Every defense has playmakers, but the great ones have more than anybody else.
The Buckeyes had one of those defenses in 2016, with five defenders scoring a total of seven touchdowns. That defense also had 21 interceptions — compared to just 13 last year — which was the most since the 25 they had when they won the national championship in 2014.
Last season, Ohio State had just two defensive scores, which was fewer than Malik Hooker had all by himself in 2016. Those two touchdows were the fewest for an OSU defense since 2011, when the Buckeye defense failed to score a single touchdown.
If this Ohio State football team is going to make the playoffs, then history has shown us that they’ll need at least five defensive touchdowns.
That’s probably not scientific, but it’s still historical.
The 2018 OSU roster is filled with potential defensive playmakers, which is why it only makes sense that we rank them each year.
As we always do, we begin with the 10 guys who are just on the outside looking in.
20. Amir Riep
Amir Riep will be battling for a starting safety spot next month, so he could jump way up this list if things turn his way. He is an aggressive defender who should excel in man coverage at his safety position. Riep will be in a position to make plays on the football, which is the first key to being part of this list.
19. Pete Werner
Once Pete Werner finally finds a home during camp, he should begin to blossom. He moved back and forth from Will and Sam in the spring, but the coaches love his tenacity and ability to find the football. You’ll see him on special teams this season, but he could absolutely win a starting job.
18. Davon Hamilton
Davon Hamilton should be part of the rotation at nose tackle for the Buckeyes. He has always shown himself to be a penetrator in practice, and now he could finally be able to get the reps during the games to show everyone else what he is capable of. He had a tremendous spring, so momentum is on his side.
17. Baron Browning
Baron Browning may have more potential than anybody else on the entire Ohio State roster, which is saying a ton. But even with that potential, he is still just a sophomore linebacker with 14 career tackles. He’s big – 6-3 238 – and has been timed in the 4.5s. He even played some corner in high school. If he wins a starting job, go ahead and put him in the top 10.
16. Shaun Wade
Shaun Wade redshirted last season due to injury but had a fantastic spring this year. He is a big corner who has tremendous ball skills. If he can force himself into a rotation for the Buckeyes, do not be surprised when he leads the cornerbacks in interceptions. And scores.
15. Justin Hilliard
Justin Hilliard is going to compete to be the starting middle linebacker out of camp while Tuf Borland returns from Achilles injury. Hilliard can play any of the three linebacker spots, which gives you an idea of his ability to make plays. He has shown an ability to get into the backfield during practice.
14. Keandre Jones
Keandre Jones will be one of six players who could win the Will linebacker job, so figuring out where to put these players on the list is difficult. Jones has been the backup Will for two years now, so he knows the position. He has been patient, but the time for patience is over. He is tremendously athletic – perhaps a bigger Jerome Baker. If he can win a job or get into the rotation, he has the potential to be an impact player.
13. Tuf Borland
Tuf Borland already showed what he could do last season with his 58 tackles and nine starts. His recovery from an Achilles injury clouds his situation somewhat, and his lack of plays in the backfield last season – just 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack – warrant a slower approach when it comes to his playmaking ranking.
12. Isaiah Pryor
Isaiah Pryor has everything the Buckeyes want in a safety, and now he needs to put it together. A year ago at this time Jordan Fuller hadn’t yet won the strong safety job, but he was outstanding last season. Pryor could follow a similar path. He is supremely athletic and can cover a remarkable amount of ground. If he puts it all together, he might be low on this list.
11. Malik Harrison
Malik Harrison has been solid in relief during his first two years as a Buckeye. His size (6-3 245) and athleticism make him a guy who can cover a lot of ground and then do damage when he gets where he’s going. Harrison is in the same boat as all of the other linebackers. Maybe the job goes to the guy who is the best playmaker?
Tomorrow: No. 10