COLUMBUS — Ohio State already has a proven big-game weapon and another star clearly on the rise.
There are a couple reliable veterans. A former four-star ready to emerge as a starter. And the Buckeyes have enough depth not to be forced to rely on any freshmen before they’re ready.
But after signing perhaps the most impressive class of wide receivers in the modern recruiting era, the spotlight tends to gravitate to the Fab Four. So, there’s perhaps no topic more prevalent during Wide Receivers Week at Lettermen Row than figuring out exactly how much Julian Fleming, Gee Scott, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Mookie Cooper can contribute during their first seasons in the program.
“They’re talented, they’re talented,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said in March. “What strikes me, with all the 7-on-7s and all the things going on throughout America, they’re further along than maybe receivers were five to 10 years ago.
“Certainly you can see a guy like Jaxon who has played in Texas, where they have those activity periods. They have so many reps under their belt, it just makes sense for them. You can see it today. You can see the talent of Julian and just his ability to get off of a line of scrimmage and make plays down the field and his size. Gee Scott really surprised me just how mature his releases were getting off the line of scrimmage. And then Mookie flashed. I think all four of them really have a chance to play and be successful.”
How much and how soon will those touted targets make an impact for the Buckeyes? Somehow the staff here resisted including any specific projections for those guys, instead keeping the focus on the veterans for the latest edition of Bold Predictions. Here’s what the guys are expecting for the Buckeyes as Brian Hartline heads into his third season running the unit.
Austin Ward: Chris Olave will break single-season touchdown record
If the schedule stays intact and Chris Olave has a full season to unleash his Fiesta Bowl frustration, the Ohio State record books are going to be under relentless attack. Olave has already left no doubt about his big-play ability through two seasons with the Buckeyes, and after hauling in 12 touchdowns last year, he’s poised to top that thanks to an extra year of development and his chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields. The single-season mark for touchdown catches has stood since 1995 when Terry Glenn racked up 17 scores, but Olave has the potential to clear that bar with room to spare if he’s given the chance.
Birm: Buckeyes will have two 1,000-yard receivers
Yes, that’s right. Ohio State, which has only five players in history with more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season, will have a pair of pass-catchers banging on that threshold this season. For the first time in the last decade-plus, the Buckeyes have two bonafide starters at wideout in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. And unlike previous years, there isn’t a large amount of proven depth behind them that needed rotating into the game. If Justin Fields goes out and chucks the pigskin around the yard for almost 4,000 yards like I believe he will, Olave and Wilson will put up gaudy numbers because of their ability to beat defenses anywhere on the field. That duo will get a lot of touches, and they each possess home-run ability with every touch. If Ohio State suits up for a full season as currently scheduled, there’s no reason to think each player won’t hit that magical mark.
Tim May: Jameson Williams will be breakout Ohio State threat
Chris Olave has one play he’d like back from last season, and it was a biggie. But he still returns as the big-time known commodity in the wide receiver room. Now the quandary is what comes next: Jameson Williams on the fly or Garret Wilson in the sky? Well, Wilson is going to get his chances. So it says here that establishing Williams as a consistent downfield threat could propel the Ohio State offense into the realm of most lethal in the nation. And after a freshman season of getting his feet on the ground, Williams seems ready to fly.
Spencer Holbrook: C.J. Saunders will be eligible weapon for Buckeyes
C.J. Saunders has already shown small, subtle signs of production for the Buckeyes. And while his leadership is unquestioned, he was unable to perform and help the offense last season while he had some bad injury luck. This year can be much different. If the NCAA does the right thing and makes Saunders eligible, he’ll have a breakout senior season for Ohio State. Maybe he becomes a top weapon alongside Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Or maybe he’s just a rotational player. But Saunders will be productive, and he might just make Ohio State’s offense even scarier than it would be without him.
Will Crall: C.J. Saunders earns second captaincy at Ohio State
Everyone is talking about Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams and the group of ultra-talented freshman, but don’t sleep on C.J. Saunders. His leadership behind the scenes will be one of the keys to success for the unit which skews on the younger side this season. I think that he will be more involved in the Ohio State offense than people think. He’s a reliable, sure-handed veteran who Justin Fields can rely on to make a play. Saunders is well respected by his peers, and I think his presence in the room is important and will serve the Buckeyes well as he earns another year as a captain.