Curtis Samuel was arguably the most versatile, and explosive, college football player in the country last season. Lining up in both the slot and the backfield, Samuel converted his 97 rushes and 74 receptions into 1,636 total yards and 15 touchdowns. A dominant combine performance confirmed his elite athleticism and helped him get drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 2nd round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Ohio State now must find a way to replace what was often the offense’s only “get out of jail free” card last season. Samuel’s combination of big statistical performances and timely plays in massive moments is unmatched on the Buckeyes’ current roster, and it’s hard to find a player with the skill set to replace everything he brought to the offense.
But do the Buckeyes really need to find just one player to replace Samuel? A look at Urban Meyer’s past Ohio State offenses shows that he’s historically leaned on more than one player to fulfill everything he asks of his H-backs. The desire to create explosive plays in both the air and ground game with the H-back resulted in the Buckeyes splitting touches from 2012-2015. One player has typically worked as the dominant receiver and the other as the rusher. Only in 2016 did Meyer trust and enable one player to do both:
It’s important to note that Ohio State has largely adapted their rushing offense to their personnel on a season-by-season basis. Last season was a three-headed monster consisting of J.T. Barrett, Mike Weber, and Samuel. 2015 and 2013 were dominated by QB - RB duos, while 2014 and 2012 had a bit more of a committee approach. Last season the coaches leaned on Samuel’s unique ability as a running back, and this is a key reason why he was picked ahead of everyone else on this list in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Samuel’s receiving numbers are where things get interesting. His production was eerily similar to what past H-back duos have produced at Ohio State. It’s not a stretch to say that the Buckeyes likely didn’t plan on Samuel leading the team in receiving last season, but a lack of production from the other receivers, along with Samuel’s own talent, made this a reality.
Assuming that Ohio State doesn’t have a Samuel clone waiting in the wings, who makes the most sense to fill the H-back role in 2017? As was the case in 2012 - 2015, it seems optimal for the Buckeyes to turn to two players to fill Meyer’s H-back role.
Campbell has been this off-season’s most-hyped Buckeye. A move to H-back has Campbell feeling at home in his natural position, and he’s already being dubbed this season’s breakout star. Campbell has been on the field for 16 games over the past two seasons, though he's only managed to put together 175 total yards on his 17 offensive touches.
Still, it’s easy to see why Campbell has earned the coach’s trust at H-back. His ability with the ball in his hands is special:
Campbell’s game-breaking speed should test the back end of secondaries across the Big Ten this season. The rest of his game is a bit of a question mark. Drops and injuries hurt any chances he had of playing time in 2015, while his involvement last season was mostly limited to misdirection runs and blocking.
Campbell is now in his fourth year with the Buckeyes, but he's still a bit of an unknown. He hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do with an ample amount of touches, but he’ll have every chance to establish himself as a top-three option in the offense this season. Considering he’s almost exclusively lined up on the outside over the past three seasons, it seems likely that Campbell will work as the Buckeyes’ primary receiving H-back.
‘Super’ Demario is deserving of this fantastic nickname thanks to his elite speed and agility. Standing at 5’ 9.5” and weighing in at 171 pounds, McCall is undersized but still capable of running between the tackles thanks to his Samuel-esque nastiness.
McCall actually had three-times the amount of touches in his true freshman season as Campbell has had in his career, though this is a bit misleading. McCall only received touches in five separate blowouts when the Buckeyes were already up by 40-plus points. For this reason, his electrifying runs should be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s clear the guy has plenty of talent:
McCall has the speed to erase defender’s angles and the agility to make solid tacklers look silly in the open field. He showed soft hands out of the backfield and has been linked to getting some snaps out of the slot this season. Still, McCall has made it clear he prefers to work out as a running back and he represents the Buckeyes’ best option at replacing Samuel’s as the offense’s scat-back out of the backfield.
Ideally, McCall will become polished enough as a receiver to be able to motion into the slot and create mismatches with safeties. His size could make a full-time transition to the slot more difficult than it was for Samuel, but McCall’s tantalizing potential and ability makes one thing clear above all else: get him the ball.
Samuel’s offensive production from last season will be nearly impossible to replace with just one player. After all, slot receivers with the ability to run between the tackles don’t just fall off of trees. Look for the Buckeyes to feature two of their most explosive playmakers, Parris Campbell and Demario McCall, in both the passing and running game instill some explosiveness to the offense. Neither player may wind up with Samuel’s lofty statistical totals, but then again, who has?