Ohio State will have 10 members of their recruiting class participating in spring football this year, with junior college transfer Kendall Sheffield showing up next month to join the nine Buckeyes who enrolled back in January.
With so much newness, I know that it can sometimes be overwhelming. In an effort to help you deal with such whelms, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a bit of an idea of how things are going to go with Ohio State’s early enrollees down the road. After all, I don’t need you so worried that you forget to pick your kids up from school, or miss a step on the stairs at night and hyperextend your knee.
Some of these predictions will be more immediate than others, but as always you can rest assured that they are all 100% guaranteed to be actual predictions.
1. Who plays, who redshirts?
The reason most players enroll early is so that they can improve their chances of playing as freshmen, or at least improve their chances of not redshirting. Looking at the 10 newcomers participating in spring ball, there is really only one logical redshirt candidate, and that is quarterback Tate Martell. Unless he bypasses both Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins, there’s simply no need for him barring the unforeseen.
While redshirting Martell is an easy pick, the other nine players is where it gets questionable. Even through the process of elimination, there are still question marks. If I list who I believe will play “for sure” — Baron Browning, J.K. Dobbins, Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade, and Kendall Sheffield, then that still leaves Josh Myers, Isaiah Pryor, Brendon White, and Marcus Williamson as players up in the air.
I could be totally wrong on Dobbins, but I think he’s too dynamic to sit. Even if his minutes are similar to Demario McCall last year, he should have some opportunities. Josh Myers has a chance to come in and start, and Urban Meyer said he’s already competing. Redshirting as a true freshman for offensive linemen is the norm, but it’s not how things always go. Isaiah Prince, Jamarco Jones, and Michael Jordan all played as true freshmen, to varying degrees, of course.
If I had to guess — which is a synonym for “predict”, I would say that Tate Martell, Brendon White, and Marcus Williamson will be the ones who redshirt. Although I am starting to question my reasoning on White. He’s not yet played wide receiver, so there will be a larger learning curve, but since he’s already on campus that means he’s already learning. Still, I’ll side on redshirting him until we see how the spring is going. As far as Williamson, it’s simply a matter of numbers. Not everybody can play.
2. Who is the first to start a game?
This may seem like an easy answer, but easy answers are my specialty. The pick here is cornerback Kendall Sheffield, who comes to Ohio State from Blinn Community College. Sheffield redshirted as a true freshman at Alabama in 2015, then played and excelled at Blinn last season. He enters 2017 with more experience than most other starting cornerback candidates for the Buckeyes, as well as more press clippings.
Sheffield isn’t being brought to Ohio State to provide depth, he’s been brought here to provide an impact. He has the makeup speed to rival that of Denzel Ward, but is also strong enough to keep a player in front of him. It’s a big jump from junior college to Ohio State and we’ve seen players come in with expectations before, see offensive tackle Malcolm Pridgeon last year. Meeting those expectations is never easy, but as I said before, I like easy answers.
If I was to pick a second player, which I’m not, I would lean to cornerback Jeffrey Okudah or Shaun Wade. Okudah seems like the prototype and Wade has very rare ball skills. Who knows, with solid seasons by both Denzel Ward and Kendall Sheffield in 2017, perhaps Wade and Okudah will be the starting duo in 2018.
3. Who will be the first to score a touchdown?
As you may have heard, I like easy answers, and the easy answer here is running back J.K. Dobbins. Even though there is no Bowling Green on the schedule for Dobbins like there was for Demario McCall last season, there is still Army, UNLV, and Michigan.
Dobbins is the most-likely offensive early enrollee to see the ball in an area to score, which makes this the easy pick. Plus, Dobbins is in scoring range from just about everywhere, which increases his chances even more. Brendon White could have a chance, but throwing into the end zone in the fourth quarter of a blowout is sometimes frowned upon. Throwing a swing pass to Dobbins, however, wouldn’t even bring about a single eyebrow furrow.
The sneaky answer here is once again Kendall Sheffield, who was an outstanding return man last season for Blinn. Somebody is going to return a kickoff or a punt for the Buckeyes this season, and maybe it will be him.
Or maybe it will be J.K. Dobbins.
4. Who will be the first to win the Heisman?
Given that the Heisman only goes to quarterbacks and running backs anymore, that narrows this list down to Tate Martell and J.K. Dobbins. However, if Ezekiel Elliott can’t even get a sniff, then that nearly eliminates Dobbins, which is why I’m going with Tate Martell here.
There are some who believe that Martell will never be a major contributor at quarterback because of — among other things — the talent in front of him and the talent (Emory Jones) that will be coming in behind him in 2018.
Those are all valid concerns, but if Jones is as good as everyone seems to think he is, then he’ll only be around for three years anyway, which would still leave Martell as a fifth-year senior in 2021 running around like Baker Mayfield or Johnny Manziel.
Or, Martell wins the job sooner than that and does his running around at an earlier age. Keep in mind, the quarterback at Ohio State gets quite a bit of attention, which always helps with Heisman voters. Martell being 5-foot-10 will bring even more attention because he’ll be seen as such a football rarity.
Please note that this is not a prediction that Tate Martell will win the Heisman, just that if somebody from this batch of early enrollees wins it, it will be Martell.
5. Who will be the first to win All-Conference honors?
At this point, Kendall Sheffield’s nickname should probably be “The Easy Answer,” because he is once again the easy answer here. He is the most likely to start, which automatically makes him the most likely to earn some accolades. If we eliminate the easy answer, however, things tend to get a little crowded.
If the assumption is that no freshmen will win any type of All-Conference recognition this year, then that could very well mean several of them will win it next year, so there wouldn’t really be a first since a group of players will be doing it. What a terrible question to have to predict. Who comes up with these?
So who do I expect those players to be in 2018? I’ll go back to Shaun Wade and Jeffrey Okudah, and throw Baron Browning in there as well. The Buckeyes will be replacing at least two linebackers after 2017, assuming that Jerome Baker leaves, which will put Browning in a position to possibly succeed him. As mentioned earlier, the same thing could be happening at cornerback, leaving spots available for Okudah and Wade to make significant impacts.
If I had to pick one true freshman early enrollee to earn All-Conference recognition this year, however, I’d go with offensive lineman Josh Myers. I bet you didn’t see that late swerve coming, did you? To be honest, Myers was the easy answer here because I couldn’t decide between Wade and Okudah. Don’t worry, though, because even my cop outs are nearly based in science.
Bonus: First to be drafted that isn’t a member of the Sheffield family.
I’m going with Shaun Wade here because of his ball skills. He not only knows where the football is and can make a play on it, but he has tremendous hands and turns into an offensive player immediately. He’s tall and long and makes plays that just aren’t normal.
Bonus: Who will be the first to make the SportsCenter Top 10?
I’m going with Tate Martell here and I have it happening in the spring game. I see him escaping pressure, reversing field, dodging another would-be tackler, and then hitting somebody down the field. Either that, or it will be Josh Myers on a 45-yard tackle screen for six. (But probably Martell.)
Bonus: Who will be the first to be ejected from a game?
The focus here is on the defensive side of the ball, which gives us options like Baron Browning, Jeffrey Okudah, Isaiah Pryor, Shaun Wade, Marcus Williamson, and Kendall Sheffield. Or maybe J.K. Dobbins throws a punch? For this exercise, however, I was only really thinking about the targeting rule because even after 14 years of marriage I still have a terrible time with predicting fiery tempers.
My pick is Kendall Sheffield. Just watch the first three plays below if you want to know more. Sheffield isn’t a head hunter, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some trophies. He is physical and fast, and that combination leads to targeting calls every single week.
Check it out.