As Ohio State evaluates its new crop of freshmen this summer, one of the biggest considerations for each new Buckeye will be whether they should be thrust into immediate playing time or whether they should take a redshirt year.
Thanks to the rule change adopted by the NCAA last summer that allows players to participate in up to four games and still redshirt, Ohio State doesn’t need to make those decisions before the season.
Even so, it’s likely that those conversations have already started among Ohio State’s coaching staff, and will ramp up in preseason camp, as the Buckeyes determine which new players can make an immediate impact for them this season and which players could make a bigger impact long-term with more time to develop.
With the four-game rule in place last season, Ohio State redshirted just over half of its 25 true freshmen, as 12 members of the class of 2018 still used a year of eligibility by playing in more than four games.
The Buckeyes will only have 17 true freshmen on scholarship this year after a smaller senior class last year, which also means have a more veteran-heavy roster and potentially less playing opportunities for freshmen.
It’s also uncertain going into his first year as a head coach whether Ryan Day will be more or less inclined to redshirt players than Urban Meyer, who repeatedly said during his tenure as head coach that the Buckeyes did not seek to use redshirts – even though they still did every year.
All those variables could impact which players redshirt this season and which players won’t, and there are always surprises; Chris Olave, for example, appeared to be one of the most likely candidates to redshirt entering last season, yet ended up making the biggest impact of any freshman. Five-star recruit Tyreke Johnson was regarded as one of the least likely candidates to redshirt, yet he ended up appearing in only two games.
Nonetheless, it’s time for our forecast on which freshmen are most and least likely to see substantial playing time this year.
Will Not Redshirt
Garrett Wilson, WR
Barring injury, you can go ahead and tear up Wilson’s redshirt right now. The five-star recruit is expected to become an immediate fixture in Ohio State’s wide receiver rotation, and is far too talented to spend a year sitting on the bench.
He could emerge as one of the Buckeyes’ top offensive playmakers right away, and if all goes according to plan, there’s a strong likelihood he’ll only be at Ohio State for three years anyways before entering the 2022 NFL draft.
Unlikely to Redshirt
Zach Harrison, DE
Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson likes to ease freshmen into the rotation, so Harrison probably won’t see as much playing time as Wilson this year, but it would still come as a big surprise if he redshirted.
Like Wilson, Harrison was a five-star recruit who is far more likely to be at Ohio State for just three years than five. He took some reps with the Buckeyes’ first-team defense this spring in the “Rushmen” package, which could be his path to weekly playing time, and Johnson’s deep rotations should allow Harrison to earn semi-regular playing time even if he’s not on the two-deep at defensive end this year.
Will Depend on Special Teams
Cade Stover, LB
Craig Young, LB
Tommy Eichenberg, LB
Special teams is typically the quickest path to the field at Ohio State, and that’s especially true at the linebacker position, where young players are regularly called upon to play as tacklers or blockers on the Buckeyes’ kicking units. While they have a multitude of veterans in front of them on the defensive depth chart, Stover, Young and Eichenberg should all have the opportunity to earn playing time as rookies if they can carve out roles for themselves on special teams.
Stover, a high school safety who prides himself on being a big hitter, seems tailor-made to become an immediate impact player on special teams. Young, an elite athlete whose defensive position remains to be determined, also seems likely to make his first big mark on special teams. Young and Eichenberg might be more likely redshirt candidates than Stover, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if all three become regulars on special teams this year.
Bryson Shaw, S
Like linebackers, safeties are also top candidates to contribute quickly on special teams even if they aren’t likely to see early playing time on defense, and Shaw fits that bill. He’s a developmental prospect who isn’t likely to see substantial playing time in the secondary as a true freshman, which makes him a logical candidate to redshirt, but the high school lacrosse star’s speed and tenacity give him the potential to quickly contribute in the third phase of the game.
Steele Chambers, RB
Marcus Crowley, RB
With only three returning scholarship running backs ahead of them, including one in Demario McCall who could also spend time at H-back, either Crowley or Chambers could earn some playing time on offense this year – especially if J.K. Dobbins or Master Teague suffers an injury. If Dobbins and Teague are healthy, though, the Buckeyes will likely look to preserve both of their redshirts unless one of them emerges as a regular contributor on special teams, which either of the well-built backs could.
Jameson Williams, WR
Williams isn’t likely to see much playing time at wide receiver this year with all the veteran talent (plus Wilson) Ohio State has at that position, but his top-notch speed could enable him to earn immediate playing time on special teams like Olave did last year. He returned kickoffs and punts in high school, so he could even be a candidate to contribute in the return game this season. The Buckeyes are probably more likely to rely on players who have been on the roster for at least a year in those roles, but could still utilize Williams in kickoff or punt coverage.
Cormontae Hamilton, TE
Hamilton isn’t likely to see much playing time at tight end this season behind the returning quartet of Luke Farrell, Rashod Berry, Jeremy Ruckert and Jake Hausmann, and will likely need some time to develop before he’s ready to contribute significantly on Ohio State’s offense, making him a logical candidate for a redshirt. But the 6-foot-2, 263-pound tight end, who could also play some fullback for the Buckeyes, has intriguing upside as a blocker and could avoid a redshirt if he can parlay his blocking ability into a role blocking on kickoff returns or another special teams unit.
On The Bubble
Noah Potter, DE
While Potter seems like a logical redshirt candidate with the depth that the Buckeyes have at defensive end, he has expressed that he believes he is ready to play right away. He got a head start on earning playing time by enrolling early, and was among the top defensive performers in the spring game. Given he’ll likely be no higher than third string on the depth chart, Ohio State could limit his playing time to four or fewer games in order to preserve his eligibility, but Johnson will deepen his rotation to include Potter if he believes Potter belongs on the field this year.
Harry Miller, C/G
Ohio State typically redshirts its offensive linemen as true freshmen, but the Buckeyes don’t have a ton of veteran interior offensive line depth on this year’s roster, and Miller is expected to get a shot to compete for an immediate spot on the two-deep – either at center or guard – as a five-star recruit.
Even if he earns a spot on the second-string offensive line, the Buckeyes could still limit his playing time to four games or less, like they did with Nicholas Petit-Frere last year, in order to preserve his eligibility and the possibility of him eventually becoming their next great five-year offensive lineman like Billy Price and Pat Elflein before him. But because Miller is expected to push for playing time early in his Ohio State career, the Buckeyes could opt to get him as many snaps as possible with the second-team offensive line this year.
Cameron Brown, CB (Sophomore)
People most commonly think of freshmen when they think of potential redshirt candidates, but anyone who hasn’t yet taken a redshirt year can still take a redshirt if they play in four games or less – wide receiver Jaylen Harris did this past season after burning his redshirt as a true freshman in 2017, before the four-game rule was put into place – and one candidate to potentially do that this year could be cornerback Cameron Brown.
Brown played just one game too many to redshirt last season, appearing in each of the Buckeyes’ first five games before suffering a leg injury that ended his season early. He’s certainly a candidate to play a significant role on special teams this season, but because Brown isn’t likely to see extensive playing time at cornerback this year, Ohio State could look to redshirt him as a sophomore to give him three more years of eligibility heading into 2020, when he should have a greater opportunity to climb the cornerback depth chart.
Ronnie Hickman, S
If Hickman hadn’t torn his ACL during his senior year of high school, he’d be a strong candidate to be a regular contributor on special teams this season and not redshirt. There’s no reason for the Buckeyes to rush him back from injury just to play on special teams, though, so they will presumably proceed with caution and allow him to fully recover before taking the field again. Unless he is back to 100 percent before the start of the season, it would be smart for Ohio State to hold him out until at least the latter part of the year, when he could potentially still play in up to four games and redshirt.
Jaden McKenzie, DT
Ohio State is four deep with returning veterans on scholarship at both defensive tackle spots, so there isn’t likely to be an opening in the rotation for McKenzie this year. With three seniors at defensive tackle this year in Robert Landers, Davon Hamilton and Jashon Cornell, McKenzie will have a shot to earn playing time in 2020, but it would be a surprise if he didn’t redshirt this season.
Ryan Jacoby, G
Dawand Jones, OT
Enokk Vimahi, G
As aforementioned, Ohio State typically prefers to redshirt its offensive linemen, so the Buckeyes would likely prefer not to burn a year of eligibility for any of these three this year. Jacoby could potentially be in the mix for a backup guard spot, so there’s a chance he could play in more than four games, but a redshirt is more likely. Jones, who has eye-popping size but is a raw offensive lineman who needs time to develop, and Vimahi, who is set to go on a two-year Mormon mission after his first year at Ohio State, are near locks to redshirt and will likely spend their first year practicing with the scout team.