When looking at the 2016 depth chart compared to the 2015 depth chart, there are noticeable holes and questions regarding inexperience, due to the mass exodus of NFL departures and graduation. Using key departures, spotlighting players at important positions, leadership qualities and players switching positions, we came up with the 10 most important players on the team. They may not be the most heralded players, or even the best players, but they will be vital to this team’s on-field success.
This is the second of three installments (here is 10-7). Be sure to check back.
6. Tyquan Lewis
Why? Do you know who led the Buckeye defense in sacks last season? The NFL Draft’s No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa? Try again. Flip to the other side of the defensive line and look at Tyquan Lewis, who recorded 8.0 on the season. Although Lewis feasted on single-blocking across from Bosa, he showed the consistency of being a complete defensive end. The Buckeye front-seven lost five members, including the other three defensive linemen and it looks like Lewis will be depended upon to be a leader and key member of the talented, yet inexperienced defensive line.
2015 performance: Not only did Lewis lead the team in sacks, but according to CFB Film Room, he finished third on the team with 11 QB hurries and was third on the team with 11 run stuffs. Also, he finished behind only Bosa on the defensive line with 46 tackles.
Question marks: This is an easy one. Did Lewis benefit from being the third best player on the defensive line (behind Bosa and Adolphus Washington), or is he legit? Also, will Lewis be able to get the same amount of pressure on the quarterback when he faces more double-teams? Sam Hubbard might see more double-teams in pass protection, but Lewis will be focused on much more in 2016, especially on run plays.
Conclusion: The North Carolina native won the starting job in camp last season and he showed why during the season. He performed admirably across from the best defensive end in the country and did so by being a solid pass rusher and a stout run defender. Hubbard may get the accolades as the flashier player, but Lewis will be a more consistent three-down player than the rest of the defensive line.
5. Noah Brown
Why? With the array of playmakers on the perimeter last season, there was just one thing missing. Physicality. Standing at 6’2, 218 lbs, Noah Brown brings just that to Zone 6. He will bring the physicality and the blocking presence on the perimeter that was missed with the departure of Evan Spencer after the 2014 season, which was never properly executed or replaced last season. Brown was supposed to be just that for the Buckeyes in 2015, but he suffered a season-ending leg injury at the end of training camp. Not only will he bring it as a blocker, but he possesses great hands and the ability to win one-on-one battles. Expect Brown to be the big bodied possession receiver that J.T. Barrett will lean on in 2016.
2015 performance: As I mentioned, Noah Brown was an unfortunate camp causality late last August, breaking his leg in practice just a week before their re-match with Virginia Tech. Brown saw action in 11 games in 2014, but gained the staff’s trust during the Buckeyes’ run to a national title. In their final three games of 2014, Brown played 43 snaps and was a legitimate factor in the run game as a blocker.
Question marks: The two biggest question marks surrounding the redshirt sophomore will be his recovery from the broken leg and inexperience as an every-down offensive player. Even though he has shined in his past two training camps, he has yet to get quality playing time on offense.
Conclusion: Zone 6 lost three starters to the NFL, and it looks like Brown and Corey Smith will be depended upon as the leaders of the positional group. The New Jersey native will replace Michael Thomas as Barrett’s top receiving option, and if training camp success predicts anything, he should perform well this season.
4. Raekwon McMillan
Why? It’s Raekwon McMillan’s defense now. Coming off an excellent first season as a full-time starter, the 5-star linebacker has more than lived up to the hype. After the Buckeye defense lost eight starters to graduation and the NFL Draft, Urban Meyer elected McMillan as a co-captain, granting the linebacker the keys to the defense. He’s not going to get as much help from his peers, but he possesses the talent and attributes to perform at a the same high level.
2015 performance: In McMillan’s first year as a starter, he was a finalist for the Butkus Award and was named a Walter Camp second-team All-American. Not only was he the team’s leading tackler by 20 tackles (via CFB Film Room), he only missed 10 tackles on 124 opportunities. In comparison, first rounder Darron Lee missed 15 tackles on 78 opportunities. The middle linebacker was also tied-second on the team in run stuffs with 14 and was third on the team with 10 QB hurries. McMillan was everywhere in 2015.
Question marks: The question marks aren’t about McMillan as a player, as we know he is excellent and will most likely be a future first rounder; the question marks are about his inexperienced supporting cast. He was able to blitz as much as he did (the 10 QB hurries) because Joshua Perry and Darron Lee were trusted in coverage. He was able to get cleaner tackle attempts near the line of scrimmage because the combination of Bosa, Washington, Lewis and Tommy Schutt eating up blockers, which allowed him to get a lot of free looks. Will McMillan get as many clean looks at opposing running backs and be allowed to rush the passer as much with the young and inexperienced front-seven? It will be something to monitor.
Conclusion: Last season was easy for McMillan (surrounded by six NFL Draft picks), but he is in for a more challenging season, in which he will be under the microscope of both college football fans and NFL scouts. Will the young talent be able to help the linebacker out as much as last season, or will he be seeing multiple blockers on the second level? The 6’2, 243 lb linebacker is the best middle linebacker in the Big Ten (and probably the nation) and my guess is that he will be more than up for the challenge.