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 (sorry defensive line), we came up with the 10 most important players on the team. They may not be the most heralded players, or even the most talented, but they will be vital to this team’s on-field success.
No. 1: J.T. Barrett
2016 stats: 61.5 completion percentage, 2,555 yards passing, 24 TD 7 INT; 845 yards rushing, 4.1 yards per carry, 9 rushing touchdowns
J.T. Barrett’s career at Ohio State has been the definition of a roller coaster. As a redshirt freshman, he took over for an injured Braxton Miller just weeks before the season opener, and guided the Buckeyes to an 11-1 record before breaking his leg in the season finale. He received Heisman consideration when he threw for 34 touchdowns, completed 64.6 percent of his passes and rushed for 938 yards.
After Cardale Jones led the team on a heroic run through the inaugural College Football Playoff, the two opened the 2015 season in a highly competitive — and disastrous — quarterback battle that ultimately led to the team’s downfall. Jones was named the starter, but the coaching staff decided to carousel them around based on situation and performance, which led to neither of them ever gaining confidence and a serious regression for Barrett. Barrett finished his redshirt sophomore season with 11 touchdown passes, a 63.3 completion percentage and 727 yards on the ground.
With Jones no longer in the picture in 2016, the reins were handed back over to Barrett. The quarterback seemed to take another step-back, looking frazzled in the pocket and inaccurate as a passer. He had a shaky offensive line in front of him, inconsistent and poor play calling, but also had serious accuracy problems in the intermediate and deep game. For the second season in a row, his completion percentage dipped — down to 61.5 percent — and his yards per carry dipped almost two full yards, down to 4.1 yards per carry. Overall, last season had its highs (vs. Oklahoma) and its lows (vs. Penn State and vs. Clemson), which made for a very frustrating season.
With the departure of Ed Warinner and Tim Beck and the additions of spread offense-guru Kevin Wilson, along with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback coach Ryan Day, Barrett should be put in a better place to succeed and his mechanics should improve. Wilson is looking to attack the middle of the field on short stuff, while testing the perimeter with the deep ball. Based on his history and the spring game, Wilson will incorporate high-percentage throws, including screens, which will take pressure off the quarterback and get him into rhythm.
In reality, Barrett has been a roller coaster since his redshirt freshman season under Tom Herman, and with a legitimate offensive coordinator back in the booth, Barrett could and should have a season reminiscent of his 2014 campaign. Will Barrett’s completion percentage regress for the third straight season? Or will the passing game get back to where it once was under Barrett? When the passing game gets rolling, the offense is borderline unstoppable.
The other nine players on the list are extremely important to Ohio State’s success in 2017, but ultimately, the season rests on J.T. Barrett’s right shoulder.