COLUMBUS — There might be a risk in some places about losing too many players to the NFL over a two-year span, but Ohio State doesn’t appear to be one of them.
If anything, all this recent run of draft and free-agent success for the Buckeyes has done is ensure that the assembly line keeps cranking with more touted players signing up for the program’s proven brand of development.
Yes, there’s a bit of a high-wire act to trying to replace six guys who signed professional contracts after the last two seasons, leading to a pretty dramatic overhaul of the depth chart in a short period of time. But where that might decimate some position groups around the country, Ohio State simply turned around and landed arguably the most impressive class of receivers in the modern recruiting era as it looks to reload on the fly yet again.
“This is probably the strongest class I’ve seen in a long time that I can remember,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I think those are real weapons.”
How quickly will the new Fab Four be ready to be deployed at Ohio State? That’s one of the most pressing questions for the Buckeyes as they get back on campus for voluntary workouts with an eye on starting team activities again in July. Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Mookie Cooper and Gee Scott obviously won’t have to carry the load by themselves with two superstars returning and a couple other veterans leading the way. But the spotlight will burn bright on those touted prospects, and that makes them one of the most fascinating groups to watch as Lettermen Row kicks off Wide Receivers Week with Five Questions.
How much can Ohio State freshmen contribute right away?
The transition doesn’t happen overnight, even for five-star recruits. The speed of the game, the amount of responsibilities required in the Ohio State system and the level of competition are just a part of the challenge from jumping from high-school dominance to a spot in the rotation for a national-title contender — and even Garrett Wilson showed last year that it doesn’t happen instantly.
Of course, Wilson was starting to really leave a mark by the end of his freshman campaign, and Brian Hartline will be trying to duplicate that again with his decorated newcomers. Fleming, Smith-Njigba, Cooper and Scott were all hoping for a more significant head start than just going through winter conditioning and three practices before the pandemic shut down spring camp, but that’s certainly better than nothing. Will that hiatus change the timeline for those four guys? Who will emerge as the first breakout performer from that pack? Can all of them find a way into the mix this season? That foursome has enormous expectations, and their development will be incredibly entertaining to follow.
Can Chris Olave get his revenge for Buckeyes?
Chris Olave has rarely received the kind of acclaim he deserves outside of Columbus. Now the game-breaking touchdown machine is probably better known nationally for a busted route in the College Football Playoff than any of his other remarkable contributions for the Buckeyes.
That play in the Fiesta Bowl has fueled his workouts and an emergence into a go-to leader for Ohio State as he looks to erase the bad taste from his mouth. And that will probably be bad news for anybody trying to cover Olave this season — and it seems a safe bet that he will top his 12 touchdowns from last year on the way to becoming one of the most dangerous weapons in the country. Aside from that one play, Olave has clearly developed strong chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields, and that should pay off in a major way for the Buckeyes as they chase another Big Ten title.
Will slot be perfect fit for Garrett Wilson?
Garrett Wilson has the tools to play any role in the passing game for Ohio State. And what the program needs most right now is to replace the production it lost in the slot with K.J. Hill after his graduation brought his record-breaking career to a close.
Wilson has the pure speed and athleticism to be a major threat on the outside, as he proved at the end of his freshman year. But he also has great agility, sharp spatial awareness and reliable hands, which could make him even more of a challenge for defenses as the Buckeyes try to feature him more on the inside. His skills alone are going to be a problem, but putting speedy targets like Olave and Jameson Williams on the perimeter will raise the stakes even more for opponents and give Wilson even more freedom to terrorize the Big Ten.
When will C.J. Saunders hear about his status for Ohio State?
The Buckeyes were originally expecting to receive word about the eligibility appeal for captain C.J. Saunders back in April, but the NCAA has obviously had other issues to sort through during the pandemic before worrying about medical redshirts. But eventually it’s going to need to issue a ruling and provide some clarity for the Buckeyes and one of the most respected veterans on the roster.
The case would appear to be a no-brainer since Saunders missed all of last season with a lingering knee injury. Plus, his rise from walk-on to captain and equality activist is the kind of story the organization should want to highlight. If he doesn’t get cleared, the Buckeyes would surely carve out some sort of coaching role for Saunders if he wanted. But Ohio State also could really use his skills in the slot and his elusiveness as a punt-return option if he finally gets the green light to return.
Will Jameson Williams break out for Buckeyes?
Sandwiched between the hype of the top-two returners and the incoming freshman, Jameson Williams is often the overlooked man outside of the wide receivers room right now for Ohio State. But inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, that’s a name that comes up repeatedly as a dynamic player poised to become a key cog in the attack.
Since the moment he arrived on campus, Williams has drawn rave reviews for his work ethic. There’s never been any question about his speed. And if there weren’t so many veterans in the lineup a year ago, it’s possible Williams already could have established himself as a fixture for the Buckeyes. He still got a taste of experience for the Big Ten champs and offered a glimpse at his bright future with a dazzling display of his speed against Miami (Ohio), and that could be much more common this season as he competes for a starting role opposite Olave.