Only Three of Ohio State’s Nine 2023 Transfers Have Played Regularly This Season, But More Could Contribute Next Year

By Dan Hope on December 2, 2023 at 8:35 am
Davison Igbinosun

In Ryan Day’s first four years as Ohio State’s head coach, the vast majority of the Buckeyes’ transfer additions made an immediate impact in Columbus.

Ohio State’s three-man transfer class in 2019 yielded two immediate-impact players in Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Justin Fields and All-Big Ten left guard Jonah Jackson. Trey Sermon, Ohio State’s only scholarship transfer addition in 2020, became a star by the end of his lone season as a Buckeye, breaking Ohio State’s single-game rushing record in the Big Ten Championship Game. Among Ohio State’s five total transfer additions in 2021 and 2022, two of them played key roles right away (Noah Ruggles and Tanner McCalister) while Chip Trayanum became a contributor at running back by the end of his first year as a Buckeye after a midseason switch from linebacker.

From a total numbers standpoint, Ohio State has had as many immediate contributors among transfers this year as it’s ever had before with one starter each on offense, defense and special teams whom the Buckeyes added via the transfer portal over the past year. But those players made up only a third of the Buckeyes’ transfer additions ahead of the 2023 season who either have been on scholarship this year or are expected to be on scholarship next year.

While Davison Igbinosun, Josh Simmons and John Ferlmann have each started all 12 of Ohio State’s games this season, contributions from the Buckeyes’ other offseason transfer additions have been more sporadic, with a couple of them yet to play at all.

The lower percentage of immediate contributors among Ohio State’s 2023 transfer additions isn’t necessarily a surprise, given that the Buckeyes added three times as many transfers last offseason as they ever had before. Multiple members of the 2023 transfer class were brought in to be developmental prospects knowing they likely wouldn’t play a lot right away, while another – seventh-year senior quarterback Tristan Gebbia – was added strictly to provide depth and prepare for a future career in coaching.

With as many as seven of those nine transfers set to return for the 2024 season, though, Ohio State will certainly be hoping for more of them to become impact players next year. Whether or not the Buckeyes believe they will could play a part in shaping how they build out their transfer additions this upcoming offseason with the portal set to reopen Monday.

With that in mind, we look at how Ohio State’s nine transfer additions from last offseason fared during the regular season and what their roles could look like going forward if they remain with the Buckeyes.

Immediate Starters

CB Davison Igbinosun

The star of Ohio State’s 2023 transfer class, Igbinosun has played the most snaps of any defensive player this season (696) while starting every game at cornerback. He was expected to make an immediate impact for the Buckeyes after starting 10 games as a true freshman at Ole Miss, and he’s done exactly that, providing quality coverage as Ohio State’s No. 2 cornerback while also providing excellent play in run support as an eager tackler.

Assuming Denzel Burke enters the NFL draft, Igbinosun is in line to be Ohio State’s No. 1 cornerback next season. As long as he continues on his current trajectory, that’s a role he should be ready to handle.

LT Josh Simmons

It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention amid a disappointing season for the offensive line as a whole, but Simmons has been one of Ohio State’s most improved players over the course of the 2023 season. While he struggled early on with missed blocks and penalties, Simmons became a quiet bright spot up front for the Buckeyes by the end of the regular season, committing zero penalties and allowing only two quarterback pressures in the month of November, per Pro Football Focus.

Simmons had never played left tackle at the collegiate level before this year – he was San Diego State’s right tackle in 2022 – and has physical gifts that his Ohio State coaches and teammates have consistently raved about, so there’s reason to believe Simmons’ best football remains in front of him. While his improvement shouldn’t necessarily stop the Buckeyes from exploring tackle options in the transfer portal again this year, there’s reason for optimism about Simmons’ potential to be a standout for the Buckeyes at either left or right tackle in 2024.

Josh Simmons vs. Indiana
Josh Simmons has started all 12 of Ohio State’s games this season at left tackle.

LS John Ferlmann

Ferlmann has handled all of Ohio State’s long snaps in his first year with the Buckeyes after transferring in from Arizona State. He made one notable mistake against Maryland when he erroneously snapped the ball to Cody Simon, resulting in a turnover on downs on a play that was not supposed to be a fake punt, but has otherwise been solid in his first year with the Buckeyes. 

Ferlmann still has two remaining years of eligibility and will likely remain the Buckeyes’ starting long snapper in 2024.

Could Play Bigger Roles in Future

S Ja’Had Carter

The transfer who was expected to make the biggest impact that hasn’t ended up playing much this season is Carter, who seemed likely to be a plug-and-play starter after starting for three years at Syracuse. Instead, Carter has played only 122 defensive snaps in 2023 with most of that playing time coming in games that were already decided.

Ohio State initially planned for Carter to play nickel safety this season, but ended up rolling with a combination of Sonny Styles and Jordan Hancock at that position instead. Carter then competed for Ohio State’s starting free safety job in preseason camp, but the emergence of Josh Proctor kept Carter from seeing much playing time there.

That said, Carter still has another year of eligibility, giving him another chance to potentially start in Ohio State’s secondary in 2024. Proctor is out of eligibility after this season while Lathan Ransom is a candidate to enter the NFL draft.

Styles is likely to be the starting strong safety if Ransom goes pro, but the free safety job will be open for competition. Malik Hartford might enter spring as the frontrunner at that spot after impressing coaches as a freshman, but Carter’s starting experience should also make him a factor in that competition, especially if he can stay healthy after battling injuries throughout his first year in Columbus.

Ja'Had Carter
Ja’Had Carter has played less than expected in his first year as a Buckeye but should get another chance to compete for a starting safety job in 2024.

DT Tywone Malone

Malone, like Carter, came in with expectations to contribute more than he has in his first year as a Buckeye. While the expectation in preseason camp was that Malone would join Tyleik Williams, Mike Hall and Ty Hamilton in a four-man rotation at defensive tackle, Malone has ended up playing just 47 defensive snaps this season.

Jaden McKenzie started the year in front of Malone on the depth chart while Hero Kanu and Kayden McDonald seemingly both surpassed Malone by the end of the season, leaving the outlook murky for Malone’s role going forward. Larry Johnson has always liked having deep rotations on the defensive line, so Malone could have earned more snaps this season if Ohio State felt he belonged on the field more.

That said, Malone still has two more years of collegiate eligibility, and the Buckeyes will need other defensive tackles to step up if any of Williams, Hall or Hamilton enter the NFL draft. And Ryan Day said from the beginning that Ohio State brought in Malone, who also played only sparingly during his two years at Ole Miss while splitting time with the football and baseball teams, because of what it believed he could become over multiple years rather than to simply fill a hole this year.

“That was somebody that played baseball and football and then did a little bit of that going into college. We felt like if he just focused on football that he could play at a high level,” Day said at Big Ten Media Days in July. “That was an opportunity for us to go grab somebody who we think can be in the program for multiple years who can develop once he just focuses on football.”

CB Lorenzo Styles Jr.

Although Styles arrived at Ohio State with hopes of earning immediate playing time at cornerback, redshirting always seemed like the most logical scenario as he transitioned to playing on the opposite side of the ball following two seasons as a wide receiver at Notre Dame. That’s exactly what the Buckeyes ended up deciding to do with Styles, playing him in just four games during the regular season to preserve his two remaining seasons of collegiate eligibility.

While Styles hasn’t played any snaps at cornerback this season, he played on multiple special teams units in all four of his regular-season game appearances and drew praise for his play in that phase of the game, earning special teams player of the week honors after Ohio State’s season-opening win at Indiana. He figures to be a core special teamer throughout the season next year while he’ll also get the chance to compete for a bigger role at cornerback.

It’s hard to make any firm projections for what Styles’ role could be in the secondary before he’s even played a collegiate snap on defense, but he is expected to be among the cornerbacks competing for playing time next year following Burke’s likely departure. It’s not out of the question that Styles could even replace Burke in the starting lineup, though Jermaine Mathews Jr. is the probable frontrunner for that job after filling in impressively for Burke in multiple games this season.

LB Nigel Glover

Glover hasn’t played at all in his first year as a Buckeye, but there was never much expectation that he would after joining the team in August as a transfer from Northwestern. Effectively a late addition to Ohio State’s 2023 high school recruiting class as a true freshman, Glover was brought in as a developmental prospect who will still have all four years of eligibility remaining after redshirting this year.

Going into his redshirt freshman season, Glover will be among the linebackers looking to climb the depth chart and earn playing time on special teams. He’s not among the top candidates to replace Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers in next year’s starting lineup – Cody Simon will likely be one starter if he returns for his fifth year of eligibility, C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers look like the next men up after him and Ohio State could also look to bring in a ready-to-play veteran linebacker from this year’s transfer portal – but he has time to work his way into a bigger role in the future while providing depth in 2024.

One-Year Backups

QB Tristan Gebbia

Even though he’s six years older than Glover, Gebbia also did not play in any games during the regular season. Like with Glover, there was never much expectation that Gebbia would see playing time this year; the former Oregon State quarterback, who played only sparingly in his final two seasons with the Beavers due to injury, was brought in to provide a veteran presence in the unit and get the Buckeyes to their desired number of four scholarship quarterbacks.

Although Gebbia was never listed as out for any of Ohio State’s regular-season games, he seemingly dealt with an injury late in the season as he was only a limited participant during pregame warmups. Had he been fully available, Gebbia may have gotten the opportunity to play late in the year when Devin Brown was recovering from an ankle injury, but those reps ended up going to true freshman Lincoln Kienholz instead.

Even without playing any snaps, Gebbia’s year of learning from Ohio State’s coaches should benefit him going forward as he plans to pursue a coaching career after exhausting his eligibility this season.

C Victor Cutler Jr.

Cutler was brought in by Ohio State to compete for the starting center job, but he ended up playing only 21 offensive snaps during the regular season – all in the fourth quarter of games that were already decided – after losing the center competition to Carson Hinzman. While Hinzman has often looked this season like a player who could have used more time to develop before taking on a starting role, Ohio State never saw enough from Cutler to turn to him to play with the first-team offensive line.

The Louisiana-Monroe transfer could have stayed at Ohio State for another year but opted to reenter the portal as a graduate transfer. He didn’t appear likely to be a starter next season if he stuck around, so it’s hard to blame him for pursuing an opportunity to start elsewhere in his final year of collegiate eligibility.

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