Projecting OSU's receivers

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Last updated: 07/11/2014 11:26 AM
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Football
Projecting Ohio State's 2014 Season: Receivers
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Early in spring football, Ohio State receivers coach Zach Smith said that he didn't have any starters in his room, stating that all jobs were wide open.

After watching the team this spring and seeing receivers rotate in and out at a constant clip, I would tend to agree with him, but that doesn't mean there isn't talent on hand.

With leading receiver Philly Brown gone, somebody new will have to step up, but the good news is there are candidates to do just that. Speaking selfishly, having so many players who will see snaps makes projecting their statistics ridiculously difficult.

Here's how I see it, though I'm not sure I agree with myself.

(I have included all of the receiving numbers, and not just those of the receivers and tight ends. Also, as with the rest of these projections, these numbers are based on a 14-game schedule.)

Player
Rec
Yds
Avg
TD
Dontre Wilson
63
789
12.5
6
Jeff Heuerman
32
431
13.5
6
Devin Smith
30
461
15.4
5
Michael Thomas
25
301
12.0
4
Corey Smith
24
318
13.3
4
Jalin Marshall
16
180
11.3
2
Ezekiel Elliott
15
148
9.9
1
Johnnie Dixon
13
141
10.8
2
Nick Vannett
9
100
11.1
2
Curtis Samuel
9
79
8.8
1
James Clark
8
126
15.8
1
Evan Spencer
8
73
9.1
0
Noah Brown
5
40
8.0
1
Bri'onte Dunn
4
32
8.0
0
Marcus Baugh
4
50
12.5
1
Jeff Greene
3
24
8.0
0
Rod Smith
2
11
5.5
0
Frank Epitropoulos
1
6
6.0
0
Totals
271
3310
12.2
36

First off, this list is longer than any in recent memory. I have 18 players catching passes, which I think might be too many. For comparison, in each of the previous two seasons only 13 players caught passes. A few years ago, however, there were 17 Buckeyes with catches, so my number is not outrageous.

Going in I was thinking at least 70 catches for Dontre Wilson, as he should be Braxton Miller's top target. After all, that's just five receptions per game, which he should be able to get given the expected increased passing attack.

I think my projection may be low, but he is still also a first-time starter, so it wouldn't be fair to expect too much from him just  yet.

Having tight end Jeff Heuerman as the Buckeyes' number two receiver is as much a product of Heuerman as it is the fact that I expect Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Corey Smith to rotate quite a bit.

In other words, I just couldn't choose one over the other. It was the coward's way out, admittedly.

However, as with Wilson, I also initially had Heuerman's numbers larger, but had to pare them down as I was handcuffed by my accurate quarterback projections. Still, having Heuerman with 32 catches is six more than he had a season ago, so that's progress.

As you can see, Devin Smith's numbers drop a bit from the 44 receptions a year ago, but I have that being as much due to Corey Smith, Michael Thomas and Johnnie Dixon as anything else.

I think the Buckeyes' depth has now allowed Zach Smith to refine his lineup as the season goes on. Winning a starting job is only the first step. Keeping a starting job is a season-long process.

I have Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott and Johnnie Dixon combining for 44 catches, though it wouldn't surprise me if that number was considerably larger. Urban Meyer and Tom Herman will want to get all three the ball in as many ways as possible, but there are only so many touches in four quarters of football.

Perhaps the most controversial number in my projection is that of Evan Spencer's eight receptions. I just didn't know what to do with him. The staff needed more production from him last season, but it just didn't happen. That being said, he's the best blocking receiver on the team, so there is always going to be a spot for him. If they can't take him out of the lineup, then his catches will obviously go way up.

The Noah Brown situation is endlessly interesting to me, and projecting him statistically is like swinging at a knuckleball with your eyes closed. We don't even know what he does best yet, but based on my rushing and receiving projections, if he ends with just four carries and five receptions, then he should redshirt. For that reason alone, I believe my projections may not be quite 100% accurate.

Overall, this is a deeper group than it has been over three seasons previously, but I think ultimately the Buckeyes will still be looking for consistency, as well as two or three go-to guys who can be relied upon to produce from the first game to the last.

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