2022 Season Preview: Key Players, Breakout Candidates and Expectations for the Ohio State Offense

By Griffin Strom on August 27, 2022 at 8:35 am
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, C.J. Stroud
Adam Cairns – Columbus Dispatch

Ryan Day’s been consistent in his stance on the Buckeye offense this offseason.

Despite the unit’s presumed success in the season to come, it hasn’t proven anything yet.

It sure feels like it has, though, given the key players returning and the up-and-coming talent that will have a chance to carry the mantle for a high-octane offense that led the nation in points and yards per game last season. With C.J. Stroud leading the way and the embarrassment of riches he has for a supporting cast, greatness is the standard by which the Buckeyes will be measured in 2022.

As Eleven Warriors continues its preview of the rapidly approaching campaign, we’re delving into why the Buckeye offense promises to be one of the top groups in the nation once again this year.

From Ohio State’s foremost stars to its potential breakout candidates, the expectations and the biggest unknowns, here’s an in-depth look at the scarlet and gray offense before the 2022 season starts in a week’s time.

Three Most Important Players

C.J. Stroud (QB)

Ohio State’s starting quarterback hadn’t even attempted a pass at the college level entering last season. Stroud wound up 4,435 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions while completing 71.9 percent of his passes by the end of his redshirt freshman season, setting multiple Buckeye records en route to a fourth-place finish for the Heisman Trophy. Even with reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young returning for the Crimson Tide, Stroud is the preseason frontrunner to take home the award this season per many oddsmakers, and for good reason. The question isn’t whether or not Stroud will be elite in 2022, but by what margin he’ll be able to outdo his sensational first season under center.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR)

Even with two first-round NFL draft picks as stablemates, Smith-Njigba finished his sophomore season with 25 more catches and nearly 600 more receiving yards than the next-best Buckeye. This year, the Texas native enters the year as the top dog in Brian Hartline’s position room, with many viewing him as the favorite for the Biletnikoff Award and potentially the top wideout in the 2023 NFL draft. Smith-Njigba already set the single-game and single-season records for both receptions and receiving yards by the end of 2021, and as perhaps the focal point of the Buckeye pass attack from day one, he might just surpass those in his third season.

TreVeyon Henderson (RB)

It’s easy to forget Henderson was a just true freshman last season. The highly touted high school prospect looked like a vet as he set an all-time record for first-year Buckeyes with 19 total touchdowns, and Henderson was second in the nation in yards per carry (6.8) among players with at least 150 carries. With another full offseason under his belt, Henderson figures to be frightening for opposing defenses in his second year. Unlike last season, Henderson will start the year as Ohio State’s starter from the get-go, which should only buoy his stat totals and chances at end-of-season awards as he spearheads the Buckeye run game.

What’s Changed

The Buckeyes lose five starters from their 2021 offense as Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Thayer Munford and Jeremy Ruckert all moved on to the NFL this offseason. Given the talent on the Ohio State roster, though, it hardly feels like the Buckeyes will struggle to replace any of them. 

At wideout, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming were all top-15 recruits at their position coming out of high school. Up front, first-year full-time starting guard Matt Jones has already garnered plenty of experience in his previous four seasons as a Buckeye, and Donovan Jackson was a top-20 prospect in the nation in the 2021 cycle. Paris Johnson Jr. will debut at left tackle in place of Petit-Frere, but the five-star recruit may be even better at his natural position than he was as a starting guard for the Buckeyes last year. Ruckert’s understudy at tight end last year, Cade Stover, will step in as the starter in 2022, possessing ample ability as a blocker even if he sees fewer targets than his predecessor in the passing game.

While the Buckeyes’ defensive coaching staff made sweeping changes over the offseason, Ohio State made just one switch on offense, bringing in former UCLA offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Justin Frye to replace Greg Studrawa. The Buckeyes’ biggest weakness on offense was its inability to dominate in the run game during key moments in big games, and Frye has the task of changing that in 2022. The jury is out on whether or not he can get the job done in that regard, but early returns from Day and the Buckeye offensive linemen have all been positive when it comes to Frye’s first seven months in scarlet and gray.

Biggest Unknowns

Offensive Line Depth

The Buckeyes’ starting five up front is a formidable one. Johnson and Dawand Jones both made preseason All-American teams at tackle, Jackson and Jones appear primed for big seasons inside and Luke Wypler was Ohio State’s snaps leader on offense as a first-year starter at center. But an injury to a key player could spell trouble for the Buckeyes. Day has made no bones about his concerns in that department, as Josh Fryar, Enokk Vimahi and Zen Michalski might be the three top options as reserves for the unit. None of those three ranked inside the top 120 players in the country as recruits, and none of the Buckeyes’ backup offensive linemen have seen considerable playing time at the collegiate level.

Short-Yardage Run Game

Kevin Wilson gave Buckeye fans cause for concern when he told media members Ohio State’s short-yardage run game is “not what it needs to be” following its first preseason scrimmage in August. Ohio State managed just 64 rushing yards on 30 carries in its loss to Michigan last November, and the Buckeyes barely cracked four yards per attempt against Oregon in its Week 2 loss. There’s no question Ohio State has all the requisite talent at running back and on the offensive line, but in order to take some pressure off Stroud and the pass attack, the Buckeyes need to be able to run the ball between the tackles effectively when it matters most in order to turn those two regular-season losses into wins this year.

Tight End Depth

Stover is solidified as TE1 for Wilson and company, but he can’t shoulder the load alone. Wilson surprised some by naming Mitch Rossi – a former walk-on and fullback hybrid in years past – as the second tight end and one of the top 14 or 15 players on the Buckeye offense in general. That indicates Joe Royer and Gee Scott Jr. still haven’t quite rounded out their skill sets enough for Wilson to trust them with a spot on the two-deep, despite fans’ expectations. At 6-foot-1, Rossi doesn’t have the typical build of a top tight end at Ohio State, but perhaps he’ll fill his role just fine if Wilson’s praise proves true.

Three Breakout Candidates

Marvin Harrison Jr. (WR)

Harrison already has a breakout moment under his belt as a Buckeye, as the 6-foot-4 wideout hauled in three touchdowns during Ohio State’s Rose Bowl win. That was his first chance to see the field without Wilson and Olave taking snaps away from him, which makes his prospects of a star-turning sophomore season all the greater in 2022. Even with Smith-Njigba presumably seeing the bulk of Stroud’s targets, there will be plenty of balls to grab without the aforementioned Buckeye receivers returning, and Harrison has been the consensus pick to be the second-most productive Ohio State pass catcher this season.

Donovan Jackson (LG)

Jackson’s athletic prowess has been lauded ad nauseam by Buckeye coaches and teammates over the course of his short college career. As a first-year starter at guard, he’ll have the chance to show it off in 2022. The five-star prospect has shown so much promise that he even cross-trained as the Buckeyes’ backup left tackle during the spring when Fryar and Michalski dealt with injury issues. Ohio State found creative ways to get Jackson on the field as a freshman, occasionally inserting him into the game as a tight end, but the Texas native won’t have to worry about fighting for snaps this season.

Miyan Williams (RB)

Given what Williams has done with limited opportunities to this point, Ohio State would likely be just fine at the top of its running back depth chart even if Henderson wasn’t on the team. The three-star recruit exploded for 125 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries in the Buckeyes’ 2021 season opener, and finished the year with an average of 7.2 yards per carry despite being usurped by Henderson as Ohio State’s starter. Should he stay healthy, Williams will see a higher workload as Henderson’s backup this season, and more chances should result in several highlight moments for the Cincinnati native in his third season.

Freshman to Watch 

Dallan Hayden (RB)

Had Evan Pryor not suffered a season-ending injury earlier this month, Hayden would not have been my selection as Ohio State’s freshman to watch. But the first-year running back appears to be making the most of his opportunities as Tony Alford’s third option. Day’s been “very impressed” with Hayden since Pryor’s injury and said “if he continues to grow, we're gonna trust putting him in the game.” Henderson and Williams both dealt with injury issues last season, which means Hayden could see snaps in big spots for the Buckeyes as a true freshman.


Ohio State finished 2021 with the No. 1 total and scoring offense in the country. As difficult as it may seem to duplicate those metrics, there’s no reason why the Buckeyes can’t in 2022. The Buckeyes just might have the nation’s best quarterback, wide receiver and running back all under the same roof at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, and four of their offensive linemen started multiple games last year – if not the entire season. If Ohio State fails to take home championship hardware in 2022, it shouldn't be because of its offense, unless it vastly underperforms the lofty expectations that have been placed on it universally.

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