For maybe the first time in what seems like forever, Ohio State will not be entering the season with a clear star at defensive end. The potential is there, as Zach Harrison could certainly make the leap to become the next great Buckeye edge rusher.
As a freshman, Harrison played the most snaps of any DE not named Chase Young, finishing the year with 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Young’s freshman year stats? 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Young spoke very highly of Harrison at the end of last year, calling him, “a force to be reckoned with,” and guys like Jonathan Cooper have lauded the 6-foot-6, 255-pound freak athlete’s work ethic.
While it’s definitely not out of the question that Harrison rises to the occasion and becomes a stud in year two, what the Buckeyes may lack in star power they will make up for in depth. Larry Johnson will no doubt look to rotate guys and keep everyone fresh, and that rotation will include a litany of talented edge rushers among the likes of Harrison, Cooper, Tyreke Smith, Tyler Friday and Javontae Jean-Baptiste.
Theres a bunch of young but largely unproven talent up the middle as well, with the defensive tackles including potential stars like Taron Vincent, Tommy Togiai and Haskell Garrett.
The defensive line should be very solid in 2020. However, if you were given the option to bring back one former Ohio State lineman — whether at the end or the tackle spot — who would you choose? For a program that has been a defensive line factory for the NFL for quite some time, there is no shortage of great options.
Going back to the late 90s, you could pick a guy like Mike Vrabel. Before his NFL playing days and current successful coaching career, Vrabel was lighting it up at Ohio State. The program record-holder with 36 career sacks, the future three-time Super Bowl champ was named Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in both his junior and senior year, also earning consensus All-American honors in 1996.
Moving into the 2000s, you could go with someone like Will Smith or Vernon Gholston. The late Smith was a three-year starter at OSU, helping lead the team to its 2002 BCS National Title. That season, he recorded 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss as part of a defense that allowed over 20 points in a game only twice. Gholston finished his Buckeye tenure with 22.5 sacks, and is tied for the program record with four sacks in a single game — coming against Wisconsin in 2007.
As you get more towards the 2010s, you run into Cameron Heyward and Johnathan Hankins. Heyward was an absolute beast in Columbus, racking up 15 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss in his collegiate career while being named a consensus All-American in 2007 as a freshman. Hankins racked up 138 total tackles from his tackle spot in his three seasons at Ohio State, earning First Team All-Big Ten honors in 2012, and continues to be one of the best run-stuffers in the NFL to this day.
And that is when you get to the Buckeyes’ truly historic run of elite defensive line talent over the past few years, which includes the Bosa brothers and Chase Young. Joey Bosa put up a ridiculous 26 sacks and 51 tackles for loss in the Scarlet and Gray, and Nick Bosa followed that up with 17.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss despite playing in only 29 games at OSU. We all know what Young was able to do this past season, breaking the school record with 16.5 sacks and forcing seven fumbles en route to the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
In between that trio of studs was a ton of talented but overshadowed defensive lineman, including all future NFL Draft picks among the likes of Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes, Dre’Mont Jones and Davon Hamilton.
You can call it recency bias, but I don't really care, because my choice is Chase Young. Give me one more season of the best defensive player in college football in 2019, and watch him help lead this year’s group to a national title. You’re telling me I can get an improved Harrison AND Young coming off either edge? Sign me up!
There really aren’t any bad options out there. Maybe you prefer one of the Bosa brothers, or maybe you’re confident with this year’s ends and would prefer to add a tackle to this year’s roster like Hankins or Jones. Heyward would be a great choice as well, as he has experience playing both positions.
So, let’s hear it.