Resetting Ohio State’s Depth Chart Entering the Cotton Bowl

By Dan Hope on December 26, 2023 at 12:18 pm
Devin Brown vs. Youngstown State

With 14 Ohio State players in the transfer portal since the end of the regular season, the Buckeyes’ depth chart will look different at numerous positions in the Cotton Bowl than it did in the regular season.

Some of those changes are major, such as at quarterback and wide receiver, where Kyle McCord and Julian Fleming are no longer with the team after starting all 12 of the Buckeyes’ regular-season games and Marvin Harrison Jr. also appears unlikely to play in the Cotton Bowl as he prepares for the 2024 NFL draft.

Other changes may only be impactful if the Buckeyes need to play deep into their depth chart against Missouri.

Either way, Ohio State’s depth chart will look at least a little bit different at most position groups because of the players who were with the team all season but won’t be playing for the Buckeyes in the season finale.

With that in mind, we’re taking an updated look at how Ohio State’s depth chart is likely to stack up for its final game of the season based on who’s still on the roster and who’s expected to play in the game.


1. Devin Brown
2. Lincoln Kienholz
3. Tristan Gebbia

Thanks to McCord’s departure from Ohio State, Brown will become the first-ever Ohio State quarterback to make his first career start in a bowl game.

While Kienholz is expected to compete with Brown for the starting quarterback job next season, all indications leading up to the Cotton Bowl have been that Brown will play the entire game against Missouri unless he suffers an injury or the game turns into a blowout.

Kienholz will serve as Brown’s top backup for the game. Gebbia, who did not play any snaps during the regular season and will be out of eligibility after the Cotton Bowl, is unlikely to play against Missouri except in an emergency.

Running Back

1. TreVeyon Henderson
2. Dallan Hayden
3. Xavier Johnson

Henderson does not appear to be planning to opt out of the Cotton Bowl, which makes him likely to see the lion’s share of the running back workload as he did most of the year when healthy.

Hayden, who played in only three games during the regular season to preserve his redshirt, moves up to the No. 2 spot on the running back depth chart following Chip Trayanum’s entrance into the transfer portal. That should lead to some action for Hayden spelling Henderson against Missouri.

Johnson is also a candidate to be in the running back rotation in his final game as a Buckeye. While Johnson primarily plays wide receiver, he has mixed in at running back over the past two seasons when Ohio State has been shorthanded at RB; Henderson and Hayden are the only scholarship running backs available for the Cotton Bowl since Trayanum and Evan Pryor both transferred, and Miyan Williams is out with a season-ending knee injury.

Wide Receiver (X)

1. Carnell Tate
2. Jayden Ballard
3. Kojo Antwi

Wide Receiver (Z)

1. Emeka Egbuka
2. Noah Rogers
3. David Adolph

Wide Receiver (Slot)

1. Xavier Johnson
2. Brandon Inniss
3. Bryson Rodgers

With Harrison not expected to play and Fleming in the transfer portal, Tate and Johnson – the first two receivers off the bench during the regular season – are likely to take their places in the starting lineup alongside Egbuka at wide receiver. While Egbuka has played primarily in the slot this season, he could move outside for the Cotton Bowl to allow for Johnson to start in the slot – where Inniss could also be a candidate to see playing time to help prepare him for a potential starting role next year.

Ballard, who played only 52 snaps during the regular season, is another receiver who could potentially be in line for increased playing time as the likely first receiver off the bench outside. Rogers, who played 14 snaps across four games during the regular season, probably won’t be in the first-team rotation but is in line to move into the two-deep for the final game of the season.

Carnell Tate
Carnell Tate is in line to make his first career start in the Cotton Bowl.

Tight End

1. Cade Stover
2. Gee Scott Jr.
3. Patrick Gurd

Assuming Stover plays in the Cotton Bowl, Ohio State’s three-deep at tight end is likely to be the same as it was to end the regular season. Stover is likely to play the majority of snaps in one-tight end formations with Scott joining him in two-tight end formations and occasionally spelling him in the base offense, while Gurd could also mix in for some snaps in multi-tight end packages.

Ohio State could also work Jelani Thurman into the tight end rotation against Missouri to give him more experience and prepare him to play a bigger role next season, but it’s probably more likely the Buckeyes will lean on the tight ends who have been playing with the first-team offense all year.

Left Tackle

1. Josh Simmons
2. Zen Michalski
3. George Fitzpatrick

Left Guard

1. Donovan Jackson
2. Tegra Tshabola
3. Austin Siereveld


1. Carson Hinzman
2. Matt Jones
3. Joshua Padilla

Right Guard

1. Matt Jones
2. Enokk Vimahi
3. Toby Wilson

Right Tackle

1. Josh Fryar
2. Luke Montgomery
3. Trey Leroux

Ohio State is unlikely to make any changes to its starting offensive line against Missouri given that the front five of Simmons, Jackson, Hinzman, Jones and Fryar have played the vast majority of snaps with the first-team offense all year and all of them are available for the Cotton Bowl.

While Jones will start at right guard, he’s also in line to be the next man up at center behind Hinzman after Victor Cutler Jr. and Jakob James both entered the transfer portal. The rest of the second-team offensive line remains unchanged with Vimahi likely to be the first man off the bench at guard and Montgomery in position to be the first offensive tackle off the bench if needed.

Defensive End

1. JT Tuimoloau
2. Kenyatta Jackson Jr.
3. Mitchell Melton

Defensive End

1. Jack Sawyer
2. Caden Curry
3. Joshua Mickens

Tuimoloau and Sawyer have played the majority of snaps at defensive end and Jackson and Curry have been the only other defensive ends to see regular work in the rotation this season, and that’s unlikely to change in the Cotton Bowl. 

Melton remains fifth in the defensive end pecking order, while Mickens rounds out the three-deep following Omari Abor’s transfer to SMU.

Defensive Tackle

1. Tyleik Williams
2. Hero Kanu
3. Jaden McKenzie

Defensive Tackle

1. Mike Hall Jr.
2. Ty Hamilton
3. Kayden McDonald

Defensive tackle is one of the only positions where Ohio State hasn’t yet lost a player to the transfer portal since the end of the regular season, so the Buckeyes’ interior defensive line should be fully stocked for the season finale.

Wiliams, Hall and Hamilton are the only defensive tackles who have played more than 100 snaps for Ohio State this season, so they’re likely to see most of the work once again vs. Missouri. Kanu and McDonald are the defensive tackles who have flashed the most this season beyond those three, so they’re the most likely DTs to join the rotation if the Buckeyes decide to play more depth in the Cotton Bowl.

Linebacker (Will)

1. Steele Chambers
2. C.J. Hicks
3. Arvell Reese

Linebacker (Mike)

1. Tommy Eichenberg
2. Cody Simon
3. Gabe Powers

Chambers and Eichenberg are set to lead Ohio State’s linebacker rotation for one final game against Missouri before both fifth-year seniors move on to the NFL, though Jim Knowles said Tuesday that Eichenberg’s status for the Cotton Bowl remains “up in the air” due to the arm injury he suffered in November. Simon remains in position to be the first player off the bench at both linebacker spots as he has been all season and will likely see a significant share of snaps in the rotation as well.

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Ohio State to work Hicks into the linebacker rotation as he prepares for a potential move up into the starting lineup next season. Still, it’s more likely the Buckeyes will lean on their top three veterans in their final game of the year, given that Hicks has played only with the second-team defense so far.

Powers would be the fifth man up at linebacker, while the three-deep could be rounded out by one of two true freshmen – Reese or Nigel Glover – following Reid Carrico’s transfer to West Virginia.


1. Denzel Burke
2. Calvin Simpson-Hunt
3. Lorenzo Styles Jr.


1. Davison Igbinosun
2. Jermaine Mathews Jr.
3. Jordan Hancock


1. Jordan Hancock
2. Denzel Burke
3. Jermaine Mathews Jr.

Ohio State’s starting lineup at cornerback remains unchanged for the Cotton Bowl, with Burke and Igbinosun manning the two outside spots and Hancock starting at nickelback.

The depth chart behind them has thinned out with the transfer departures of Jyaire Brown, Ryan Turner and Cameron Martinez, but Mathews was in line to be the first cornerback off the bench anyway while Simpson-Hunt impressed coaches when he got opportunities to play late in the regular season.

Ohio State’s nickel depth is the biggest question mark in the secondary depth chart following the transfer portal departures. Against an opponent that features one of college football’s best slot receivers in Luther Burden III, it could make sense for the Buckeyes to move Burke inside if it needs anyone other than Hancock to play slot corner. While Sonny Styles was Ohio State’s starting nickel for the first half of the regular season, he will be starting at strong safety since Lathan Ransom remains sidelined by injury and Ohio State will want to have three cornerbacks on the field for most plays in this matchup.

Free Safety

1. Josh Proctor
2. Malik Hartford
3. Brenten “Inky” Jones

Strong Safety

1. Sonny Styles
2. Ja’Had Carter
3. Jayden Bonsu

Proctor and Styles are likely to play the vast majority of snaps at the two deep safety spots with Ransom out. Either Hartford or Carter could theoretically be the first safety off the bench at either spot, but they’re the only other safeties likely to see playing time against Missouri after Martinez and Kye Stokes entered the portal.

Jones, a walk-on who has played only on special teams, is the only other safety on the roster who’s seen any playing time this year.

Sonny Styles
Sonny Styles is in line to make his fifth consecutive start at strong safety in place of Lathan Ransom in the Cotton Bowl.


1. Jayden Fielding
2. Austin Snyder
3. Casey Magyar

Parker Lewis’ departure for the transfer portal leaves Fielding as the only kicker on the roster who’s kicked in a game for the Buckeyes. Snyder, who was on the travel roster during the regular season, would presumably be the next man up at kicker if anything happened to Fielding.


1. Jesse Mirco
2. Joe McGuire
3. Austin Snyder

Long Snapper

1. John Ferlmann
2. Max Lomonico
3. Collin Johnson

Mirco and Ferlmann are the only punter and long snapper who have seen action for Ohio State this season and that will likely continue to be the case in the Cotton Bowl.

Kick Returner

1. Xavier Johnson
2. Carnell Tate
3. Lorenzo Styles Jr.

Johnson should continue to handle kickoff return duties as the Cotton Bowl as he has all season. It’s uncertain who would be next in line behind him, as Trayanum lined up as the secondary kickoff returner during the regular season, but Tate was seen returning kicks in practice during the offseason while Styles has experience as a kick returner from his two years at Notre Dame as a wide receiver.

Punt Returner

1. Emeka Egbuka
2. Jayden Ballard
3. Brandon Inniss

Egbuka retook punt return duties from Ballard for the Michigan game and will presumably continue as punt returner in the Cotton Bowl after Ballard had some issues fielding punts during his time filling in for Egbuka in that role. Inniss is another option to return punts as he has seen late-game reps in that capacity in multiple games, but Ohio State will likely prefer to deploy a more experienced returner against Missouri.

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