With Four of Ohio State's Top Six Pass-Catchers Off to the NFL, Ohio State Looks to Backfill Passing Game Production

By Chris Lauderback on April 23, 2020 at 10:10 am
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming and Gee Scott Jr. could all contribute to Ohio State's passing attack as true freshmen.

With the way Ohio State's football factory is humming right now, the annual need to replace big-time production moving on to the next level is a way of life. 

Ryan Day's 2020 passing attack will be no different as no less than 53% of 2019's receptions and 50% of the receiving yards moved out of Columbus with the departures of K.J. Hill, Ben Victor, Austin Mack, and running back J.K. Dobbins. 

Losing half of last year's production might seem like a significant amount – it certainly shouldn't be discounted – but the reality is the lost production is only the fourth-most since Urban Meyer's arrival back in 2012. 

By percentage, Ohio State's lost receiving game production is very much on par with what Day and Brian Hartline had to replace leading into last season when not only did Ohio State lose receivers Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon, but also quarterback Dwayne Haskins. 

As we know, that worked out pretty well with Justin Fields turning in a Heisman-finalist season at quarterback with 41 touchdowns passes against just three interceptions while the collective passing attack ranked No. 4 in the country in passing touchdowns, No. 13 in completion percentage and No. 10 in yards per attempt. 

Complemented by a lethal rushing attack headlined by Dobbins, the Buckeyes ranked No. 3 in scoring offense with 46.9 points per game. 

2020 144 53% 1,837 50% 21 44%
2019 188 47% 2,545 50% 24 47%
2018 8 3% 45 1% 0 0%
2017 145 59% 1,700 61% 19 73%
2016 165 81% 1,970 80% 17 89%
2015 66 25% 1,295 35% 18 43%
2014 134 56% 1,636 57% 23 61%
2013 25 16% 346 16% 4 24%
2012 32 26% 348 21% 2 11%

The good news is that while the Buckeyes did lose some very talented guys, Day and company aren't forced to rely on too many unproven newcomers to live up to the hype right away. 

That's because Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson return, giving Ohio State two elite receivers ready to build on solid 2019 campaigns, both of which already have established familiarity with Fields. 

Olave led all Ohio State receivers in yards (849), touchdowns (12) and yards per game (60.6) and is on the cusp of becoming the program's next elite receiver. 

As a true freshman, Wilson hauled in 30 passes for 432 yards and five scores, emerging down the stretch to set the stage for what should be major leap whenever the 2020 season gets underway. His vault to greatness might be enhanced by what seems to be a permanent move from outside to the slot. 

Wilson and Olave alone combined to give Day more than a third of last season's receiving yards and touchdown catches. 

The duo provides a security blanket of sorts, giving Day and Hartline a strong base which allows them to identify and bring along four additional contributors at a realistic pace. 

That's, of course, where the situation gets interesting due to the sheer amount of unproven talent looking to establish a spot in what should be a six-man rotation. 

Sophomore Jameson Williams should have a leg up on the competition after seeing action in 12 games last year, logging six receptions for 112 yards, including a lone touchdown that turned heads as he caught a slant and turned on his lethal afterburners. 

The former Top-150 composite recruit also had four grabs against Maryland and isn't lacking confidence. The simple fact he's been around should really help his push for extensive playing time. 

Yes, a quartet of blue chip freshmen – Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott Jr. and Mookie Cooper – all arrived in Columbus back in January but with spring camp cut extremely short, their window to learn the playbook and build rapport with Fields was negatively impacted. 

While their development was likely slowed a bit, at least two of the four could play rotational roles, pending whether or not Jaylen Harris is truly ready for prime time and to a lesser extent, how Ohio State uses Demario McCall, if C.J. Saunders is afforded a sixth year and whether or not Kamryn Babb can make a push. One name removed from the equation is Jaelen Gill after he announced intentions to transfer from the program last night. 

Fleming is the crown jewel of the 2020 class and would appear to have the best shot to be rotational player at the X and/or Z spots despite the lack of spring reps. Smith-Njigba seems like he could prove a bit more able to see snaps at the H, X or Z, or at least, finish ahead of Mookie Cooper in the quest to become Wilson's primary backup in the slot. And don't forget about Scott Jr. and his 6-foot-2, 207-pound frame; the No. 62 ranked overall prospect in the 247 composite. 

With all that talent, albeit unproven, it feels like a solid bet Day and Hartline will find a way to fill the void in the receiving corps created primarily by the departures of Hill, Victor and Mack. The odds only increase in their favor when you remember the receivers looking to establish expanded roles will have a Heisman finalist slinging the ball in their direction. 

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