Third-Year Reset: Josh Proctor Brings Big Playmaking Upside to Likely Major Role on Back End of Ohio State's Defense

By Dan Hope on July 3, 2020 at 8:35 am
Josh Proctor

As Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2018 enters its pivotal third season in Columbus, we’re taking a look back at each of their first two years as Buckeyes and look ahead at what to expect from them in 2020 and beyond with the Third-Year Reset.

Ohio State will be counting on its class of 2018, which is the highest-rated recruiting class OSU has ever signed, to step up in a big way as it looks to make another run to the College Football Playoff despite the departures of many key players from last season.

Each of them have now been with the Buckeyes for two years, and by the end of the upcoming season, all of them will either be on the back end of their Ohio State careers or off to the NFL. So while most of them haven’t played major roles for the Buckeyes yet, the time for them to deliver on their potential is now. 

Among all the third-year Buckeyes who haven’t yet played major roles, Josh Proctor might be the one who Ohio State most needs to have a breakthrough season and perform up to his potential in 2020.

In a secondary that’s replacing three starters from last season, including three-year starting safety Jordan Fuller, Proctor is expected to be a crucial player on the back end of Ohio State’s defense. He’s demonstrated the talent to be a standout playmaker, and has been projected as a future star safety since he arrived in Columbus as the No. 71 overall recruit in the class of 2018, but he still has to prove he can be relied upon on a consistent basis, and whether he can could be vital to the Buckeyes’ defensive success this fall.

Before He Became a Buckeye

After battling injuries for much of his high school career, Proctor was the best player on the best team in the state of Oklahoma in his senior year, when he led Owasso to its first state championship since 1974 in a season. Proctor patrolled the back end of the Rams’ defense and recorded 39 total tackles with four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, to go along with four offensive touchdowns and a kickoff return touchdown. He was named by VYPE Magazine as Oklahoma’s 2017 Mr. Football.

Ranked as the No. 2 prospect in his state and the No. 7 safety in the class of 2018, Proctor chose Ohio State despite being heavily recruited by his home-state Sooners, becoming the Buckeyes’ first-ever signee from Oklahoma.

Career to Date

Proctor played only three defensive snaps as a true freshman, but established himself as a regular on multiple special teams units by the end of his first year as a Buckeye, appearing in 11 of Ohio State’s 14 games.

As a sophomore, Proctor spent most of the year serving as Fuller’s backup but began to mix in for more playing time with the first-team defense as a second safety late in the season. He again played in 11 games – missing one game with a hand injury and two games later in the year with a concussion – for a total of 123 snaps, including 16 snaps in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin and 19 snaps in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson.

Over the course of the year, Proctor recorded 13 total tackles and demonstrated some impressive flashes of his playmaking ability, including a rangy interception in the season opener against Florida Atlantic and a thundering hit on Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan in the final play of Ohio State’s Big Ten title game win.

In the Fiesta Bowl, however, Proctor’s inexperience showed up in costly fashion when he whiffed on an open-field tackle that allowed Trevor Lawrence to run for a 67-yard touchdown that sparked Clemson’s comeback victory.

Third-Year Outlook

There’s little question that Proctor is in line to play a substantial role in Ohio State’s secondary this season. But there’s still some question about exactly what that role will be.

It’s widely expected that Proctor will be the heir apparent to Fuller at deep safety, especially if Ohio State sticks with the single-high base defense that it used in 2019. Having shown glimpses of Malik Hooker-esque range and playmaking ability as a center-fielder, Proctor has the potential to be a star at that position; if he can be consistent as a tackler and playing his assignments, he could be an upgrade over Fuller with his ability to make game-changing plays.

Depending on how Kerry Coombs chooses to align Ohio State’s defense and who else he wants to play regularly in the secondary, though, it’s possible Proctor could also play at least some of his snaps in other spots, too.

As a second safety last year, Proctor sometimes played closer to the line of scrimmage in a quasi-version of the bullet position that Ohio State advertised going into last season, and it’s possible that could become a more regular role for Proctor if the Buckeyes decide to use two-safety packages more regularly this season. Given his size (6-foot-2, 202 pounds) and hitting ability, Proctor is capable of playing as a versatile hybrid in the box as needed, while fellow third-year safety Marcus Hooker is another candidate to line up deep.

Proctor could also be a dark-horse candidate to play the slot cornerback/cover safety role that Shaun Wade played last season, now that Wade is moving to outside cornerback following the departures of Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette. While it’s probably more likely that one of the cornerbacks like Marcus Williamson, Sevyn Banks or Cameron Brown will man that position, the secondary depth chart outside of Wade remains unsettled after just one week of spring practice – in which Proctor didn’t even participate due to injury – so it’s possible the Buckeyes could experiment with Proctor at that spot in preseason camp.

Coombs and the rest of Ohio State’s defensive coaching staff must figure out how to best align their returning players to make up for the talent that departed from last year, and Proctor offers one of the most versatile skill sets to potentially move around in different packages. One way or another, though, the Buckeyes are going to be counting on Proctor to be ready for consistent playing time in the secondary for the first time in his Ohio State career.

Fuller is among those who believe Proctor can be a star.

“He’s one of the most talented individuals you’ll ever come across,” Fuller said earlier this year at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I expect big things, and I know he expects big things out of himself too, so I’m really excited for him. He’s a playmaker, and he always does stuff the right way. He’s always around the ball. The special thing about Josh is that he can play in the middle of the field, but he can play a ton of different positions if asked to.”

Given the importance of the deep safety position and the potential he has demonstrated there, that’s likely the spot where he can bring the most value, especially if Ohio State continues to play a primarily single-high defense. But it shouldn’t come as a shock if his role ends up being more multifaceted, especially if the younger Hooker shows he can be reliable on the back end.

Beyond 2020

Considering the comparisons that Proctor has drawn to Malik Hooker, it’s certainly not out of the question that Proctor could emerge as a 2021 NFL draft prospect. Like Proctor, Malik Hooker never started a game for Ohio State in his first two seasons with the Buckeyes, but that didn’t stop him from leaving Ohio State after his third year and becoming a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

Of course, Hooker’s one season starting for the Buckeyes was truly spectacular – he had 74 total tackles with seven interceptions and three returns for touchdowns to earn unanimous All-American honors – so expecting Proctor to perform up to that level in his junior year would be an awful lot to ask.

Proctor has the tools to be an early-round NFL draft pick, and if he performs well enough this year to be an early-round pick in 2021, that would be a huge boon to an inexperienced Ohio State secondary. But it would be an even bigger boon for the Buckeyes if he plays to that level and still stays at Ohio State for his senior year.

“He’s one of the most talented individuals you’ll ever come across.”– Jordan Fuller on Josh Proctor

If Proctor can prove himself to be both a big-play threat and a reliable eraser on the back end of the defense this season, he’ll certainly be in position to be a leader for the secondary and Ohio State’s defense as a whole if he’s back in 2021. And given that he hasn’t seen much playing time so far in his Buckeye career, it’s likely he will still have room to both develop as a player and improve his draft stock next year even if he lives up to the lofty expectations that surround him this year.

The future looks bright for Proctor both at Ohio State and beyond, but as of now, those expectations are still mostly just based on a few flashy plays he’s made in limited action, how he’s performed in practices and what he did in high school. For Proctor to live up to the hype and eventually become the next future NFL player from Ohio State’s BIA secondary, he needs to start by staying healthy, winning a start job and providing considerable production in 2020.

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