Emeka Egbuka Eager to Lead Ohio State’s Receiver Room, Play Both Outside and Inside in Final Season As Buckeye

By Dan Hope on May 17, 2024 at 8:35 am
Emeka Egbuka
Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch/USA TODAY Network

If anyone needed a reminder of how good Emeka Egbuka can be when healthy, the senior wide receiver provided it in the Buckeyes’ spring game.

In just three drives of action, Egbuka caught four passes for 47 yards, providing the highlight of the entire scrimmage when he made a spectacular one-handed catch on an 18-yard throw from Will Howard.

For those who had the opportunity to watch Egbuka all spring, the spring game was far from the only evidence of how good he can be.

“Emeka has reminded me in the other 14 practice sessions of what he can do,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Chip Kelly said after the spring game. “Special player.”

Although Egbuka is widely considered to be one of the best wide receivers in college football entering the 2024 season, the most hyped wide receiver in Columbus this offseason has been true freshman Jeremiah Smith. Being overshadowed by another elite talent in his unit is nothing new for Egbuka, as Marvin Harrison Jr. drew most of the accolades among Ohio State wide receivers for the last two years.

That said, Egbuka is primed to be the leader of Ohio State’s pass-catching corps this year. As the only wideout on the roster with more than 18 career catches, Egbuka is expected to be a go-to target for whoever emerges as Ohio State’s starting quarterback this season.

Egbuka is embracing the opportunity to take on more leadership responsibility this season, though he’s made an effort to be a leader throughout his Ohio State career.

“I've always felt like a leader ever since I was growing up,” Egbuka said this spring. “The leadership role is something that I feel a lot of pride about in any area of my life. But something I'm so passionate about such as football, I feel even more drive to be a leader. So being that I'm the older guy in my fourth year, I have a lot of experience on the field. I'm just trying to pass down that knowledge that I've acquired and accumulated over these last four years. Kind of just keep the track record of Zone 6 that we have going.”

Egbuka could have joined Harrison in leaving Ohio State after three years and been an early-round pick in the 2024 NFL draft, but he decided that another year as a Buckeye would be the best move for his future. While he entered last season as a projected first-round pick, he ended up with only 41 receptions for 515 yards and four touchdowns as he was plagued for much of the year by a high-ankle sprain that he suffered in OSU’s fifth game of the season against Maryland.

Back to full health this spring, Egbuka looked again like the player who caught 74 passes for 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2022. A 2024 season like that – or better, which is certainly possible now that he’ll be Ohio State’s No. 1 receiver – could put Egbuka in the thick of the conversation to be the first wide receiver drafted in 2025.

Egbuka can also bolster his draft stock by showcasing increased versatility in his senior season. While Egbuka has played primarily in the slot for the past two years, he started his career at OSU as an outside receiver and is expected to move around more this season, which he believes will be beneficial both for his preparation to play in the NFL and for Ohio State’s offense this season.

“Coming into college, I'd never played the slot before. I was always outside growing up. So it felt natural to me going back there for the Cotton Bowl,” said Egbuka, who arrived at OSU as the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2021 recruiting class. “I just feel like if you get the ball in my hands on the outside quickly, I feel very confident with the ball in my hands and my ability to gain yards after the catch. And on the outside, you even have more of a mismatch because you're not matched up with linebackers and safeties. You're typically lined up with corners who are smaller in frame, not as great of tacklers. So I feel like just having that YAC ability on the outside has a huge potential for X plays.”

Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline says he plans to move Egbuka around more this season because of the flexibility it gives OSU in creating receiver lineups. While Smith and Carnell Tate are the frontrunners to start outside if Egbuka starts in the slot, Brandon Inniss is also expected to see significant playing time in the slot this season, where Tate also saw action last year and could continue to play some of his snaps this year.

As long as Egbuka stays healthy this year, though, it’s unlikely anyone will play more snaps across those lineups than the 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior, whose combination of explosiveness, shiftiness and strength makes him a tough matchup for any defense no matter where he lines up. And the development of Ohio State’s other slot receivers could open up more possibilities for how OSU utilizes Egbuka this season.

“He's capable of doing whatever you want to get done,” Hartline said. “I think it's the growth of Brandon, the growth of Bryson (Rodgers) that's really allowing my mind to say, ‘Hey, Mek, be prepared. You're gonna move around a lot. You're gonna come out of that slot. You're gonna be outside. We're gonna create mismatches out there.’ I mean, his ability to move around is critical. Because I would say between Mek and between Carnell Tate’s ability to move around a lot, it's gonna provide a lot of flexibility for our room.”

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