Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka Making a Case For Early Playing Time Despite Loaded Wide Receiver Room

By Andrew Ellis on April 24, 2021 at 10:10 am
Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. are already flashing their star potential.

Ohio State's heralded group of 2020 wideouts didn't get to play in a spring game during their first year in Columbus.

After Ohio State's 2020 recruiting class was officially signed, there were plenty of eyes on Brian Hartline's room. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson had already established themselves, and four of the country's best at the position arrived in January to compete for early playing time. The pandemic ultimately meant that Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott Jr., and Mookie Cooper were unable to display their talents during any sort of spring game. 

Hartline's latest haul included three wideouts that arrived on campus just three months ago. Fortunately, we were able to watch Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr., and Jayden Ballard in last weekend's scrimmage. Big things are expected from the trio, but Egbuka and Harrison Jr. already appear to be pushing for early playing time in the nation's deepest wide receiver room.

Listed as the country's No. 1 receiver prospect, Ohio State topped Oklahoma, Clemson, and plenty of others when Egbuka committed last December. It was the second year in a row that Hartline landed the nation's top player at the position. Julian Fleming held that honor back in the Class of 2020. Garrett Wilson was somehow rated No. 2 at the position in 2019.

For Harrison Jr., it was much quieter recruitment. He committed way back in October of 2019 and actually saw his stock fall a bit throughout the process. When all was said and done, he was listed at No. 14 at the position and No. 97 overall despite a number of big-time offers and solid prep stats. In his career, he recorded 2,625 receiving yards and 37 touchdowns while playing for Philadelphia's powerhouse St. Joseph's Prep program.

After arriving in January, Harrison Jr. became the first offensive player from the 2021 class to shed his black stripe. Egbuka did the same just one week later. When meeting with the media shortly before last Saturday's scrimmage, Hartline had good things to say about two of his newest wideouts. 

"They don't carry themselves like freshmen. They don't act like freshmen."

And then the spring game happened. 

Both of the true freshmen dazzled in front of actual fans at the Horseshoe. Egbuka was the game's leading receiver with seven catches for 123 yards. Harrison Jr. also lived up to the early hype with seven receptions of his own for 49 yards and a score. The quarterback battle is ongoing in Columbus, but so is the battle for playing time behind Hartline's two big-time veterans and new slot man Jaxon Smith-Njigba. 

Even with their spring surge, it's important to keep the expectations in line. Harrison Jr. is an outside receiver, which means he's dealing with Garrett Wilson ahead of him at the "X" and Jameson Williams also looking to maintain some sort of role as a junior. Harrison probably isn't quite as versatile as some of his fellow wideouts, though that obviously hasn't been too much of a hindrance thus far in his short career. It's also difficult to ignore the rapport he's already built as a long-time teammate of Kyle McCord.

If we're looking at which of the new wideouts will have the bigger role, I think Egbuka would probably get my vote. Both will certainly see the field, but the Washington native appears to be right behind Smith-Njigba in the slot and also has the flexibility to play on the outside. Will he be needed on the outside? Probably not. But that could always be an option late in games when the Buckeyes hold a comfortable lead and are looking to spice things up a bit. 

One unknown piece that will greatly impact the wideout puzzle is going to be Julian Fleming. While he may be a bit behind right now, Hartline made it clear that he's been battling through a shoulder injury and has only been operating at about 75 percent for a few years now. His combination of size and athleticism is scary, and now he just has to get healthy. Once that happens, Fleming's role would impact someone like Harrison Jr. more so than the slot wideouts. 

Hartline didn't get to do all that much rotating in 2020 in part due to the lack of development in the COVID-impacted spring and summer. He's made it pretty clear that it hurt the development of last season's newcomers, and a six- or seven-man rotation is likely this time around. It makes sense considering the sheer depth in the room, and it's tough to imagine Wilson and Olave collecting such a large percentage of targets as they did with Justin Fields at the helm. 

Emeka Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. both flashed this spring and their futures are extremely bright. We'll see which one of Ohio State's talented signees is in line for more action as the newest weapons in Brian Hartline's wide receiver room.

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