Jayden Ballard Working On Consistency, Well-Rounded Gameplay As He Tries to Carve Out A Fourth-Year Role

By Andy Anders on May 29, 2024 at 8:35 am
Jayden Ballard

Entering his fourth season at Ohio State in a battle for significant playing time, Jayden Ballard would have been forgiven for moving on.

Instead, he’s remained steadfast. Ballard has drawn inspiration from former safety Josh Proctor, who needed six years to fully capitalize on his opportunity with the Buckeyes, and former wide receiver Xavier Johnson, who stuck with the program for the same amount of time while carving out a bigger role each season.

“I feel like I have a similar road to them,” Ballard said. “Been here for a long time. I redshirted, so I have two more years. So we'll see how this year goes, hopefully it goes good.”

With Emeka Egbuka, Carnell Tate, Brandon Inniss and Jeremiah Smith at the top of the Buckeyes’ receiver rotation, Ballard isn’t a make-or-break player for the team in 2024. But if he can assert himself as a receiver who deserves playing time in his fourth year in the program, it will be one more weapon for the offense and a payoff of the work he’s put in in Columbus.

"I think Jayden took a step here this last week," Ryan Day said after Ohio State’s spring game. "We've been challenging him. There's been a couple plays, one in particular. He needed to make some plays to say, 'Okay, I'm here, and you can count on me.' There was a really contested play in the red zone that he made. He made a big play on a post out here the other day. You're starting to see him make those plays."

Ballard has sat behind some superstars at the wide receiver position.

Chris Olave, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Garrett Wilson, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Egbuka have all rolled through and become elite wideouts for the Buckeyes. The first four all became first-round NFL draft picks, with Harrison winning the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football, and Egbuka has a solid chance to hear his name called on day one of next year’s draft.

Ballard, a composite top-100 prospect in his own right, has tried to remain patient while learning from those players and others. Now, he hopes that patience pays off with more playing time in 2024.

“Yeah, I think it'll be a good opportunity for me,” Ballard said. “Just since I've been with a lot of guys, came with a lot of guys, I was here with Chris, Jaxon, Garrett and obviously Marv and Emeka in my class. So just learning from them and building off that and keep stacking days.”

Among them, Ballard feels he is most similar to Olave, offering a similar physical skill set with great speed. While Ballard views himself as a deep-ball specialist, he’s been working on the other areas of his game.

“Route-wise, like speed coming off the ball,” Ballard said. “And then I feel like I have great ball skills, so really, that's really all I have.”

Alongside those route-running skills and his release, Ballard’s been trying to improve his physicality and down-to-down production.

“I'd say for me, what I've been working on is my toughness,” Ballard said. “And then continuing to be consistent. Obviously, like I said, working on my route tree more and just being more physical and tough.”

Ballard’s most productive season so far as a Buckeye came in 2022, when he caught eight passes for 155 yards with his first career touchdown.

2023 saw Ballard fail to record a single reception, however. He was Ohio State’s punt returner for part of the season, returning nine punts for 49 yards.

While Ballard still has another year of eligibility with which he could return to Ohio State in 2025, making some sort of substantial impact in 2024 feels like a need for his career trajectory.

Ballard’s role in the offense increased in practice settings this spring, with the Ohio native getting a bevy of first-team reps during practice windows open to the media and starting the team’s spring game. He played 26 snaps and caught two passes for seven yards in the spring-ending exhibition.

Going up against Ohio State’s secondary, which returns all three starting cornerbacks from the nation’s No. 1 passing defense a year ago, has helped Ballard hone his craft in practice.

“BIA, they get me better every day, they get the receiver room better every day,” Ballard said. “So it's always a competition and they've always been good. So there's never not a good DB. BIA is always top-notch.”

At a level of play closer to the ceiling of his potential, Ballard could offer a unique option within the Buckeyes’ receiving rotation. Getting there will require a big step forward, but if he can take the stride, he’s a dark-horse contender to make an impact in Ohio State’s still-star-studded group of receivers.

"With his deep speed down the field, he can really stretch the defense," Day said. "And so we're gonna need him to. And we did see things in the last couple of weeks (of spring) that led us to believe that he can."

View 44 Comments