“With new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson in the fold, expectations are sky high for Weber this year.”
There are currently an estimated 15,000 college football players spread among 128 Division I programs. Of those, just over 250 are selected each year in the NFL Draft. With so many players on so many teams, it is difficult to gage talent across the board, but some players make such an outstanding impact for their teams that there is little doubt of them being counted among the best college players of the season. ESPN, partnering with Microsoft Research and The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a poll which pitted players at different positions directly against one another in order to determine the “official” rankings. The list reflected includes rankings for No. 26-50, with the top-25 coming out tomorrow.
Given Ohio State’s position as a top-five team in both the polls and in recruiting, it is unsurprising to see several Buckeyes listed among the nation’s top players heading into 2017. Coming in at No. 46, running back Mike Weber is the lowest of the ranked Ohio State players. The rising sophomore earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last season after rushing for more than 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns. Weber was all the more impressive given that his performance came on the heels of the departure of first-round pick and Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Next on the list for Ohio State are a pair of defensive ends in Tyquan Lewis (No. 36) and Sam Hubbard (No. 31). Both bring versatility to a loaded defensive line, which is expected to be one of (if not the) best units in the nation. While Lewis’s size and strength make him an excellent run-stopper, Hubbard, who played safety in high school in Cincinnati, brings the ability to both rush the quarterback or to drop back in coverage.
“Right now, the guy who performed like a starter is Damon Webb. He had his best stretch of football that I’ve ever seen in him...He’s going to come back and have a great senior year.”
The loss of three first-round picks in the Ohio State secondary means that rebuilding will, naturally, be a tall order for that particular position group. What makes the replacement especially troublesome is the loss of safety Malik Hooker to the NFL after just one season as a starter--and what a season it was. Hooker was a unanimous first-team All-American with seven picks on the season, three of which he returned for touchdowns, and he made plays unequalled by any other safety in the country. He was part of a crew that finished third nationally in pass efficiency defense. With both starting cornerbacks also departing in Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, the lone returning starter in the secondary is safety Damon Webb, a former four-star recruit from Michigan. An honorable mention All-Big Ten safety last season, Webb is entering his senior season and second year as a starter in Columbus. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano had high praise for Webb in the spring, acknowledging that he has entered into his “best stretch of football,” and expressed optimism for his senior season.
While it seems unlikely that Webb can match Hooker’s feats on his own, he’ll have some assistance in fellow senior Erick Smith, who has earned accolades from former Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell before the 2015 season. One of the more experienced safeties remaining on the roster, Smith has played extensively as a backup at Ohio State. Even so, sophomore Jordan Fuller and incoming freshman Isaiah Pryor are still in the running for the starting role. Smith, Fuller and Pryor all have outstanding talent, but the question remains as to their ability to mesh with Webb opposite them, as well as the rest of the secondary. With the combined talents of the group, the secondary might be able to reach the level of the 2016 unit.
“The Buckeyes are an interesting combination of experience and youth. At key positions...Ohio State has plenty of proven talent. At others, they simply have plenty of unproven talent.”
Ohio State’s season opener against Indiana is just a month away, with fall camp starting this week. And while many of the positions and units would seem to be well-oiled machines by this point (e.g., the defensive line), others have a number of questions remaining that will need to be resolved before August 31.
For starters is the wealth of young talent in the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes. Last season, Urban Meyer was not shy about putting freshmen in the game, playing 11 true freshmen from the 2016 class. This change of heart came just a year after Meyer redshirted 21 of 25 freshmen in the 2015 class. All told, the Buckeyes had a whopping 44 freshmen on the roster last season, with nearly 30 seeing the field. With more highly-touted prospects coming in this season, several could see the field and some could even compete for starting roles.
While senior J.T. Barrett had the quarterback job on lockdown, his primary receivers remain a question, especially under Kevin Wilson’s new offensive scheme. Terry McLaurin, K.J. Hill and Johnnie Dixon all had good spring practices. Interestingly, all three have been with the program for at least three seasons, Hill as a redshirt sophomore and McLaurin and Dixon as juniors, but none have yet made the impact expected of three former four-star recruits. Binjimen Victor and Parris Campbell, after showing flashes of greatness last season, are expected to contribute more heading into the fall, with Campbell the supposed replacement for Curtis Samuel at H-back.
One of the other key positions to be filled is Billy Price’s vacated spot at right guard. And Meyer says there are still seven possible candidates for the job.Fortunately, the rest of the line remains stable, with Price at center, Jamarco Jones at left tackle, Michael Jordan at left guard and Isaiah Prince at right tackle.