With spring football set to begin at Ohio State on March 6, Eleven Warriors is taking a position-by-position look at how the Buckeyes' roster is shaping up entering the year's first practice.
With the departures of captains Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon from last season, Ohio State has huge shoes to fill at wide receiver.
Even so, the wide receiver position looks like it could be one of the Buckeyes’ strongest positions once again in 2019 entering this spring.
Led by three seniors who have been regulars in the wide receiver rotation for at least the past two years, Ohio State should have another strong group of veteran leaders at the position. The Buckeyes are also deep with talented young receivers who could be poised for breakout seasons if they can earn one of the open spots of the depth chart.
Coming off an excellent 2018 season, we take a closer look at Brian Hartline’s position group could be full of playmakers once again in our Spring Preview of Ohio State’s wide receivers.
What We Know
Even though Campbell, McLaurin and Dixon are all gone, Ohio State still goes into 2019 with plenty of experience at wide receiver.
The leader of the pack is K.J. Hill, who has been one of the Buckeyes’ top two receivers for each of the past two seasons. He has caught 142 passes for 1,676 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, leaving him just 50 catches away from breaking Ohio State’s school career record for receptions. As a fifth-year senior, Hill should be the Buckeyes’ go-to target and their starting H-back.
Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor are also entering their senior seasons after rotating at the X receiver position for the past two years. Mack, whose 2018 season was cut short after eight games due to foot surgery, has caught 52 career passes for 689 yards and three touchdowns, while Victor has caught 48 career passes for 767 yards and 12 touchdowns.
C.J. Saunders, a former walk-on turned scholarship player who has seen occasional playing time in the slot over the past two seasons, gives the Buckeyes four seniors at the position.
Chris Olave joined the Buckeyes’ six-man rotation for the final six games of last season following Mack’s season-ending injury, and the true freshmen broke out down the stretch of the year, catching 12 passes for 197 yards – including a pair of touchdowns against Michigan, and another against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.
In total, the Buckeyes will have 11 scholarship receivers on campus for spring practice, also including redshirt sophomores Ellijah Gardiner and Jaylen Harris, redshirt freshmen Kamryn Babb, Jaelen Gill and L’Christian “Blue” Smith and early enrollee true freshman Garrett Wilson.
What We Don’t Know
|No.||Name||Ht.||Wt.||Year||Hometown (High School)|
|9||BINJIMEN VICTOR||6-4||200||SR||Pompano Beach, Florida (Coconut Creek)|
|11||AUSTIN MACK||6-2||215||SR||Fort Wayne, Indiana (Bishop Luers)|
|14||K.J. HILL||6-0||198||RS SR||Little Rock, Arkansas (North Little Rock)|
|15||JAYLEN HARRIS||6-5||215||RS SO||Cleveland, Ohio (Cleveland Heights)|
|17||KAMRYN BABB||6-0||200||RS FR||St. Louis, Missouri (Christian Brothers College)|
|19||CHRIS OLAVE||6-1||175||SO||San Marcos, California (Mission Hills)|
|20||DARRYL SINCLAIR||5-9||195||JR||Solon, Ohio (Solon)|
|23||DE'SHAWN WHITE||5-9||172||JR||Canton, Ohio (McKinley)|
|24||SAM WIGLUSZ||6-0||175||SO||Brecksville, Ohio (Brecksville-Bridgeview Heights)|
|26||JAELEN GILL||6-0||185||RS FR||Westerville, Ohio (South)|
|35||AUSTIN KUTSCHER||6-1||185||SO||Massillon, Ohio (Washington)|
|80||C.J. SAUNDERS||5-10||185||SR||Dublin, Ohio (Coffman)|
|82||GARYN PRATER||6-4||208||JR||Wyoming, Ohio (Wyoming)|
|85||L'CHRISTIAN SMITH||6-4||207||RS FR||Huber Heights, Ohio (Wayne)|
|87||ELLIJAH GARDINER||6-3||196||RS SO||Kemp, Texas (Kemp)|
|GARRETT WILSON||6-1||180||FR||Austin, Texas (Lake Travis)|
While it can be assumed that Hill, Mack and Victor will all feature prominently in Ohio State’s wide receiver rotation this season, and Olave looks like a sure bet to play a significant role at the position too, that should still leave a couple spots in the rotation up for grabs for the rest of the Buckeyes’ receivers.
With many talented but unproven receivers set to vie for those spots, there’s still plenty of questions about how Ohio State’s depth chart could stack up in 2019.
Is Saunders a viable candidate to play a bigger role in the slot receiver rotation as a senior? Are Harris and Gardiner ready to make significant contributions after quiet starts to their careers? Will Gill and Smith be ready to thrust their way into the rotation now that they’ve been with the team for a season? Can Babb return to his previous form after tearing each of his ACLs in back-to-back years? Is Wilson, the lone composite five-star recruit of the group, too talented to keep off the field as a true freshman?
All of those questions should start to be answered this spring.
It’s uncertain whether Mack or Babb are fully recovered from their injuries yet, but both have been participating in winter conditioning with their teammates and are expected to be on the field this spring.
It’s also possible, with Hartline in his first full year as wide receivers coach and Ryan Day in his first season as head coach, that the Buckeyes could deviate from the six-man receiver rotation that they have used in recent years. Considering its effectiveness last year and the amount of talent that the Buckeyes have at the position, though, it seems unlikely that they would choose to abandon the rotation altogether.
Players to Watch
The most intriguing wide receiver to watch this spring will be Wilson, who will start at the bottom of the depth chart as a newcomer but is a very real candidate to parlay a strong spring into an immediate spot in the rotation. The five-star talent from Austin, Texas, demonstrated exceptional ability to make plays on the ball during his career at Lake Travis High School, and that skill could make him a game-changer right away. That will depend, though, on how quickly he picks up the intricacies of wide receiver play that Hartline teaches him and how he acquits himself against collegiate competition this spring.
Gill, the No. 30 overall recruit in the class of 2018, is another top candidate to be a breakout player in Ohio State’s receiving corps this season. He only saw the field in two games last season, but he’s an explosive and shifty athlete who has the tools to be the dual receiving and running threat that the Buckeyes have not had at the H-back position since Curtis Samuel. He needs to show development this spring, though, to prove he belongs on the field in 2019.
Babb is another talented young receiver who showed star potential in high school, but he needs to prove that he can return to form and stay healthy before he can seriously push for a spot in the rotation. If he can get back to full speed this spring, though, he has the skills to make a big move up the depth chart and earn a role in the offense in his first playing season.
Given that Hill is locked into the starting lineup and a proven commodity, Ohio State will probably limit his reps this spring to keep him healthy and fresh for the spring. The Buckeyes will likely ease Mack back into action, too, and Victor could see a lighter workload, as well.
While Victor and Mack certainly still have room to improve, and the Buckeyes will want their more experienced receivers to build rapport with their inexperienced group of quarterbacks, the younger receivers are the one who will truly be under the microscope this spring as they battle for position on the depth chart.
Olave will enter spring as the frontrunner to start at Z receiver, opposite Mack and Victor. It’s possible the Buckeyes could move Mack or Victor to the Z position to get them both on the field simultaneously, but either way, they’ll have plenty of candidates pushing for a spot in the outside receiver rotation.
Harris should be in line for a spot in the rotation at this point, but he, Mack and Victor are all best suited to play at X, while Wilson should climb the depth chart quickly and push Olave at Z. Babb (if healthy), Smith and Gardiner will also try to earn their way into the rotation at outside receiver, with four-star freshman Jameson Williams set to join the Buckeyes this summer.
Hill should play the majority of the snaps in the slot in 2019 regardless of who else is in the rotation, but the competition between Saunders and Gill will be one to watch this spring, too. Saunders is the more experienced, polished slot receiver, which could make him the frontrunner for a rotation going into spring, but Gill offers a more dynamic skill set that could add a different dimension to the offense.
Regardless of how those position battles play out, the good news for the Buckeyes is that they have plenty of strong candidates to be playmakers at wide receiver this year, and could potentially have more receivers who prove they belong on the field than playing time available.
Projected Depth Chart
1. Austin Mack
2. Binjimen Victor
3. Jaylen Harris
1. Chris Olave
2. Garrett Wilson
3. Kamryn Babb
1. K.J. Hill
2. C.J. Saunders
3. Jaelen Gill