Early Position Grades: Looking Ahead at What the Buckeyes Should Bring to the Table for the 2021 Season

By Andrew Ellis on January 20, 2021 at 8:35 am
Brian Hartline's wide receiver room will be loaded yet again in 2021.

Our early assessments are in.

After a busy few days filled with draft declarations and some nice little surprises as well, we now have a fairly clear picture as to what the next Ohio State roster should look like. Coinciding with the recent news, the ridiculously talented Class of 2021 will start arriving on campus here in the next few days as they prepare to work on making their own early impact.

While we'll very much be on the lookout for Portal Watch 2021 and how that may shake things up, it's safe to start mentally piecing together a depth chart for next season. We know the names already and the position battles will go down over the next seven months or so. Today, we're looking ahead at the different position groups and where things stand for Ryan Day and Co.


This is obviously the biggest and most important storyline for the next eight months. C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller, and Kyle McCord will be battling it out to see who will replace Justin Fields in 2021. Miller was the first to see action last season, but it was Stroud who went under center when Fields briefly exited the game against Clemson. McCord was a five-star and the third-ranked pro-style passer in the Class of 2021. 

Ryan Day has given us no reason to doubt what he can do with a talented signal-caller, and the talent in the Buckeyes' room is likely second to none. The shortened 2020 season prevented us from getting a glimpse of what to really expect, but I don't see too much cause for concern even with such limited experience at quarterback. Our grade is reflective of that inexperience rather than the absurd level of talent.  

  • Grade: B

Running Back

Tony Alford's room is going to get a big-time boost with the additions of TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor. Two of the top backs in the 2021 class, the duo should see the field early and often as true freshmen; and that's especially true for Henderson who has the look of an every-down back. Master Teague is what he is and will once again have a role, and Miyan Williams flashed at times in his limited action. 

Trey Sermon is gone and the Buckeye backfield should have a much different feel to it in 2021. And that will especially be the case if someone like Henderson is able to carve out a significant role. I think the most exciting part is that Alford will have several different skill sets at his disposal. A healthy Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers are also very much in the picture. 

  • Grade: B+

Wide Receiver

Simply put, this should be one of the country's top overall units. Chris Olave surprised a lot of people when he announced his intention to return, and Garrett Wilson has already lived up to his five-star billing. Brian Hartline may have the top one-two punch in program history and the most depth we've ever seen. Ohio State will have four five-star players in the wide receiver room and a measly ole' three-star in the form of future first-round pick Chris Olave. 

Let's not forget that the nation's top wideout for the 2021 class will also be on campus. I have no idea what kind of role Emeka Egbuka could have as a true freshman, but a full schedule should allow him to display his talents on occasion. Guys like Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njgiba, and Gee Scott Jr. will also see time in their second year.

It doesn't get much better than what Hartline has assembled in Columbus. 

  • Grade: A++

Tight End

Luke Farrell and Jake Hausmann were both redshirt seniors in 2020, but Jeremy Ruckert's decision to return is a very big deal for the Buckeyes' tight end room. Every offseason we see questions about "is this the season Ohio State truly uses its tight ends?" This time around, I genuinely do wonder what a new quarterback could mean for the target distribution. Though I expect we will probably see much of what we've gotten used to over the last few seasons. 

Ruckert should be one of the nation's best at the position even if he doesn't put up a monstrous stat line. Things may be a little dicey behind him with inexperienced players like Cade Stover, Joe Royer, and 2021 signee Sam Hart. This means a ton of talent at the top with some question marks behind the lead guy. 

  • Grade: B+

Offensive Line

Even after losing two interior guys who are going to be early selections in the upcoming NFL Draft, Greg Studrawa's offensive line is receiving high marks. Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere were ridiculously good in 2020, and Munford's return was a surprising bit of great news. Matthew Jones was impressive while filling in for Harry Miller late in the season. And while we aren't sure exactly what the interior part of the line will look like, there's plenty of reason for confidence heading into the offseason. 

One of the more interesting storylines will be what the Munford return means for Paris Johnson Jr. I think everyone believes he's the future at left tackle, but he filled in admirably at guard late in 2020 and that could make sense for his sophomore season. Dawand Jones has the ability to play just about anywhere on the line as well. 

  • Grade: A

Defensive Line

The last few days have brought some good and bad news for Larry Johnson. Yesterday's announcement from Haskell Garrett was immense considering the All-American season he put together. But Tommy Togiai's departure makes the defensive tackle depth a wee bit scary. Players like Jerron Cage, Taron Vincent, and Ty Hamilton will have to transition into bigger roles. Antwuan Jackson will also look to take his game to new heights in his six college season.

Along the edge, Jonathon Cooper's solid career has come to an end, but several pass-rushers are poised to help take over. Tyreke Smith, Zach Harrison, Tyler Friday, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste should all see significant action. Five-star true freshman Jack Sawyer will be the next big thing coming off the edge. 

The pass rush was really good in 2020, but oftentimes it was just a half step away from getting to the quarterback. We'll see if that changes next time around. 

  • Grade: B+


Al Washington's linebacker room is getting hit harder than any other position group. Pete Werner, Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, and Justin Hilliard are all gone as the unit will have an entirely new look in 2021. Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell, Craig Young, and K'Vaughan Pope are in line to finally take over with a number of younger backers like Cody Simon also in the mix. There won't be time to mess around here as the Buckeyes get Minnesota and then Oregon to open the season. 

  • Grade: B

Defensive Back

The most problematic part of the 2020 team was without question its defensive backfield. Cam Brown's injury didn't do any favors for Kerry Coombs, and it was a fairly inexperienced unit outside of Shaun Wade who was also in an entirely different position. Sevyn Banks is expected to lead the cornerback room next season and hopefully Brown bounces back just fine from his Achilles injury.

Josh Proctor should be the guy at safety and Lathan Ransom flashed at times as a true freshman. The Buckeyes are bringing in a talented crop of 2021 signees, but it's unwise to expect too much contribution from young defensive backs; even ones that are as talented as Jordan Hancock and Jakailin Johnson. Marcus Williamson returns at slot corner, and we'll see what kind of impact Ryan Watts and Lejond Cavazos may have in year two. 

  • Grade: B-

Special Teams

Drue Chrisman and Blake Haubeil are both gone, and the youth movement will now be underway for the special teams. Jake Seibert attempted two field goals as a true freshman, and it was nice to see him connect on the big stage against the Crimson Tide. Freshman Australian punter Jesse Mirco appears to be in line to be Chrisman's successor. Garrett Wilson should once again be returning punts, but I do wonder if a guy like Cameron Martinez could see action as a return man. 

  • Grade: B-

View 82 Comments