Regardless of what bowl game Ohio State ends up playing in, the Buckeyes must also begin turning their attention toward filling out their 2024 roster.
The first transfer window for the 2024 offseason will open Monday, setting forth a wave of movement across college football as players who choose to leave their current teams look for new homes. Ohio State’s player personnel staff, led by general manager Mark Pantoni and college scouting coordinator Billy Homer, will be tasked with evaluating all of the top players who enter the transfer portal and consulting with Ohio State’s coaching staff on which players could be good additions to the Buckeyes’ roster.
Ohio State became more aggressive in the transfer portal in 2023 than it had been in past years, adding nine players across seven different position groups. That doesn’t mean the Buckeyes will add that many transfers this year, as they’re in line to sign a larger 2024 recruiting class (currently at 22 commits with the potential to add a few more) than they did in 2023 (20). But it does show the Buckeyes will be on the hunt for players who can fill holes on the roster or provide potential upgrades.
While the portal isn't officially open yet, it's already started to fill up with graduate transfers and players whose teams have made coaching changes, while other players who aren’t yet eligible to enter the portal have also begun announcing they will do so next week. It still might be too early to say exactly which players Ohio State should target, but we can take a look at the makeup of next year’s roster to identify which positions Ohio State has the most reason to pursue transfers at.
If the right player enters the portal, it’s certainly possible Ohio State could add a transfer at any position. And the Buckeyes’ specific roster needs will fluctuate over the next month based on which of their own players they lose to the transfer portal and/or the NFL draft. But based on which players we currently would and wouldn’t expect back with the Buckeyes in 2024, these are our current projections on which positions the Buckeyes are most likely to target, could target and are least likely to target in the transfer portal this offseason.
Ohio State could have as many as four returning starters on the offensive line next season if Donovan Jackson stays for his senior year, but that shouldn’t stop the Buckeyes from pursuing potential upgrades. The play up front simply hasn’t been consistent enough this season for Ohio State to be satisfied with the status quo.
Luke Montgomery and Tegra Tshabola are among the young offensive linemen already on the roster who are candidates to push the returning starters for jobs, but the Buckeyes should be vetting talented transfers with starting experience, too. There are already some intriguing potential targets in the portal, such as Indiana offensive tackle Carter Smith and Notre Dame center Zeke Correll (both Ohio natives), and more will surely enter over the next month.
Ohio State could potentially lose its entire starting defensive line with JT Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer, Tyleik Williams and Mike Hall all draft-eligible. Even if a couple of them return, Ohio State still has reason to explore reinforcements after seemingly not trusting its defensive line depth as much this season as it had in past seasons.
Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson are candidates to play bigger roles at defensive end next season, but there’s not a ton of depth behind them with Omari Abor already announcing his intention to enter the portal and only one defensive end (Eddrick Houston) currently committed to Ohio State’s 2024 recruiting class.
The likelihood of Ohio State pursuing a transfer defensive tackle also increased Wednesday when the Buckeyes lost the commitment of top-10 overall prospect Justin Scott. While Hero Kanu and Kayden McDonald have shown promise as young defensive tackles, there would be value in adding a veteran like Harvard’s Thor Griffith – an All-Ivy League defensive tackle who has already expressed interest in Ohio State – who could make an immediate impact in next season’s rotation.
Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers are not expected to return for their sixth year of eligibility while Cody Simon has not yet decided whether to stay for his fifth year of eligibility. If the Buckeyes lose all three, they will not return a single linebacker who has played more than 71 defensive snaps this season, leaving them with a dearth of experience at the position.
Should Simon return, Ohio State still has reason to look to bolster its depth here with only two other returning linebackers (C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers) who have played defensive snaps this season. Hicks and Powers should both be in line for bigger roles next year, and Ohio State is set to bring in a pair of four-star recruits (Payton Pierce and Garrett Stover) at a position where it typically uses only two players at a time. But the Buckeyes might be more comfortable with what they have at the second level of their defense if they can add a more proven commodity to the two-deep.
Assuming Cade Stover will enter the NFL draft rather than return for his extra year of eligibility, Ohio State won’t have much in the way of proven players returning at tight end. Gee Scott Jr. is the frontrunner to start next season while Jelani Thurman has high upside to be a breakout player, but Scott is the only tight end on the roster other than Stover who’s played upwards of 50 snaps this year.
In terms of sheer numbers, Ohio State doesn’t necessarily need to add a transfer tight end since its 2024 class includes a pair of four-star tight ends in Max LeBlanc and Damarion Witten. But the Buckeyes could use an experienced veteran to this unit, particularly one who excels as a run blocker.
Unless Lathan Ransom returns for his extra year of eligibility, Ohio State will lose both of its primary safeties from this season. Sonny Styles should start at one position or another while Malik Hartford and 2023 transfer Ja’Had Carter are candidates to join him in the starting lineup, but adding another veteran safety to provide more stability warrants consideration.
No other expected-to-return safety besides Styles, Hartford or Carter has played more than 28 snaps this season, so depth at safety is a question mark – especially if the Buckeyes want to continue playing Styles at nickel or even linebacker at times, which would require having at least three starting-caliber deep safeties on the roster.
While there have been suggestions that Ohio State should add a transfer quarterback, I’d remain surprised if the Buckeyes actually do. That’s not to say Kyle McCord is guaranteed to start next season, but that Ohio State already has three talented quarterbacks to compete with him in Devin Brown, Lincoln Kienholz and incoming freshman Air Noland.
Bringing in a quarterback to compete for the starting job could upset the Buckeyes’ current quarterback roster, so it would only make sense if a passer enters the portal that Ohio State views as a clear upgrade over the quarterbacks it already has. If Ohio State believes in the quarterbacks it already has, its main goal will be to keep all of them on the roster, as Ryan Day has said he views four scholarship quarterbacks as an ideal number.
With TreVeyon Henderson likely to enter the NFL draft, whether Ohio State seeks a transfer running back could hinge on whether Chip Trayanum and/or Miyan Williams opt to return for their fifth seasons of eligibility.
If both or even one of them return, Ohio State would have a well-stocked running back room with Dallan Hayden figuring to play a bigger role next season and a trio of incoming freshmen in James Peoples, Jordan Lyle and Sam Williams-Dixon. Should they depart, however, Ohio State would have reason to consider adding a veteran to the unit.
On paper, Ohio State has reason to consider adding a transfer receiver. The Buckeyes could lose their top four wide receivers from this season with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka likely to enter the 2024 NFL draft, Julian Fleming being a senior and Xavier Johnson exhausting his eligibility.
That said, Ohio State has never added a transfer wide receiver since Brian Hartline became the Buckeyes’ wide receivers coach. He hasn’t needed to because of his high school recruiting, and Ohio State has another loaded wide receiver coming with five-star recruits Jeremiah Smith and Mylan Graham and four-star recruit Jeremiah McClellan set to join a promising 2023 class that includes at least two likely starters next season in Carnell Tate and Brandon Inniss.
Ohio State would certainly be an appealing destination for transfer receivers if Hartline decides to break from precedent, but it would take either an elite talent or someone who’s comfortable coming in as a role player rather than as an expected starter.
Even though Denzel Burke is likely to enter the NFL draft, Ohio State doesn’t seem likely to be in the market for a transfer cornerback. Davison Igbinosun isn’t yet draft-eligible, fellow 2023 transfer Lorenzo Styles Jr. is a candidate to play a bigger role next season after redshirting this year, Jermaine Mathews Jr. looks ready to push for a starting job and fellow current freshman Calvin Simpson-Hunt also appears to be on a trajectory toward more playing time next year.
If Burke is the only departure from the cornerback room this offseason, Ohio State would have 10 scholarship cornerbacks on its roster next year with the impending arrivals of Aaron Scott Jr., Bryce West and Miles Lockhart. Ohio State could benefit from adding an experienced nickel cornerback if Jordan Hancock goes pro, but that’s the only real reason the Buckeyes would need to add another CB via the portal.