When looking at the 2017 depth chart compared to the 2016 depth chart, there are noticeable holes, but the team is in a much better place now than it was entering the 2016 season after a mass exodus of NFL departures and graduation. Using key departures, spotlighting players at important positions, leadership qualities, and recognizing the depth at each position, 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.
No. 5: Jordan Fuller
Position: Free Safety
2016 stats: 11 tackles on 71 defensive snaps as a true freshman
Why he’s No. 5: The safety spot has been home to Urban Meyer’s greatest defensive playmakers since he’s roamed the sidelines in Columbus. From Christian Bryant, to Tyvis Powell, to Vonn Bell and most recently Malik Hooker, Meyer has always been able to find difference makers at that position.
Hooker was virtually unknown at this time last season, which should give Buckeye fans optimism entering this season. Sure, it will be extremely tough to fill the cleats of a player who started only one season and picked off seven passes, returned three of those for touchdowns, became an All-American and transformed himself into a first round draft pick, but talented sophomore Jordan Fuller won’t be asked to replicate Hooker’s statistics. He’ll just have to play confident and fast, play within Greg Schiano’s defense and make plays.
Standing at 6’2, 207 lbs with long arms, Fuller possesses similar length to Hooker, and he also shows great athleticism — he was ranked the No. 6 athlete in 247’s Composite Rankings. Fuller quietly played in every game as a true freshman last season, racking up 151 snaps on special teams and 71 snaps on defense. If the staff trusts a true freshman to play on both kickoff units from day one, they truly think he’s special.
Fuller, who is battling with the oft-injured senior Erik Smith, is projected to take over the important free/boundary safety spot next to Ohio State’s only returning starter in the secondary, Damon Webb. Although Fuller played behind Webb last season in Ohio State’s “Falcon” position, which typically lines up over the slot in man coverage, it looks like Schiano and Kerry Coombs like Fuller’s range at the free safety spot.
"I know to be a safety you need to be rangy, to go get the ball when it's in the air, but at this position you need to be able to cover people," Fuller said. "I think I do that well, too, so it's a good fit for me."
Although both Coombs and Meyer have mentioned that Fuller and Smith are in a tight battle for the open spot, one should believe that although Smith came to Ohio State loaded with potential, it’s Fuller who currently has the higher ceiling and playmaking potential.
Based on the recent track record in Ohio State’s secondary, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if Fuller plays himself into All-Big Ten consideration, or even more, during his first season as a starter.