Last week we brought you a breakdown of the strongest and deepest unit of the 2017 Buckeyes — the defensive line. That’s a tough group to follow, but the Ohio State wide receivers appear to be up for the challenge after a much-improved spring under the new offensive umbrella of Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day.
The bulk of the production from last season has departed, totaling over 130 receptions and 1,600+ yards from Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown, and Dontre Wilson alone. If the Spring Game was any indicator, however, Zone 6 has a corps of receivers ready to fill important roles in the high-powered offense.
Redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill (North Little Rock, AR) and fourth-year junior Parris Campbell (Akron, OH) had limited success a year ago, but with the new emphasis on the short “Mesh” concept installed by Wilson, the elusive duo will be heavily relied upon as an initial read for J.T. Barrett in the middle of the field. There they will also be able to utilize their abilities to gain yards after the catch.
The key, however, lies in the ability to stretch the defenses that are crowding the box, looking to stop the run. The Buckeyes faced a lot of Cover-3 a year ago — a defense designed to bring an extra defender near the line of scrimmage in run support. If the Buckeyes are going to be a passing threat in 2017, they will have to improve their success in attacking the intermediate and deep levels.
Redshirt junior Johnnie Dixon (West Palm Beach, FL) showed this spring he is primed for a breakout season in 2017 after putting up 108 yards and two touchdowns in the Spring Game. Showing no ill effects of previous knee injuries, Dixon has the speed to separate outside and the suddenness to work the intermediate routes, proving he is a versatile weapon who will complement the other receivers nicely.
Dixon adds to an already athletic unit with his ability to make defenders miss and create additional yards after catch. He appears to be interested in blocking downfield, though has some big shoes to fill after watching Noah Brown last season. To fully maximize his potential, Dixon will need to improve his catch radius and functional strength to catch the ball away from his body with his hands, not his forearms.
Ohio State ranked 39th nationally last season in red-zone scoring with 28 rushing touchdowns and only 12 passing touchdowns. By comparison, Clemson had 26 rushing touchdowns and 29 passing touchdowns on their way to winning the National Championship.
The Buckeyes struggled to find a “go-to” receiver inside the 20 in 2016, but that could soon change. Sophomore Binjimen Victor (Pompano Beach, FL) possesses very good size at 6’4”. He has the length to be a legitimate scoring threat near the goal line. Like Dixon, the impact of Victor will be maximized with improved strength which will widen his catch radius. It will also allow him to use his length to create a mismatch.
Like everything, the success of the offense is synonymous with the play of the quarterback, so it will be up to J.T. Barrett to learn where to place the ball with Victor. (Note: I will emphatically applaud Barrett each time he overthrows Victor.) With 73% of last season’s receiving touchdowns gone, the 2017 team will need to find new ways to put the “six” back in Zone 6.