Last week’s projection of the Ohio State quarterbacks was a story of consistency and success, led by senior J.T. Barrett. This week’s projection of the Buckeye wide receivers is the polar opposite. The group, affectionately known as Zone 6 by their coach, has really been missing the consistency and “Zone 6ishness” over the last couple of seasons. This despite guys like Mike Thomas, Braxton Miller, Jalin Marshall, and Noah Brown manning the position.
Going into this season, perhaps the single biggest question for the Buckeyes is how well can these guys even play? Will this group of unproven but highly-touted players be able to develop the trust of Barrett? Or will we still see the indecisiveness of Barrett because the rapport is not there?
As I spoke about with the quarterback projection, I believe the passing offense will be better. A question remains, however, about who will step up and bring the receiver respect back.
Going into the fall, you can really only put one guy in the category of starter — redshirt junior Parris Campbell. After starting off and on over the past two seasons, Campbell has really yet to make his mark for the Buckeyes. Dating back to his start against Virginia Tech as a redshirt freshman where he got wide open early and dropped an easy touchdown, Campbell always seems on the verge of doing something special but has yet to make the type of impact that many have expected.
This season, Campbell is sliding inside to the H-back position, which was previously manned by Curtis Samuel. It will be impossible for one person to duplicate the numbers of Samuel this year. The Buckeyes just don’t have someone with that ability, and if your expectation is for Campbell to put up Samuel-type numbers, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
This season, you will see a different type of H-back than you have seen recently. I feel like this year it will serve more as a pure slot receiver, as we saw with Philly Brown. Sure, there will be some runs by a handful of players lined up in the slot, but it will not be as featured as it has been in years past.
With this transition to a more traditional slot, Campbell will have the ability to succeed like he hasn’t had before. He has shown glimpses of the ability to make people miss with his tremendous speed on kick returns, and this move to the slot will help showcase those skills more than on the outside. Instead of lining up against the team’s top corners, Campbell will be one-on-one with a linebacker or safety on many occasions. They will get him the ball early, giving him a chance to make the first person miss and get downfield.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan of this move and I think it will be huge for Campbell. Expect him to easily have the best season of his relatively young career.
Now comes the hard part — deciphering who will get the starts on the outside. There are so many talented players who are just waiting for the opportunity to shine, but who will get the first crack? Based on years past, we can assume there will be some kind of rotation. Last year, I feel like this rotation hurt the Buckeyes and never gave Barrett a chance to build a rapport with his outside receivers. Will this year be any different? Let’s take a look at those guys who realistically have a chance at starting for Zone 6 this year.
First, let’s start out with a few of the more experienced guys. I have not hidden my adoration for redshirt sophomore K.J. Hill, dating back to the end of last season. He is one of the three best receivers on the team. Problem is, the staff has seemed hesitant to move him out of the H-Back role. This means, unless things have changed over the summer, Hill will be backing up Campbell and again providing the spark off of the bench. As I mentioned with Campbell, the move to a more traditional slot position will benefit Hill and allow him to work in space and create a top-notch combination with Campbell.
Another junior looking to make an impact is Terry McLaurin, who was one of seemingly 47 guys rotating last year. Much like everyone else, McLaurin was unable to form any sort of rapport with Barrett. Because of this, he had very little impact in any particular game. McLaurin showed some signs of a breakout season with a pretty good Spring Game. Will he finally be able to have it translate into a game situation? I’m not entirely sold on this.
Making his move from safety, Eric Glover-Williams is hoping to make his mark at the H-back position. He is truly the only guy who I think could put up Samuel type of numbers, but I don’t think it will be this year. People forget Samuel was pretty much groomed for that role. It was a three-year plan that worked to perfection. Step one — play running back for a year; Step two — play receiver for a year; Step three — amazingness.
EGW doesn’t have that luxury. He has two seasons to learn to be a wide receiver and a running back. I know most are pretty excited about him this year, but I really don’t see him making too much of an impact on the offense this year. I think you will see his biggest impact be in the return game.
The last junior looking to seize hold of one of the starting jobs is Johnnie Dixon. He has spent the last couple of years battling chronic knee injuries. Once one of the top WR recruits, Dixon has really never been healthy enough to be a major part of the offensive scheme. This season could change that as Dixon put in a spectacular spring game, showing the ability to catch in traffic and then create yards after the catch. Both of these skills are something the receiver group has been missing.
Behind those “old” guys there sits a group of former four and five-star recruits who are anxiously waiting their turn. The top sophomore to start on everyone’s list is playmaker Binjimen Victor. After getting a chance to play late in the season, Victor made the most of his opportunities with a few big catches against Michigan and Clemson. The biggest key with those catches is that almost every one was a 50-50 type of ball that Victor went up and made a play on. This is something the Buckeyes have missed since the Devin Smith days. If the OSU offense truly wants to take the next step, someone has to emerge and be that Devin Smith type of player. I think Victor could be the one.
Another big-time recruit who received some playing time as a true freshman is Austin Mack. He could possibly play his way into the two-deep, or even secure the starter role. Mack was the one guy everyone predicted to make an impact as a true freshman last year. This was based off of his amazing Spring when he became the first true freshman to lose his black stripe. As we have seen many times, however, spring dominance does not translate into fall success. He is still one to watch to watch this fall, however.
The final player expected to make a run at the two deep is true freshman and five-star signee Trevon Grimes. With the size of Victor and a little more bulk, Grimes has the body-type to come in and make an immediate impact. This, of course, is assuming he is completely healed from the knee injury that cut short his senior season. He is definitely one of the guys who I am the most excited to see in fall practice.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART AND STATS
|WR 1||WR 2||H-Back|
|Bin Victor||Johnnie Dixon||Parris Campbell|
|Trevon Grimes||Austin Mack||K.J. Hill|
I’m pretty torn on who I think will take Noah Brown’s spot outside. I was a huge Bin Victor fan coming into the season, but his spring game performance has me second-guessing if he is ready. There were too many 50-50 balls that he did not come down with against inexperienced Buckeye defenders. So how will he fare against other corners around the Big Ten? Ultimately, I think he and Grimes are too talented and have too much potential to not man that position together. We’ve seen how Zach Smith likes to rotate guys, and I think rotating these two together, along with McLaurin, will help keep everyone fresh. This could also tire out the defense while stretching the field.
The other wide receiver spot is a little tougher. Guys like Jalin Marshall and Campbell last year have tried to play this #2 role without much consistent success. Ideally, I would love to see Hill start out here, but I just don’t think that is going to happen. I think going into fall, Dixon has a little bit of an upper hand due to his experience. You can also never discount Meyer’s propensity to value blocking here more than receiving. With that said, I would not be shocked if Mack with his size and crisp route running came out of fall with this starting job. I personally would love to see the two true sophomores out there balling out.
With the H-back position, there really is no surprise with my personal feelings on how I think the position will look this year. You will see other guys here like DeMario McCall and EGW, but for the most part I think you can expect a steady diet of Campbell and Hill lining up there.
The development of the depth will be key for this year. As you can see from the stats, I don’t think anyone is going to step up and be that dominant type of guy we all hope for. I’m not a huge fan of rotating guys in and out every series. I think that cost the Buckeyes’ passing game last year. This year, I unfortunately see the same thing happening. You’ll have about six guys rotating in and out pretty fluidly. Unlike last year, however, I do think the depth supports this a lot more than last year. Instead of someone like James Clark getting valuable playing time at the end of a Penn State game, you have someone like Trevon Grimes in there.
Nobody’s stats will jump out at you. If you break it down by position, however, it looks a lot better and should ease some concerns.
Even if it doesn’t show this year, this wide receiver corps along with Joe Burrow or Dwayne Haskins will be a dominant force next year.