the season, it makes the prognosis for next year more optimistic, especially along the defensive line. They had no problem in their individual matchups, just their teamwork with the linebackers and secondary. These are issues that the coordinator is responsible for, and I imagine (and hope) that Jim Knowles can help smooth this out.
The defensive tackles had far more issues than the defensive ends in 2021, but I think the situation is in a better spot for 2022. Haskell Garrett is admittedly a massive loss, but he was injured for most of 2021, and was nowhere near as effective as he was in 2020 because of it. So while yes, Haskell Garrett is a huge loss, an injured Haskell Garrett is a much easier player to replace.
Garrett was a great player at the 3T spot, but there are at least two other guys who look like they might be in line for big seasons next year. The former 5-star Taron Vincent will be entering his senior year after mostly splitting time with Garrett this year. Tyleik Williams is the other candidate for a lot of playing time at 3T after an explosive start to his true freshman campaign. Usually, the second year for a player is where they improve the most. I imagine he will play a lot here unless he and Ty Hamilton switch positions, which, based on their size, I have to think will be a discussion.
The 1T started in a rough spot, as there really wasn’t a true 1T body in the program with a lot of experience. Jackson holds up to double-teams surprisingly well, but he’s a little undersized. Jerron Cage eventually emerged mid-season as an excellent 1T, though he struggled mightily against Michigan. That game is way closer with Cage putting in his usual effort. Ty Hamilton is the other guy who can see more playing time here. I was really impressed with Hamilton, though, as I said earlier, I wouldn’t be surprised if they switch him and Tyleik Williams.
The linebacker group started off as complete calamity but improved significantly throughout the year. They were the biggest beneficiaries of the coaching change midway through the season. This was a position group that was left thin due to transfers in the middle of the year from Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope.
The only player in this group who solidified themselves as a starter by the end of the season was Steele Chambers, who famously started his career as a running back. Chambers was good from the beginning of the season on, though he did get better as he became more comfortable as a linebacker. He might be a little small, but he plays fast and hits hard. Once he became the outright starter, he was the difference between good performances from the defense and bad ones. There is a canyon-sized difference between him and his backups. Having said all of that, he did start to play worse as the defense relied on him more. His grades before the midway point were about perfect, but he (like the rest of the defense) struggled big time against Michigan. I imagine that he will start next year.
While Tommy Eichenberg was the first guy off of the bench against Michigan, he started the Rose Bowl due to Cody Simon’s injury. He won the defensive MVP for the game, and his performance in the game validated my opinion that he should be starting. He is the single most improved player on the team over the season. He went from the single worst player on the team by grade against Oregon to Rose Bowl MVP. He tackles well, he hits hard, and he aggressively attacks the hole when coached to. The defensive coordinator change completely turned his season around. Perhaps a little surprisingly, he was my highest graded linebacker on the team at the end of the year. While I don’t know if he will start over Simon, I think he should.
Cody Simon is not a bad player. Yes, I graded him as the lowest linebacker in the regular rotation. Still, as I have said before, I think his injuries had a significant impact on his play, particularly regarding his tackling. Most of his injuries occurred on missed tackles. Missed tackles are the single most likely event that I will grade negatively for. I punish them brutally, and he struggled tackling this year with an injured shoulder. I think his performance this year is incomplete, as I think injuries slowed him down. I don’t think he is as aggressive toward the ball as Chambers and Eichenberg are anyway, so I wouldn’t start him regardless. I still think he has a lot of potential.
Teradja Mitchell was probably one of the biggest surprises when it came to his performance this year. He has a bit of a Tuf Borland quality to him regarding his athleticism – he gets beat to the edge a lot and is a liability in coverage. When he was in high school, I remember that he was talked about as a freak athlete, but he clocked in with a post 5.0 second 40-yard dash. He is certainly fine against the run and while blitzing, but in coverage and on stretch plays, he struggles. I think with better anticipation, he can still get there, but it will take a big improvement from last year. There is a role for him in the run heavy Big Ten, especially with Chambers being a little undersized. Games against Wisconsin and Iowa next year seem to be opportunities to show off his skillset.
The rest of the linebackers were pretty non-descript. Palaie Gaoteote never really got a chance, as he played the SAM at the start of the year before being forced to move to WILL after transfers and the defensive structure changing. He certainly has the athleticism to play well. He will need a big offseason to contribute unless the SAM plays more of a role. Speaking of the SAM position, Cade Stover played that exclusively in the Rose Bowl, and it sounds like he is going to stay there. I wonder if the SAM position will become the LEO spot in the new defense. From the looks of Oklahoma State last year, it certainly seems plausible. The guys that played there looked like linebackers more than defensive ends. Kevin Oliver wasn’t big at all. Stover seems to be the right size and skillset to play that spot. Either way, he played way better in the Rose Bowl than I expected him to, and I would not be shocked at all to see him start in that hybrid role next year.
The cornerbacks were certainly not a disappointment, especially compared to what was expected at the beginning of the year. The news out of spring camp was dire: Cam Brown and Sevyn Banks were the only two players to have any kind of experience, and both were going to be out against Minnesota to start the year. While those two guys were injured, a young true freshman named Denzel Burke started in their place. I was floored to see him start the first game, as true freshman corners almost never play, even if there is a huge need. Also, at least as long as I have watched Ohio State football, outstanding corners usually don’t make an impact until their third year, or second year if their name is Denzel Ward. Still, I didn’t expect Burke to play much more than the first game of the year. He wasn’t a corner in high school and would have to learn the position. He ended up becoming a Freshman All-American and is without a doubt the best true freshman corner at Ohio State in living memory. He was excellent in coverage downfield and was a steady contributor on a defense that desperately needed it. He was another player that struggled against Michigan, but his performance was one of the more forgivable ones. I wouldn’t be shocked if he was an All-American next year.
Cameron Brown ended up turning in a pretty good year and was good in downfield coverage. The only reason that I don’t say that he had an outstanding year was because of the injuries and the overall issues with the defense. His health is the biggest difference between his first-round expectation (from 2019) and his play in 2021. Coming back is an excellent opportunity for him to increase his draft stock, and it is a massive boost to a team that is young at corner. His issues were primarily in run defense or the soft zones, the latter of which I attribute to the defensive scheme. With Perry Eliano and Tim Walton coming in, I could see him take a big step in 2022. Combine his improvement with the potential of Denzel Burke, and Ohio State could have it’s best secondary since 2019. While the last two years haven’t been good, coaches make a huge difference.
Sevyn Banks was one of the more bizarre stories on the team. He came in as a surefire starter and as a guy that was predicted by some to be a first-round pick this upcoming season, and he finished this season as a backup cornerback. He had one outstanding game, but even that game was mostly excellence in run support. This was not the year that anyone expected out of him, and I am a little surprised he is moving on to the draft. Regardless, his absence won’t be as impactful as I expected before the season.
As far as the other corners, I thought that Jordan Hancock and JK Johnson looked natural at cornerback, and I expect them to have good careers at Ohio State. I can’t think of any of the other corners who stood out to me strictly from their play. Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos have impressive statures for the position, but they didn’t cover all that well. Watts’ transfer was probably the right move for him, as he will have the opportunity to start at Texas right away. Cavazos can definitely get a lot better; he has the size and speed necessary to be a great corner, but he hasn’t mastered the technique. For a guy in his second year, that’s not wholly unusual. Also, Demario McCall graded out wonderfully, and I thought he probably should have been getting snaps ahead of Sevyn Banks. He had tight coverage and was a willing blocker against the run. He certainly didn’t look as polished as Brown, Burke, or Banks, but he was always in the right spot and was willing to do his job. He just got results.
The safety position might be a bit different under Jim Knowles, but it looks like they will play primarily with three safeties, with a free safety (Rover in the new terminology, deep safety in the old), a strong safety (Bandit in the new terminology, Bullet in the old), and one nickelback (Striker in the new terminology, cover safety in the old). Discussing these new positions will be straightforward, as they approximately match up with the old ones, though responsibilities will change. I imagine both the Bandit/Bullet and the Striker/Cover Safety will both be closer to a safety than they were in the old system, but perhaps not by much. I will refer to these positions by their old names, as that was how the position was used in the season that I graded.
The deep safety position was played all year by Bryson Shaw, after Josh Proctor was lost for the season. Assuming that he heals from injury on time, I fully expect Proctor to take the starting job by next season. Proctor was one of the only players grading out competently over the first couple games of the season. The difference between him and Shaw was huge in the Oregon game. Shaw did end up improving a lot, but it wasn’t enough to make up for a ton of missed tackles early in the year. As I said with Cody Simon, I judge missed tackles very harshly. I think that last season was good for him to get experience. Considering that he was the only defensive player to save his best for the Michigan game, I have a lot more confidence in him than I had in the beginning of the year. For a backup in 2022, he will be a luxury to have.
The Bullet played in a couple of different spots across last season, with it being almost exclusively a coverage linebacker at the beginning of the season in a Darron Lee/Pete Werner role. After the Oregon game, however, this position played deep quite a bit too, becoming closer to a traditional strong safety role. It’s probably good that Hickman ended up starting, as he had more of a prototypical safety body than a guy like Craig Young did. Hickman was consistently solid all season, though he had a rough game against Utah. I am far less impressed by Hickman than others have been. After games where he was praised for being a great player, I often graded him out as just okay. I imagine he will start in this spot next year, but the guy behind him was outstanding as well.
By the end of the season, the only other guy playing at the Bullet was Kourt Williams. He looked pedestrian at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the year, he looked like an entirely different player. He was playing to the point where they moved him to cover safety to help against Utah’s running game. He was confused at the beginning of the year, as there were several moments throughout the season where he was out of position and wasn’t playing fast. This had completely changed by the end of the year. While I think Hickman is probably the likely starter next year, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Kourt Williams eventually takes the starting job, or if he gets time at the cover safety/Striker position next year as well.
The cover safety position had more turnover and different guys playing at that spot than any other position. It started with Lathan Ransom, who had usurped Marcus Williamson’s starting spot from last year. He had a bad start to the season and was covering ineligible receivers downfield against Oregon (which is a coaching issue). He also tackled poorly. These are the two biggest reasons for his fall. I don’t think he will play much next year given his injury in the Rose Bowl, but if he does, I will be interested to see if they move him again to another safety spot. They tried to do it in the middle of the year, but Shaw was consistently outplaying him. He has good athleticism and size, and I think he could probably succeed at any of the safety spots. Still, I don’t expect him to play much next year.
Marcus Williamson ended up taking the job back after a few games. He maintained a good grade throughout the year by being the best tackler on the team with solid coverage skills to complement them. He was one of the most dependable players on the defense. I don’t think he’s irreplaceable in the slightest, but they will have to figure out an answer for his departure.
Cameron Martinez could be the guy for next season, as he had a huge start to the year as a redshirt freshman. He was outstanding in coverage. The reason why he played less as the year went on was because he is smaller and not great against the run, especially when it came to tackling. This is not a surprise for a guy who has only been playing defense for a year prior to 2021. His issues against the run also wouldn’t have been as much of an issue if they had kept the defensive structure from the last few years, as the cover safety was rarely involved with the run. Once they switched schemes this year, however, the cover safety started to be used as a linebacker at times. They experimented with him at deep safety toward the end of the year, so perhaps they will move him there. I think they realize that he is a great football player, but they want to utilize his strengths as a cover-man more than a hybrid linebacker type, which is completely fair. I don’t know where that will be in this system, but I think he will eventually be an outstanding player for Ohio State.
The guy I expect to start is the transfer Tanner McCallister. I don’t know anything about him. I do know that everyone talks about Knowles’ having an incredibly complicated defense, and I also know that he might value a guy who already knows the system. Also, with Ransom’s injury, Craig Young’s departure, and Williamson’s graduation, this position might only have Cameron Martinez from last year, and he switched positions late in the season. I would be surprised if anyone else starts here, though Kourt Williams is the wildcard.
Defensively, the personnel is in a good spot for 2022. The defensive linemen are solid and experienced, the linebackers are experienced with a lot of young talent coming in, and all of the corners/safeties have starting experience now. While the decision to rotate heavily last season was bemoaned by many, it has set the defense up for a lot of success in 2022. The biggest question I have left is the magnitude of the defensive improvement in the first year under Knowles’. I am less bullish on Knowles’ first year than most other people, but I am much more bullish on him over time than other people. I don’t expect the defense to be much better in totality than in 2021, but I think the consistency will improve. For example, they may not shut down a great team like they did against Michigan State in 2021, but I don’t think they will have a performance like they had against Michigan or Utah either. The defense’s improvement is the difference between a national championship next year and another loss to Michigan. In three years, however, I could see Ohio State with a Georgia level defense. Right now, however, I have no idea how good they are going to be. Based on what I saw last year, I am confident that the pieces will be there. The rest is up to Jim Knowles.