Today is the final day for college football’s underclassmen to declare for the NFL, and as long as nothing changes, the same group of Buckeye receivers who practiced during bowl prep will also be practicing during spring camp.
In other words, everybody in Zone 6 is back once again.
The transfer of 2017 freshman Trevon Grimes (2 games played) keeps this from being a completely clean sweep, but for all intents and purposes, the entire band is back together and they’re currently in the studio working on a new album for this fall.
H-back Parris Campbell and wideout Johnnie Dixon announced their returns last week, which gives the Buckeyes two of the most-explosive receivers in the Big Ten.
H-back K.J. Hill and wideout Terry McLaurin haven’t yet announced their return, so they could still spoil the party, but both are expected back. And both would be critical to Ohio State’s success in 2018.
Hill led the Buckeyes with 56 receptions out of the slot this season, and McLaurin is the Evan Spencer of this group, but more productive as a pass catcher.
If you’re going to break in a new starting quarterback, returning nine receivers who caught passes a season ago is a pretty good way to go about it.
Five of those players — Campbell, Dixon, McLaurin, Binjimen Victor, and C.J. Saunders — had receptions of at least 40 yards this past season, which is the most for any one team in the Big Ten. And now they’ll be adding Demario McCall into the mix at H-back following a redshirt this past season.
McCall is making the transition from running back to H-back, and while he is going to have some talented players in front of him, he showed in 2016 — and 2017 when he was healthy — that he was capable of big plays. Even in limited play, McCall has four plays of 30+ yards in his career. That will grow in 2018.
Rising juniors Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor will continue to solidify the X position. They combined for 47 receptions, 692 yards receiving, and nine touchdowns in 2017. That’s a pretty good year from a talented duo. Rising sophomore Jaylen Harris will try to get into that mix in 2018, as may redshirt freshman Ellijah Gardiner and incoming freshman L’Christian “Blue” Smith.
Ohio State entered 2017 needing to find an X receiver that they can rely on. Both Victor and Mack had their moments, and there will be many more moments to come.
On the other side, Dixon and McLaurin provided some pretty big plays, combining for 47 catches, 858 yards, and 14 touchdowns. That’s a very productive year from the Z receiver, and with an increased usage of the deep passing game in 2018, those numbers are only going to go up.
Dixon and McLaurin will also have some company from the likes of incoming freshmen Kamryn Babb and Cameron Brown, but snaps for true freshman are going to be hard to find with so many players coming back.
And we still haven’t talked enough about what the return of Parris Campbell means to the Buckeyes. Only Penn State running back Saquon Barkley had more plays of 50 yards or more than Campbell’s five in the Big Ten this past season.
Nobody else on the Ohio State roster can do what Campbell can do with the football in his hands. He gets more corners than Starbucks. He can turn a hand-off or a quick screen into a long nightmare for the opposing defense. He has elite speed and the strength to break tackles. Expect him to be heavily involved in the offense in 2018.
The bad news for the Buckeyes, however, is that there are only so many footballs to go around next season.
Still, returning made sense for all involved. No receiver on the Ohio State roster is a finished product yet, and they know that. There are a number of areas where they can each improve, and that will all be part of their individual journeys in 2018.
Together, however, they could put the Buckeyes on the path to yet another Big Ten title, if not much, much more.