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Buckeyes’ biggest breakout candidates in 2019

These players are looking to make a name for themselves in the new campaign.

Demario McCall vs. Michigan Wolverines 2018
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports | Graphic by Gene Ross

The 2019 edition of the Ohio State Buckeyes has a number of big-name players that give the team from Columbus a real chance to make a run at the College Football Playoff. Whether it be offensive stars like J.K. Dobbins, K.J. Hill or the highly touted transfer quarterback Justin Fields, or on the defensive side of the ball where Chase Young and Jordan Fuller make their hay. Everyone knows what to expect from their star players, but what about the rest of the lineup?

There is so much turnaround on college football rosters, with an influx of new players coming in each and every season, that there are bound to be some diamonds in the rough. These are the guys that come seemingly out of nowhere and become big-time contributors, much like Brendon White last season.

There is talent all over the field for Ohio State this season, but which guys are going to have their breakout year in 2019?


Offense

The Buckeye offense has a ton of big pieces to replace from a season ago, including quarterback Dwayne Haskins, running back Mike Weber and all three of its top wide receivers from their Big Ten champion roster. Luckily, as they seem to do every year, Ohio State has reloaded, putting together a group of guys with the potential to put up even bigger numbers than their predecessors.

This is no more true than at wide receiver, where Chris Olave is ready to take the next step and become a superstar for the Buckeyes in 2019. Olave actually had his coming out party at the end of last season, scoring two touchdowns and blocking a punt against Michigan, and backing it up with 79 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern. The 6-foot-1, 185 pound wide receiver did not see the field much in his freshman season, catching just five passes leading up to his breakout against the Wolverines, but that will change in year two.

While K.J. Hill is the clear cut No. 1 wideout on the roster, Olave has a legitimate chance to be the second-leading receiver on the team. There will be stiff competition among the unit, as upperclassmen Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack, as well as freshman Garrett Wilson, will all be jockeying for time and targets, but Olave’s skillset makes him a perfect fit for this offense. His excellent route-running and steady hands should provide a reliable target for first-time starter Fields, while maintaining the speed to take the top off of any defense that the Buckeyes face.

Speaking of speed, the other breakout candidate on the Ohio State offense is potentially the fastest player on the team: Demario McCall. The oft-injured running back just hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to get a true shot at cracking the depth chart, but he is hoping to change that this season. He is already ahead of schedule, with Ryan Day naming McCall the backup to Dobbins at this point in time. If he is able to finally stay on the field, the junior RB could be the Buckeyes’ biggest home run threat out of the backfield.

Despite being on campus for the past three years, McCall has appeared in only 16 games for Ohio State, totaling 431 yards rushing, 245 yards receiving and six total TDs. Appearing mostly in garbage time, the two biggest games for McCall came in 2016 — a 90-yard, two TD performance against Bowling Green and a 101-yard, one TD outing against Maryland. McCall has truly elite speed, and when he has found his way onto the field, he has made some big plays and showed the potential to be simply electric. If he can stay healthy, and cut down on some ball security issues that have also stunted his playing time, especially on special teams, McCall could be the Scarlet and Gray’s secret weapon.


Defense

The defense has significantly less pieces to replace coming into 2019, with only Nick Bosa (who they already played the majority of last season without), Dre’Mont Jones and Kendall Sheffield exiting for the NFL. However, with that being said, a lot of players are returning on a defense that was arguably the worst Ohio State has produced in several years. This means that the guys that struggled last year are going to have to step up, or risk losing their spot to those waiting in the wings.

One guy who already has firm control of a starting spot is Jeff Okudah, who comes in with a ton of hype and a chance to become the next great Buckeye corner to get drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. Okudah played a bunch in 2018, appearing in 13 games mainly serving as a backup to Sheffield and Damon Arnette, but really began to show his true potential late in the year with some increased playing time.

Okudah’s coming out party was in the Rose Bowl against Washington. His stats seem modest, totaling five tackles and two pass breakups, but watching that game against the Huskies, the then-sophomore corner was all over the field. Okudah provided blanket coverage throughout the game, always in position to make a play when his number was called. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior corner combines impressive speed with a great knowledge of the position. Ready to take over a full-time role as a starter, Okudah could very well be the next Denzel Ward-type player for Ohio State.

When it comes to stepping up this season on defense, no unit has to turn things around more than the linebackers. Heading into game one, Ohio State is expected to return all three starters at the position. Malik Harrison has been a stud, but both Tuf Borland and Pete Werner have had their struggles. Should either continue to not play up to par, linebacker Teradja Mitchell is hungry and waiting to bust out and show everyone why he deserves more time.

Mitchell has not yet played a single down for the Buckeyes outside of the special teams units. However, there is a lot of hype surrounding the sophomore, who came into the program as the No. 2 inside linebacker and No. 44 overall player in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Described as the hardest hitter on the entire defense, Mitchell should provide valuable depth early on as the coaching staff searches for their every-down linebackers early in the season. If he plays up to expectations, Mitchell should see a whole bunch of playing time, and could become an integral piece at the center of Ohio State’s defense.