When looking at the 2015 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes, it is tough to find glaring holes at any position. Using key departures, spotlighting players at important positions, leadership qualities and players switching positions, I came up with the ten most important players on this team. They may not be the most heralded players, but they will be vital to this team's on-field success.
If you did not happen to see the first installment, check here for numbers 10 through six.
5. Michael Thomas
Why? Thomas is an intriguing wide receiver and is poised for a monster 2015 season. He has the size, standing at 6'3, 215 pounds, mixed with excellent athleticism. He can take a quick slant 80 yards and he can win a jump ball in the end zone on a fade route. Thomas will be the quarterback's security blanket and go-to wide receiver in clutch situations. He has talent behind him, but they are young and inexperienced and would most likely not be able to replicate what Thomas brings to the receiving corps.
2014 performance: After winning the starting wide receiver battle last offseason, Thomas led the Buckeyes with 54 receptions. He also finished second on the team with nine touchdown receptions to go along with 799 receiving yards. Thomas always came up big when the team needed him most; whether it was when he took a quick slant 79 yards to the house versus Michigan State or his unbelievable touchdown reception versus Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He also had a knack for the big play, with three touchdowns over 50 yards and 29 receptions over 10-plus yards.
Question marks: The Los Angeles product underwent sports hernia surgery in the offseason but has been a full participant in fall camp. Other than that, Thomas has been healthy, starting 14 out of the last 15 games. One surprising statistic that could be concerning, is that Thomas has yet to have a 100 yard receiving game. As noted, he has came up huge in big spots but he has yet to take over a game.
Conclusion: Thomas is the total package and will be the go-to pass catcher for the 2015 Buckeyes. What makes him so important is his ability to step-up in big games and the lack of proven depth behind him. Would any other player grab Evan Spencer's perfectly thrown pass against Alabama? Most likely not. Who was the last Ohio State wide receiver to take a slant 79 yards against a Spartan defense? Not sure. With Devin Smith and Spencer gone, "Zone 6" will be led by Thomas and he should become one of the nation's best wideouts in 2015.
4. Adolphus Washington
Why? Washington is coming off of a monster 2014 season, where he ate up blockers at nose guard to allow Michael Bennett to shine in the second half of the season. In 2015, he will be sliding over to Bennett's three-technique where he will be given the chance to make more plays, while Tommy Schutt and others will fill-in at nose guard to occupy blockers. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson labeled the playmaking three-technique position, "the most critical guy in our defense," and Washington will be let loose in 2015 to make a Bennett- like impact.
2014 performance: Washington was a highly touted defensive lineman coming out of high school and in 2014, he delivered his best season as a Buckeye. On the stat sheet, Washington registered 48 total tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 sacks from his interior defensive line position. He tied up blockers for the other linemen and linebackers and put together a season that should have been more highly regarded than just honorable mention all-Big Ten.
Question marks: The problem with Washington, a former five-star recruit, has been his consistency. He saw the field as a freshman on the 12-0 team, then took a step back as a sophomore (albeit fighting through a groin issue), before finding himself in 2014.
Conclusion: The Cincinnati native will be thrust into the playmaking three-technique role that Bennett thrived in during the second half of the 2014 season. He will no longer be asked to occupy blockers for others to make plays, which should turn him into one of the best defensive linemen in the country, while boosting his draft stock in the process. If he can put together a season that replicates Bennett's second half production and disruption, the sky is the limit for this defense.
3. Joey Bosa
Why? From the moment Bosa took the field as a Buckeye, he has dominated and let his presence known in almost every game he has participated in. He is one of the most decorated defensive lineman in the country and causes offenses to game plan around him. Bosa collapses the pocket and gets after the quarterback in the passing game but is also disruptive against the run, recording 34.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons. There are a couple of heralded prospects waiting behind Bosa, but they cannot make the total impact that he makes on a game-by-game basis.
2014 performance: The unanimous All-American and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year dominated in 2014. He was the most physically dominating defensive lineman in the country, leading the Big Ten in tackles-for-loss with 21, sacks with 13.5 and four forced fumbles. Bosa also added a "walk-off" sack to his list of achievements, when he knocked back a Penn State running back into Christian Hackenberg, to end overtime and give Ohio State the victory in Happy Valley.
Question marks: Bosa was involved with the most prominent story of media day for all of the wrong reasons, as him and three others will be suspended for the first game of the 2015 season at Virginia Tech. Other than the suspension, Bosa has been one of the most dependable players since arriving in Columbus. He started all 15 games last season and has appeared in every game since he became a member of the Buckeyes.
Conclusion: Due to his suspension, the St. Thomas Aquinas alumni will be the first member of this list to miss time in 2015. Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes will be thrown into the fire that is Lane Stadium, (especially at night) to replace the unanimous All-American and the most dominant defensive lineman in the country. As we will see on September 7, other players will have to deal with double teams and multiple blockers, forcing inexperienced linemen to step-up against the only team that knocked them off last season. Even if the youngsters do succeed in his role, they will not be able to replace the constant disruption and attention that Bosa brings each and every week.
Check back for the top two most important Buckeyes for 2015.