It took only two games at Ohio State before Garrett Wilson made a catch to complete a connection with Justin Fields that Ryan Day deemed “NFL material.” The 6-foot, 193-pounder bounced over Cincinnati’s Coby Bryant in the back left corner of the end zone, twisting his body in midair to come down with Justin Fields’ 9-yard touchdown pass on third down.
“For me and Garrett, and I think everybody else on the team, they know that that’s not a circus catch for Garrett,” Fields said after the game. “That's pretty much routine for him.”
And with that, Wilson’s highlight reel began.
Two weeks later against Miami (Ohio), he somehow reeled in an underthrown, tightly contested chuck from Chris Chugunov for a 38-yard touchdown, never letting the ball hit the ground even when it came ajar as he slammed into the turf. Day called the snag “pretty unreal” later that day. His six-yard end-zone fade to help beat Nebraska, three catches for 118 yards versus Michigan and leaping 22-yard reception in the second minute of the Fiesta Bowl weren’t the type of plays most receivers make, either.
Wilson’s different, as he showed throughout his freshman season that ended with 30 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns.
“Garrett's still real young, but certainly his talent is off the charts,” Ryan Day said in November.
The next step for Wilson is consistency. And if he can achieve a greater degree of steadiness in his play, he can combine with Chris Olave – whose goal is to become the nation’s best wideout – to create a dangerous duo of pass-catchers.
All things considered, Ohio State needs Wilson to take that next step. The Buckeyes have one of the nation’s most talented receiving corps based on recruiting rankings alone. Of the 11 wide receivers on the roster, seven of them were once ranked as top-100 overall prospects. Some of the best Brian Hartline has to offer, though, are both young and inexperienced. All seven recruits once rated within the top 100 are either freshmen or sophomores. Olave (507 snaps) and Wilson (450 snaps) are the only two wideouts who played more than 151 snaps in 2019.
Ohio State’s ability to rely on Olave and Hartline to lead the room, especially early in the 2020 season, would greatly benefit the rest of the receivers in Hartline’s room as they continue their development.
To get to that point, the Buckeyes need to have Wilson mature a bit. Both Day and Kevin Wilson mentioned how they wanted to see him grow up somewhat during his freshman season, mentioning practice habits. In turn, they invested in him, knowing that in time he’d figure it out. They kept him in the regular wide receiver rotation while getting him involved as a punt returner and sticking with him even when he had some struggles.
As Ohio State strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti noted a few weeks ago, the differences are beginning to show.
“Garrett Wilson’s a young player, a freshman,” Marotti said a few weeks ago. “He don’t know what he don’t know. And he’s really talented. He’s immature, just like all freshmen are. And then just over the nine weeks, call and now we’re on the phone for 30 minutes and we’re talking about training and football, but you kind of get sidetracked and now you’re having a conversation with an 18-19-year-old kid about Netflix and what shows you’re watching, and how All-American reminds me of you a little bit.”
The progression of a stud football prospect isn’t always a straight line. Everybody’s different, moving at their own pace.
Wilson might have needed – and still needs – to mature. But based on his talent level and amount of snaps and targets as a freshman, there’s every reason to believe that he’s in line for a breakthrough this fall, especially considering he’ll be catching passes from Justin Fields while paired with Olave as one of his top options through the air.
Imagine, for a second, what this duo could look like on the field together.
Olave managed 49 receptions for 849 yard and 12 touchdowns last seasons, and he’ll again line up at Z-receiver, most likely rotating with Jameson Williams as the backup. Wilson worked at X-receiver a year ago, but Hartline and Day have both talked about him playing in the slot, which is the spot where he opened spring practice.
Neither Olave nor Wilson cracked 50 catches in 2019. This fall, though, as they do their part to make up for the 119 catches of lost production from K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack graduating, it would be a surprise to see them both not secure more than 50 receptions.
Olave has game-breaking speed and a knack for pulling down deep balls. He and Fields immediately developed a clearly seen chemistry. Wilson’s a bit of a different receiver, having gained notoriety for his remarkable ball skills and ability to maneuver around defenders as the ball is in the air. The rising sophomore has enough short-area quickness, though, to have both Day and Hartline intrigued with him as an inside receiver.
If Olave can stay on this trajectory, he’d be a potential first-round draft pick in a year. And if Wilson does, as well, then he could find himself in the same spot a year later.
Right now, Ohio State just needs him to become a more consistent, steadier version of himself. If he can do that, Hartline might find himself with one of the most talented wideout duos in the country.