Welcome to Leaders of the Room — an ongoing Land-Grant Holy Land series that looks at the most important players within each unit at Ohio State. With the team’s preseason camp supposed to be underway this week, now is a great time to start taking a deep dive into the depth chart to find out who the Buckeyes will turn to at each position as they look for leaders both on and off the field in 2020.
Today’s focus: offensive line.
Ohio State’s front in 2019 was one of the best units in the country. Creating big holes for J.K. Dobbins to run through, the offensive line paved the way for the team’s 266.8 rushing yards per game — good for fifth-best in FBS. According to Football Outsiders, the Buckeyes ranked No. 8 in the nation in line yards (yardage made possible directly from run blocking), No. 6 in power success rate (short runs on third or fourth down that made the line of gain), and No. 7 in stuff rate (carries stopped at or before the line of scrimmage).
Fortunately for Ryan Day and position coach Greg Studrawa, the majority of that productive group is back this season. However, they will still need to replace two starters in Jonah Jackson and Branden Bowen. Jackson, who spent just one year with the program after grad transferring from Rutgers, was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection at guard and a third-round selection by the Detroit Lions in the 2020 NFL Draft. Bowen, who started 19 games in his OSU career and earned Second-Team All-Big Ten honors in 2019, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Carolina Panthers.
Finding replacements for the two talented blockers should not come as much of a challenge, as there are a trio of former five-star prospects waiting in the wings. As I wrote back in June, Ohio State’s 2020 offensive line has a chance to not only outperform last year’s stellar group, but the unit could easily become one of the best in program history. That tall task begins with the returning starters, and at the top of that list is none other than Wyatt Davis.
Davis burst onto the scene last season, starting all 14 games for the Buckeyes. His presence was felt immediately, as he rapidly became one of the best interior lineman in college football. He earned First-Team All-American honors from the AP, The Sporting News and CBS Sports, and was named First-Team All-Big Ten by the coaches and the media. A testament to how good Davis truly is, he was also selected to Big Ten Network’s All-Decade Team — the only active player in the conference to make the first team.
Despite a chance to enter the NFL Draft as a likely early-round pick, Davis chose to return to Ohio State for one more season, and begins the 2020 campaign with a ton of hype. Named a preseason All-American by TSN and the Walter Camp Foundation, Davis has a chance to become the third Buckeye ever to be named a two-time consensus All-American — with the other two being legends Orlando Pace and Chris Ward. He is also one of the favorites to earn this year’s Outland Trophy — given to the nation’s top interior lineman — which hasn't been won by an Ohio State player since Pace in 1996.
Davis’ main reason for returning to Columbus is to win a National Championship, but he will also look to become an elite NFL Draft prospect in the process. While interior lineman are generally not a popular early selection, the 6-foot-4, 315-pound bruiser may just force a team’s hand. Dan Schmelzer of nflmocks.com had this to say of Davis’ skillset:
Davis is an absolute mauler in the run game who consistently pushes defenders back at the point of attack. It does not matter if he is going up against a defensive tackle, defensive end, linebacker, or whatever, this guy consistently wins with his impressive raw power. His quick and powerful hands consistently dominate on tape and he does a great job of maintaining proper pad level throughout his blocks.
Schmelzer predicts that while NFL team’s aren’t keen on investing top-10 picks on offensive lineman that aren’t tackles, Davis’ overall skillset could make him a rare exception. He says Davis could come in and immediately become one of the best at the entire position in the league.
Between Davis and Josh Myers — who will likely be a favorite for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center — Ohio State’s offensive line is in great hands. Especially up the middle, where the pair will probably be joined by former five-star prospect Harry Miller, the Buckeyes should have absolutely no problem running the football between the tackles regardless of who is in the backfield. If Davis and the rest of this talented unit can live up to expectations, the OSU offense is going to wreak havoc in 2020.