Skull Session: Seven Buckeyes Rank As PFF's Top Returners for 2023, Ryan Day Receives a Grade After Four Years at Ohio State and a Look at Buckeyes at NFL Rookie Minicamp

By Chase Brown on May 15, 2023 at 5:00 am
Emeka Egbuka

Welcome to the Skull Session.

I hope everyone had a fantastic Mother's Day.

 THE BEST OF THE BEST. By now, many of you know about my love-hate relationship with Pro Football Focus. Sometimes PFF features breakdowns and statistics that can't be found at other news organizations, which makes me love it. Other times, PFF ranks Ryan Day outside the top 20 head coaches or C.J. Stroud as the fourth-best quarterback behind Bryce Young, Caleb Williams and... Spencer Rattler, which makes me hate it.

Today, however, is one where I love it.

It's the offseason, and college football content is scarce. Luckily, the folks over at PFF hooked me up with some when they ranked the top 10 returning players at every position for the 2023 college football season. The collection of lists featured seven Buckeyes, including Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, Miyan Williams, Cade Stover, Donovan Jackson, JT Tuimoloau and Tommy Eichenberg.

Here is a look at where PFF ranked each player at their position and what the analysts wrote about each of them as it counts down to August:

Marvin Harrison Jr. (No. 1 wide receiver)

He may not have won the Biletnikoff Award, but Harrison was the best receiver in college football this past season. Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison’s son was both the highest-graded and most valuable wide receiver in the country in 2022, according to PFF’s wins above-average metric. Against single coverage, the sophomore’s 878 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns led all FBS wide receivers. 

Emeka Egbuka (No. 2 wide receiver)

It remains to be seen who will take over as Ohio State’s next quarterback after C.J. Stroud, but whoever it is will be throwing to the two best receivers in the nation. Outside of Marvin Harrison Jr., Egbuka was the most valuable Power Five wide receiver last year, according to PFF’s wins above average metric. Only Harrison tallied more receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last year than Egbuka among returning Power Five receivers. Egbuka’s 2.98 yards per route run ranked third in that same group, as well.

Miyan Williams (No. 8 running back)

TreVeyon Henderson burst onto the scene in 2021 as a true freshman at Ohio State, rushing for 1,248 yards and 15 touchdowns. While he missed five games this past season with a foot injury, Williams took the reins as the top back for the Buckeyes. Among Power Five running backs, Williams ranked fourth in forced missed tackle rate (38%), yards after contact per attempt (4.4) and combined first down and touchdown rate (38.3%). It’s up in the air who’ll be Ohio State’s RB1 next season, but Williams earned his place here for his performance in 2022.

Cade Stover (No. 7 tight end)

Unlike (Stanford’s Benjamin) Yurosek, Stover has no such issues as a run blocker. He made five big-time blocks this past season (PFF’s highest-graded blocks), which was tied for fourth among Power Five tight ends. Working against Stover as a receiver is the fact that he plays with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, the two best returning wide receivers in college football. He still impressed as a pass catcher, though, as his 110 receiving yards after contact ranked 11th among Power Five tight ends.

Donovan Jackson (No. 9 interior offensive lineman)

Jackson was a top-15 recruit coming out of the 2021 class according to On3 Sports’ consensus ratings. The sophomore began to live up to the hype this year in his first season as a starter. His 76.7 grade was a top-10 mark among Power Five guards this year while his nine big-time blocks were tied for sixth.

JT Tuimoloau (No. 6 defensive end)

If you want to see what Tuimoloau is capable of, turn on his tape against Penn State. In that contest, the sophomore earned a career-high 93.5 grade while recording two sacks, two interceptions (one of which he returned for a touchdown), a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, a tackle for loss, a batted pass and three pressures. He’ll need to improve his consistency as a run-defender though, as the former top-five recruit only earned a 59.8 grade in that area. 

Tommy Eichenberg (No. 3 linebacker)

Eichenberg was a PFF first-team All-American this past season and is the most valuable returning linebacker according to PFF’s wins above-average metric. The redshirt junior is a dominant run-stuffer, as his 49 run-defense stops in 2022 ranked second among all linebackers in the country while his 20 tackles for loss/no-gain were tied for third.

And that's all, folks.

I want to think TreVeyon Henderson sits somewhere outside the top 10 as 2023 approaches. As the analysts explained, he was a freshman phenom but was limited last season due to a torn ligament in his foot. I'm excited to see what Ohio State's backfield looks like this fall with Williams, Henderson, Chip Trayanum, Dallan Hayden and Evan Pryor in the mix. I think the word dangerous comes to mind for me.

As for other "snubs," for lack of a better word, I'm not sure the list is too deep. Lathan Ransom was a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist at one point last season, so he'd probably be worthy of a nomination. I think Mike Hall Jr. will be one of the top 10 defensive tackles next season, but, like Henderson, he was limited due to an undisclosed ailment last season.

At any rate, Ohio State's roster for next season is stacked. If the Buckeyes can beat Michigan, the Big Ten title and College Football Playoff title will be ripe for the taking. As always, it's championship or bust in Columbus.

 REPORT CARD SZN. Like him or not, and I assume most Ohio State fans are in the former category than the latter, Ryan Day is one of the best coaches in college football – undoubtedly below Alabama's Nick Saban and Georgia's Kirby Smart, but one of the top names in the second tier.

After four seasons as the leader of the Buckeyes, he's amassed a 45-6 record with two Big Ten titles, three CFP berths and one appearance in the national championship. That's impressive for any head coach, let alone one with no previous experience in the role, not even at a lower-level program. When reflecting on Day's career at Ohio State, that last fact is important to remember. The New Hampshire native was a career-long position coach and coordinator before he ascended the ladder in Columbus.

When Urban Meyer anointed Day as Ohio State's next head coach, it was a head-scratcher for many, including CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli, who believed Gene Smith and Co. should have made a run at other candidates, even those employed at other schools.

Still, as Fornelli looked back at the 2018-19 college football coaching carousel last week, he admitted he was wrong about Day, ranking him as the best hire of the class, which included Chris Klieman to Kansas State, Mack Brown to North Carolina and Mike Locksley to Maryland. Here is how Fornelli assessed Day in 2023:

Ryan Day, Ohio State

Record: 45-6 | Accomplishments: College Football Playoff berths (3), Big Ten titles (2)

This is trickier to grade than it should be. You can't ignore that Ohio State has gone 45-6 under Day and appeared in the College Football Playoff in three of his four seasons. The Buckeyes reached the title game in 2020 and nearly knocked off Georgia in an all-time classic last season. At the same time, Ohio State has lost two straight to Michigan with both losses preventing the Buckeyes from winning the Big Ten title. Losing to Michigan doesn't play well around Columbus. Still, 45-6, man. 45-6.

Grade: A- / Original Grade: C

While most Ohio State fans believe Day is one of the best coaches in the sport, I think everyone can agree that if Day doesn't beat Michigan in 2023, it doesn't matter where he stands in the national coaching tiers; it would be hard to defend him around these parts. "Losing to Michigan doesn't play well in Columbus," Fornelli wrote, and that's on the nose.

So, in a similar fashion to how I closed the last section, Day and Ohio State must beat Michigan. If the Buckeyes do that, all other accomplishments will be theirs for the taking.

 HEY ROOKIE! WELCOME TO THE NFL. NFL rookie minicamps started over the weekend, and the latest class of former Ohio State football players have made their first impressions on their new coaches and potential teammates.

C.J. Stroud (Houston Texans), Paris Johnson Jr. (Arizona Cardinals), Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Seattle Seahawks), Zach Harrison (Atlanta Falcons), Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler (Cleveland Browns) all reported to their respective camps as draftees.

Additionally, Cameron Brown (Los Angeles Chargers), Jerron Cage (New Orleans Saints) and Ronnie Hickman and Tanner McCalister (Cleveland Browns) arrived as undrafted free agents, while Taron Vincent (Buffalo Bills) and Mitch Rossi (New York Giants) received minicamp invites, increasing the Buckeyes' rookie class to 12 players.

Here are some tweets, quotes and other miscellaneous items that provide some sights and sounds of Ohio State players at their camps:

C.J. Stroud

Texans offensive lineman and former Penn State Nittany Lion Juice Scruggs on Stroud:

“When we start talking football, you can see why he was picked so high because his knowledge is crazy. ... We had some crazy battles with Ohio State. Just to be able to meet him, how humble he is and how passionate he is about this game, I’m excited to work with him. I’m just trying to build that relationship and get that chemistry going.”

Paris Johnson Jr.

Smith-Njigba on his first practice in a Seahawks uniform:

"I'm happy I'm here. It's been a long time since I came out here and played, so I didn't know what to expect. I'm happy I am here, and I am happy I am in a Seahawk uniform – happy I am getting started. ... I felt great. 100% and ready to go."

Zach Harrison

Dawg Check

 I GOT INDIANA FEVER. When the Indiana Fever drafted Taylor Mikesell with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2023 WNBA draft, the former Ohio State women's basketball sharpshooter knew she would have an uphill battle to earn a roster spot.

The Fever were the WNBA's worst team last season, recording a 5-31 record in their 36 regular-season contests. For comparison, the second-worst team was the Los Angeles Sparks at 13-23, and the league's best teams were the Chicago Sky and the Las Vegas Aces at 26-10.

Due to Indiana's lack of success, the Fever received the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft, which the franchise used to select former Naismith National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston of South Carolina. The Fever also had an additional first-round pick, Grace Berger of Indiana University at No. 7 overall, and two second-round selections, Mikesell at No. 13 overall and Madi Williams of Oklahoma at No. 17 overall.

Quite the impressive haul.

However, Indiana's draft picks increased the team's roster size to 15 when the WNBA's roster limit is 12. That means the Fever must make cuts this week, with the deadline on Thursday at 5 p.m. As it stands, Mikesell could be one of them.

Still, Mikesell has impressed some coaches and players, including former Ohio State standout Kelsey Mitchell, since she arrived in Indianapolis. This offers some confidence that Mikesell will be one of the 12 to wear navy blue and red this summer.

From Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star:

Mikesell is one of 11 players remaining who are in either their first or second year in the WNBA. But she's making her case with a lights-out shooting performance in camp that has impressed even Mitchell, who finished sixth in the WNBA in scoring last season.

"Man, laser," Mitchell said. "LA-SER. I mean, I just admire the way she shoots the ball. Defensively, when we have to guard her I take the challenge. If you can guard that, even though she's a rookie, you can kinda get up on anybody shot wise. She reminds me a lot of Sammy Whitcomb from Seattle. When I see her shoot the ball at such a high level, you kinda laugh because it's literally funny that she shoots the ball that amazingly. I'm a proud Buckeye."


"Taylor's great, man," veteran point guard Erica Wheeler said. "As you know, she's a sniper, man. She can shoot the ball. Just her pace and her IQ for the game. At times when you have shooters, they don't know sometimes when to shoot the ball. Every Taylor shoots is a good shot. She never takes a bad shot. If she's open, she's going to take a shot. If she's not, she's going to make a basketball read. It's been great to see her just play basketball."

Listen, I have Indiana Fever, and I sincerely hope Mikesell can secure a roster spot with the franchise before Thursday's deadline. She's an incredible shooter and plays defense with the best of them. After a season as the WNBA's worst team, wouldn't you think the Fever would want a player like that? I'd certainly think so.

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Montana Sky" by The Jonas Brothers.

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