After a standout sophomore season, @ojhodgkinson says the Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave is primed for greatness and could find first round recognition in the 2021 #NFLDraft.https://t.co/zYu8VT89g5— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) May 7, 2020
When the Los Angeles Chargers took K.J. Hill in the seventh round of last month’s NFL Draft, it marked the 10th wide receiver from Ohio State that has been drafted since 2012. While it is no surprise that Ohio State is developing players who are making an impact at the next level, the quality of wide receivers coming from Columbus has become even more polished over the last few years.
Michael Thomas was taken in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, and is coming off a season that saw him set the NFL record for receptions in a season. Even more recently, Terry McLaurin was taken in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins. McLaurin burst onto the scene for the Redskins, scoring a touchdown in each of his first three games. Parris Campbell was taken before McLaurin in the same draft, but he wasn’t able to show his full set of skills for the Indianapolis Colts, as his rookie season was slowed by injuries.
A huge reason for the increase of wide receiver talent that Ohio State is producing is due to the coaching. Gone is wide receivers coach Zach Smith, who was too busy being a sociopath to do a job that was given to him only because he is Earle Bruce’s grandson. Taking over for Smith prior to the 2018 season was former Buckeye wide receiver, Brian Hartline, who obviously has a better grasp on coaching receivers on what it takes to be successful at the next level.
Over the past few years, Ohio State has benefited from a more pass-friendly offense, which wasn’t always the case under Urban Meyer and Ed Warriner. While the Buckeyes still lead heavily on the run game, the skills exhibited by quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields have allowed the wide receivers to get in on the fun. That trend is only going to continue with the quarterback and wide receiver talent the Buckeyes have in the mix for the future.
Last year Garrett Wilson was the hot new talented wide receiver the Buckeyes were able to land a commitment from, and the Texas product showed glimpses of his skills, catching 30 passes and five touchdowns. This year, the Buckeyes have brought in even more talent to compliment Wilson, with Julian Fleming and Jaxon Smith-Njigba in the fold. But, the most important receiver for Ohio State this season is Chris Olave.
It almost feels like a miracle that Olave is even a Buckeye. The only reason Ryan Day stumbled across Olave was because he was scouting Olave’s high school quarterback, Jack Tuttle. While Tuttle would eventually end up committing to Indiana, Ohio State was able to convince Olave to pass on offers from USC, Tennessee, and Michigan.
Olave’s Ohio State career got off to a slow start, but all that changed when Austin Mack was injured in the loss to Purdue in 2018. Olave stepped up in some of Ohio State’s biggest games that year, catching a combined three touchdowns in a win over Michigan, and against Northwestern the following week in the Big Ten Championship Game. Along with his two touchdown catches against the Wolverines, Olave also blocked a punt that Sevyn Banks returned for a touchdown.
2019 was Olave’s breakout season, as he became one of Justin Fields’ trusted targets. The sophomore was almost the hero for the Buckeyes in the CFP Semifinal loss to Clemson, catching a touchdown pass that gave Ohio State a 23-21 lead in the fourth quarter, and he was the target of the final pass of the season for Fields, that likely would have been the game-winning touchdown if there wasn’t a miscommunication between Fields and Olave on the route. Olave finished the year with 48 catches for 849 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Now with Hill having moved on to the NFL, Olave is the elder statesman of the Ohio State wide receivers. Wilson and Fleming might have been more talked about coming out of high school, but Olave has shown he deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best wide receivers in the country heading into the 2020 season. If we see Olave’s role expand even more as expected, it’s likely Olave could be the first Ohio State wide receiver to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since the Miami Dolphins took Ted Ginn Jr. with the ninth overall pick the 2007 NFL Draft.
What makes Olave such an attractive NFL prospect is his mix of size, strength, and speed. With Justin Fields chucking Olave the pigskin this year, we should see the duo connect early and often. Fields is primed to be in the mix for the Heisman Trophy, which should see Olave get plenty of attention as Fields’ top target. The combo was steady throughout Fields’ first year in Columbus, and should only get stronger as they both enter their junior seasons.
The emergence of Olave comes at a perfect time, as Ohio State faces questions in their running game after the loss of J.K. Dobbins to the NFL. With a target like Olave, it will allow the Buckeyes to lean a little heavier on the passing game as they adjust to life after Dobbins. It also helps that Ohio State has a plethora of talented receivers surrounding Olave, which won’t allow opponents to commit all their resources to slowing down Olave.
The details of the 2020 college football season are still up in the air, but no matter if the season is shortened or played without fans in attendance, there’s no question that Olave is going to be one of the most impactful receivers in the country this year. There’s already talk that Olave is a first round prospect, and it will become even more apparent as the season moves along that Olave deserves to be one of the first wide receivers taken in the draft when he declares.