The No. 7 player on this list made the catch of the year for the Buckeyes last year, but is looking to become a more consistent playmaker for Ohio State this season.
No. 7 — Austin Mack, Jr. Wide Receiver
Having to split reps is not exactly the best way to put up huge numbers, so when you look at any statistics of an Ohio State receiver, you essentially have to double them to get an idea as to their measure relative to other schools’ receivers.
Last season, Austin Mack finished fifth on the team with 24 receptions, and his 343 yards receiving were good for sixth on the team. If you double those numbers, they’re not that far off from the 54 receptions for 799 yards that Michael Thomas had in 2014 when the Buckeyes won a national title.
Mack has patterned his game after Thomas, and at this point he is actually ahead of Thomas in terms of his development. Thomas had a year in prep school before college, then caught three passes as a true freshman at OSU. He redshirted as a sophomore. Compare that to Mack, who was one of Ohio State’s starting six receivers as a true sophomore.
At this same point in their college careers, Mack has 26 receptions compared to just three for Thomas. If Mack can make the same jump that Thomas made in his third season, then the Buckeyes are going to be very, very happy.
There are still concerns, however. As is the norm at Ohio State, the passing game dwindles as the weather worsens. Last year, Mack caught just four passes over the final six games of the season. Three of those catches did come in the Cotton Bowl against USC, which may be an indicator that Mack is ready to make a larger mark in 2018.
What He Does Well
Austin Mack may have the best hands on the Ohio State football team. He showed that in a number of games last season, including the Oklahoma loss where he held onto a big gain despite landing hard on the ground. Oh, you may also remember the catch in the third quarter of the Michigan game last year that currently borders on legend.
That catch again Michigan was Mack’s first in four games, which gives you an idea of the focus that he brought to each snap. He could go long stretches without being thrown to, but when his opportunities came, he made them count.
Mack can move the chains as an X receiver on the outside, but will look this season to become the playmaker that Michael Thomas proved to be in his third season.
Austin Mack in 2018
Mack is big (6-2 215) and strong and has learned how to manipulate defenders. His first two years were spent learning. His final two may be spent teaching.
He will rotate at the X receiver spot with Binjimen Victor this season, and the two of them pose separate problems for defenders. Mack has strong hands and can out-body cornerbacks.
Quarterback Dwayne Haskins trusts his ability to hit tight windows and receivers may not need to be as open as they had to be in the recent past. For a guy like Austin Mack, this could be big news on back-shoulder fades and red zone opportunities.
Michael Thomas was rarely thrown to deep. Of course, he also played a season with Devin Smith, so there was no need. We saw more of it in 2015 when Smith was gone, and we should see it more with Austin Mack this year.
There has been a ton of turmoil with the Ohio State receivers room this summer, and maybe even before that. Perhaps as things calm down, receivers will begin to blossom. Expectations are high for Mack this season, and nobody is expecting more than Mack himself.
His numbers should go up from last year — particularly his two touchdowns. The yards after catch should also increase. By splitting reps, however, the numbers are always going to be stunted. He should do plenty with his opportunities, however.
What They Are Saying
“I try to do what I can. If you think about it, it wasn’t just me on those big catches. If it wasn’t for Dwayne in Michigan to put a great ball there, it probably wouldn’t even have happened.” — Austin Mack
“I think people lose sight of that he was a true sophomore. He had a really good year for a true sophomore. Now it’s time to have a big time junior year. This has got to be a big step in his career. From what I’ve seen in two days, it looks like he’s trying to make that step. I expect him to be one of the best in the country. That’s what he has to be. He’s taken steps to do that.” — Former receivers coach Zach Smith this spring
“To compare the two at this point in their career, Austin’s probably ahead of him. Now, Mike made a huge jump that next year. Obviously, Mike redshirted his second year. But that’s been Austin’s deal since the minute he signed here. He would come in and say ‘whatever Mike Thomas did, tell me, I want to do it.’ Whatever it was, if he ate chicken wings on Wednesdays, I’m doing that. He was obsessed with it, and he’s been obsessed with reaching that level of success. I think to compare the two is hard because of how Mike finished, but Austin has a high upside and I like where he’s heading, the direction that he’s heading.” — Former receivers coach Zach Smith this spring on the comparison between Austin Mack and Michael Thomas