What will next year's wide receiver corps resemble for the Buckeyes?
Ohio State fans are bracing for major attrition on the roster at just about every position. Fans excited that much of last season's national championship team returned knew in advance that the program would hit the proverbial reset button after this season.
In other words, we expect that just about every major contributor who could go into the NFL Draft next year will opt into the NFL Draft next year.
There are no shortage of questions to ask for every position next year, but the wide receiver corp should concern fans the most.
Consider that the unit's turnaround may have been the most important in last season's national championship run. Devin Smith became the reliable deep threat we hoped he would become since 2011. Evan Spencer was a crucial jack-of-all-trades receiver and Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas flashed the potential down the stretch that we thought would carry the unit into 2015.
Everyone blocked well for Ezekiel Elliott too. Wide receiver blocking is how four-yard runs for tailbacks become 40-yard-plus runs. Look now further than the 85 yards through the heart of the South as evidence.
We expect none of those major contributors will remain. Smith and Spencer are already pros. Marshall and Thomas should join them next year.
Further, the contributions of those players stand at odds with how average the unit was in Meyer's first two seasons in Columbus, even halfway into the 2014 season. Receivers struggled to reliably create separation. No receiver was sure-handed, capable of catching important passes to move the chains on third down. Spencer was always a capable blocker in that unit, but he may have been the only one.
|Dontre Wilson (HB)||5-10/195||SR||DeSoto, TX|
|James Clark||5-10/185||rJR||New Smyrna Beach, FL|
|Noah Brown||6-2/222||rSO||Flanders, NJ|
|Parris Campbell||6-1/2015||rSO||Akron, OH|
|Johnnie Dixon||5-11/194||rSO||West Palm Beach, FL|
|Terry McLaurin||6-1/200||rSO||Indianapolis, IN|
|K.J. Hill||6-0/195||rFR||North Little Rock, AR|
|Alex Stump||6-3/202||rFR||Lakewood, OH|
|Austin Mack||6-2/205||FR||Fort Wayne, IN|
So, what happens next year when we expect Ohio State to lose its top three (and eight of the top ten) receivers from this year?
For one, fans should be excited about the return of Noah Brown. Coaches and players alike pegged Brown as a break-out sophomore on this roster. He has a great combination of size and speed at 6-2 and 222 pounds. No one on the defense could reliably guard him in practice.
However, Brown suffered a broken leg just a few weeks before the season started. He will return from a redshirt year and will likely start as one of the receivers in the offense. There are residual concerns about whether he lost some of his peculiar speed for his size as a result of the injury. All the same, fans should be excited about his return. He should be more valuable to next year's offense than he would have been to this year's offense.
Parris Campbell will likely start as wide receiver next year and play in a capacity similar to Jalin Marshall. Fans should be excited for Campbell. While he will be in his third (redshirt sophomore) year in the program next year, he is still a decidedly young talent. For those unaware, Campbell is the rare prospect who skipped a grade in grade school. He was also born later into his normal class (July 1997 for what would otherwise be a 2015 high school graduate).
He enrolled at Ohio State at 16-years-old and will have just turned 19 when next season starts. The ceiling is rather high for Campbell as a Buckeye. He has already shined on special teams as a redshirt freshman.
Those two names are comfortable projections because we know of them in other capacities (Brown as a pre-season breakout and Campbell as prodigious talent and special teamer). However, neither Brown nor Campbell has a catch this season. Brown had just one for nine yards as a true freshman in 2014.
There is only more uncertainty after those players.
This is true even for Dontre Wilson, who returns in an H-Back role in 2016. Wilson has seen a decrease in productivity since his true freshman season and had just seven catches for 63 yards this season.
James Clark and Johnnie Dixon, a duo of receivers from the Sunshine State, should see opportunities on the field. Both have nagging injury concerns, though. Clark suffered a particularly nasty ankle injury as a true freshman in 2013 but has factored back into the receiver picture this season. Dixon has one catch for 29 yards this season, but had leg injuries sideline him for 2014 and some of 2015 as well.
Terry McLaurin is an interesting name in this conversation. The speedster from Cathedral High School in Indianapolis will be a redshirt sophomore next year who should challenge Parris Campbell for playing time. He provides an interesting downfield threat for Ohio State as a true "nine route" receiver. However, fans do not know yet how multidimensional McLaurin is as a receiver. He's seen the field this year, though, but as a special teamer.
Thereafter, expect to see a lot of redshirt freshmen or even true freshmen.
K.J. Hill might be the most interesting name of the new faces the Buckeyes will see. Hill is a promising receiver prospect from Arkansas about whom fans are surprised he is redshirting this year. Hill was one of the first players to have his "black stripe" removed in the pre-season, which is usually a good indicator which true freshmen will play in the upcoming season.
However, Hill never played a down in the regular season. This writer is at least optimistic that Hill's play in 2016 should raise questions about why he did not play this season.
Torrance Gibson was one of the players that fans celebrated the most in the 2015 recruiting class, though he also redshirted. Gibson is between the quarterback and wide receiver positions at the moment, but he's a dynamic athlete. He'll be far from the most polished receiver Ohio State has next year, should he play in that capacity, but he could make a play or two.
All signs point to Ohio State's receiver corp next year being conspicuously unexperienced. The most experience will come from Dontre Wilson, a senior whose productivity declined each year he's been in the program. Even redshirt junior James Clark and third-year players like Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, and Terry McLaurin bring only potential to the table. Few thing are known with reasonable certainty.
There is a silver lining, though. Ohio State recruits too well at wide receiver for the position to be terrible in 2016.
However, it could well be average at best. "Average at best" is what separated the receivers in 2013 from the national championship group in 2014 whose late-season turnaround helped propel the offense to a special place in Ohio State history.
This is the concern for next year.