Every year, college football teams sign recruiting classes full of players who are viewed as reinforcements and positive additions to that year’s team. This is an accurate assessment, but what is often overlooked for each team is the number of redshirt freshmen who will actually be contributing while the true freshmen are sitting and watching.
Each Ohio State team this decade had redshirt freshmen make starts, with some years being more redshirt-freshman-heavy than others. The 2014 team had JT Barrett, Billy Price, Darron Lee, and Eli Apple as starters, for instance.
Last year was almost the exception to the rule, but right guard Wyatt Davis and defensive back Shaun Wade each started a pair of games as redshirt freshmen.
More often than not, however, at least one full-fledged starter emerges out of each group of redshirt freshmen at Ohio State.
This year, there are 12 scholarship redshirt freshmen on the Buckeye roster and if history is any indication, at least one of them is going to start a game or two.
The real question, however, is if any of them will earn starting jobs coming out of spring or fall camp.
So with that in mind, let’s look at the five redshirt freshmen with the best chances of landing in the starting lineup this year for the Buckeyes.
1. Nicholas Petit-Frere, Offensive Tackle
If you’re going to put money on one redshirt freshman to win a job out of spring ball, Nicholas Petite-Frere is your guy. He will be competing with any number of candidates at right tackle. He was a reserve last season and played in three games as a true freshman. As the No. 1 offensive tackle in the 2018 recruiting class, expectations are high for Petit-Frere and it will not be a surprise to see him out there with the first team in the season opener.
2. Matthew Baldwin, Quarterback
While many have anointed Georgia transfer quarterback Justin Fields as Ohio State’s starter this season, there will still be a competition held throughout the Ohio State practices. Matthew Baldwin may not have played a game last season, but he has been in Ryan Day’s offense for over a year now and knows it better than anybody else on the roster. Will that allow him to gain an edge on Fields and win the job?
3. Jaelen Gill, H-Back
Starting at receiver for Ohio State basically means being in the top two at one of the three receiver positions. The H-back this year will be deep once again despite the departure of Parris Campbell. What may allow Gill an opportunity to break into that top two is an increased role at running back for Demario McCall. There could be quite a bit of rotating at the receiver spots this season, and with the versatility of the H-backs, Gill could see rotational action this season.
4. Kamryn Babb, Receiver
Kamryn Babb missed the season last year following an ACL tear in June. He will likely be playing the Z position this year, which features Chris Olave and likely nobody else with any experience. Babb will compete with freshman Garrett Wilson and possibly redshirt sophomore Ellijah Gardiner for an opportunity to split time with Olave. Before his injury — and since — Babb has impressed his teammates in players-only throwing sessions.
5. Tyreke Johnson, Cornerback
Regardless of where Shaun Wade ends up this season, his former high school teammate Tyreke Johnson could very well mirror Wade’s own redshirt freshman season last year and play both cornerback and safety. Johnson is a long, tall defensive back who could either add depth at one position or compete to start at another. With two new coaches in the secondary, anything is possible.
Bonus: Matthew Jones, Offensive Line
Matthew Jones came to Ohio State as one of the best centers in the 2018 class, but he could end up at either guard or center moving forward. Having lost their two starting guards to graduation and the starting center to the NFL, jobs are open on the Ohio State interior. Jones will compete somewhere, and if he proves to be one of the best five, he will play.
2019 Redshirt Freshman Buckeyes: Kamryn Babb, Matthew Baldwin, Jaelen Gill, Marcus Hooker, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Tyreke Johnson, Matthew Jones, Nicholas Petit-Frere, Blue Smith, Master Teague, Alex Williams, and Max Wray.