COLUMBUS — Not even Kevin Wilson wanted to put a number on it, and he’s got a chance to directly influence it for Ohio State.
Is this the season that features a bunch of catches at tight end for the Buckeyes?
After all, the offense is stocked with proven veterans. There is versatility, impressive ball-skills, a savvy quarterback who can deliver the football anywhere and plenty of NFL potential in the unit. So, why not, right?
“It’s still tough, though, because there’s a lot of those good guys outside in the progression,” Wilson said back at the start of spring camp. “We can get in a formation and [tight ends] can be anywhere from the first read to the last read depending on the formation.
“So, who do you want to touch the ball?”
Generally that answer winds up being wide receivers and running backs for Ohio State, and that approach is clearly working for an offense that averaged nearly 47 points per game last year.
But it’s Tight Ends Week at Lettermen Row, so it’s only right to give that critical unit some love and attention now — since the spotlight probably won’t shine as bright once the season starts. Or maybe this is the year, and we’ll let the staff project what’s going to happen with Five Bold Predictions.
Austin Ward: Jeremy Ruckert nabs 10 touchdowns for Ohio State
The reception total probably isn’t going to increase dramatically for the Buckeyes, though it’s absolutely not because this unit doesn’t have the ability to produce for the passing attack. It’s just a product of the system Ohio State runs that there aren’t a ton of targets for guys like Jeremy Ruckert, no matter how much potential he has as a tall, versatile athlete. Those skills might lead to an uptick in the red-zone, though, and that’s where Ruckert could really shine for the Buckeyes this season. Expect more looks like the play-call that led to his one-handed touchdown in the Big Ten title game — and a double-digit scoring season for the junior before declaring for the NFL Draft.
Birm: Luke Farrell will be first-team All-Big Ten pick
Though Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth is the odds-on favorite to lead the league balloting at the position, Luke Farrell’s steady development through the years and Justin Fields growing confidence and comfort in the Buckeyes offense should provide a dynamic addition to the potent Ohio State attack. The Buckeyes have not had a first-team all league selection since Ben Hartsock landed the honor in 2003. With a number of young, unproven receivers on the 2020 roster, the tight end position should get ample opportunity to step up and make big plays — and Farrell will make the most of those chances.
Tim May: Tight ends due for uptick in receptions
In the most recent Tim May podcast, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer referred to Jeremy Ruckert as the most talented tight end he ever recruited. By that, he meant for the most part the potential to exploit defenses — which in college football often pay only slight attention to the tight end for some reason. Whether Ruckert will be used to that potential remains to be seen, and it will be up to second-year coach Ryan Day in large part. But the prediction here is the tight ends as a whole will combine to catch way more passes as a group than they did in any of the last eight seasons — when the highest total was 36. During that span, among tight ends, Marcus Baugh had the most catches in a season with 28 in 2017, with Jeff Heuerman second with 26 in 2013. For Ruckert or Farrell, at least 29 seems attainable.
Spencer Holbrook: Joe Royer will shine when given chance
Joe Royer wasn’t a headliner of the 2020 recruiting class, but he certainly isn’t a player to sleep on at Ohio State. With a massive frame and a big body, Royer certainly has the raw tools to become a weapon down the road for the Buckeyes. But even with a bunch of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart in his first Ohio State season, he’ll still show his potential as a red-zone receiving threat — just like he was as a standout at Cincinnati Elder. Royer is a strong candidate to redshirt, but even if he does, he’ll show he has potential in the four games he’s allowed to play in
Will Crall: Ohio State tight ends finish with more than 40 catches
Although tight ends did not have a huge impact on the Ohio State passing game while catching only 25 balls last season, their importance to the offense as a whole is under appreciated. Led by Luke Farrell, the unit is one of the most experienced and reliable for the Buckeyes. Jeremy Ruckert is an elite receiver, which he demonstrated in the Big Ten Championship game with a critical one-handed touchdown grab when Ohio State was on the ropes. Jake Hausmann adds additional depth to the unit. It’s time for the tight end group to play a bigger role in the passing game this season, and it will contribute 40 or more receptions. Although very talented, the wide receivers are young — and as a result the tight ends will be picking up a few more targets from Justin Fields