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Leaders of the Room: Who’s Justin Fields throwing to in 2020?

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Despite a crop of outstanding recruits, the veterans remain on top.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Ohio State vs Clemson Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to Ohio State’s Fall Camp, which is expected to start Aug. 7 — while players and coaches could begin other football activities on July 13 — we here at LGHL will be taking a look at the leaders of each position group. Who will the team turn to when the clock is ticking and the stakes are high? Some positions’ standouts will be obvious, but others are still up for discussion.

Next up: who will lead the wide receivers in 2020?

It’s a given that, after the past two years where Ohio State’s had an embarrassment of riches in terms of veteran receivers, this year would be something of a reset in terms of newer, younger talent that’s been waiting to break out. And given the Buckeyes just brought on probably its best receiving class ever — with Mookie Cooper, Julian Fleming, Gee Scott Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba all joining in the class of 2020 — there will be plenty of young talent to keep opposing defenses on their toes. The quartet, including Fleming, who comes to Columbus as the top wide receiver in his class, is expected to play straight away.

But enough with the rookies. Let’s start with the two most obvious quasi-veterans who will assuredly be Fields’ go-to guys come the fall.

First up, by seniority, is true junior Chris Olave, who returns to Ohio State as the leading receiver from the 2019 season. Last year, Olave totaled 849 receiving yards on 49 receptions in his sophomore campaign. His 12 receiving touchdowns were also tops on the team.

That performance was the successful fulfillment of wild offseason expectations for Olave. Ohio State fans had fallen in love with Olave because of that one time in 2018 when the then-freshman caught two passes for two touchdowns in a 62-39 route of TTUN. He followed that game up with five more receptions and another touchdown against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship.

Widely considered one of the top receivers in the nation, with his biting combination of speed and exceptional route running, Olave has still been overshadowed in his career in Columbus by the likes of Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins. However, the road seems paved for a breakout year for the junior — that is, if the younger receivers on the team don’t steal the spotlight.

And who’s leading that pack of younger upstarts? Why none other than Garrett Wilson. The sophomore from Austin, Texas, played in all 14 games as a true freshman in 2019. While he finished fourth on the team in receiving yards (432) and receiving touchdowns (five), he recalled memories of what Olave did the year before when facing Michigan last season, racking up 118 receiving yards and a touchdown.

However, while Olave came on strong at the end of the season in 2018, Wilson spent 2019 bubbling just under the surface as a backup. He was a consistent target of Fields, recording at least one catch in all 14 games.

In 2019, Wilson finished behind Olave, K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor in receiving yards. With the latter two off to the NFL, it seems only natural that Wilson will play an expanded role with Fields passing to him this season.

But how Wilson will be interacting with his quarterback might be a different story, as the sophomore is moving into the slot to the role vacated by Hill. After spending his freshman season proving his worth as an outside threat, Wilson will have a chance to diversify his on-field impact.

Beyond Wilson and Olave on the field, it certainly helps that the receiving corps is being led by former Buckeye standout Brian Hartline, who’s been coaching the group since 2018. In that inaugural season, the receiving unit had four 1,000-career yard receivers for the first time in program history. Hartline’s squad repeated that feat once again in 2019.

The downside for Hartline is that just one of those receivers — Olave — is returning this season. But as we’ve already discussed, there’s a tremendous and proven upside in Wilson.

The past few seasons, with Hartline leading the unit, have represented outstanding growth for the Ohio State receiving corps, as Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields have had myriad, reliable targets to pass to. Despite these rich sets of targets, there are always leaders in the room who tend to carry the unit, and this year, we can expect Olave and Wilson to step up.