The No. 6 player on this list almost gave up the game after the 2016 season, but returned last year to provide a spark to the Ohio State offense. This year, that spark could turn into something much greater.
No. 6 — Johnnie Dixon, rSr. Wide Receiver
Johnnie Dixon enrolled early in 2014 and shined during the spring. It wasn’t long into his freshman season, however, when knee problems took hold. He didn’t catch a single pass as a rookie, but did have four rushes in the third game of the season before being shut down.
In 2015, he played in five games, but caught just one pass. Once again knee injuries had taken their toll. He played in seven games in 2016, catching six passes for just 26 yards.
Over his first three seasons — in which he played just 14 games — Dixon managed a total of 80 yards from scrimmage.
Given the work that he put in and the results that he put out, Dixon came close to quitting following the 2016 season. The rehabbing was incredibly difficult mentally and physically, and the returns were diminishing each year.
Ultimately, he chose to keep playing, and last year had his best year ever because he was finally healthy. Thanks in part to a focused effort from OSU’s head physical therapist Adam Stewart, Dixon got right and ended up leading the Buckeyes with eight touchdown catches last season.
What will Dixon do for an encore? His teammates can’t wait to find out.
What He Does Well
Like pretty much every receiver on the Ohio State roster, Dixon went long periods without any catches down the stretch last season. He caught just one pass in the Buckeyes’ final five games. In the eight games he played previous to that, however, he caught his eight touchdowns.
Where Dixon excelled last year was over the middle in zones. He would stop, J.T. Barrett would find him, and then he would turn upfield and show the explosion that people haven’t seen from him since very early in his freshman year.
Dixon led the Buckeyes with six receptions of at least 30 yards. That’s one-third of his 18 total catches. Only two players in the Big Ten last year — Purdue’s Anthony Mahoungou (10) and Maryland’s D.J. Moore (9) — had more than Dixon’s six. Mahoungou’s 10 were one-quarter of his total catches, while Moore needed 80 receptions to get his nine.
Johnnie Dixon in 2018
With a new passing attack in Columbus thanks to quarterback Dwayne Haskins, defenses should be more spread out this season. That increase in area for OSU receivers should allow Dixon to do even more damage in the seams.
Last year was a new experience for Dixon. This year he knows what to expect and is working to be even better than he was a year ago.
Dixon did a lot in his 18 catches in 2017, but imagine what he could do without the typical November drop in passing numbers that the Buckeyes have experienced under Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. If Haskins can maintain the October production, then Dixon could be in for a very good season this year.
As it was last year, his 23.4 yards per catch allowed him to finish fourth on the team with 422 receiving yards. Dixon finished eighth in catches — and just one catch more than then-walk-on H-back C.J. Saunders — but did enough in those 18 catches to make his mark.
With Dixon’s ability after the catch and perhaps an increased presence in the deep passing game, there should be plenty more big plays coming from arguably OSU’s most explosive outside receiver.
What They Are Saying
“He had a great season last year and is going to have another great season this year. Just for him, it’s going to be a story he can tell for the rest of his life. Younger athletes and younger people to see how he persevered through. It meant a lot to me. Felt great every time he crossed the end zone because he got his passion back, he got his love for the game back, and it was great to see.” — Parris Campbell
“Johnnie’s a great feel-good story because he just persevered. It was awful. Unless you’ve walked in that man’s shoes, to have all this hype coming out of high school and just not be able to perform, and then you start feeling sorry for yourself, etc. So, it’s a great storyline. No one ever gave up on him and he never gave up on himself. It’s hard.” — Urban Meyer, November 2017
“The guy has made up some dynamic plays. It’s nice to make those dynamic plays, those big plays. It brings some energy to the offense. Good on the field, some good positive vibe, and it’s nice because he has battled through some tough times. Now you see guys, he went through tough times but is now having a good time, I think he’s a good inspiration for a lot of other players.” — Kevin Wilson