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Way-too-early prediction of Ohio State’s 2021 depth chart

With Monday being the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft, we have a better idea of what the Buckeyes’ roster will look like next season.

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Not many other schools around the country produce NFL talent at the rate Ohio State does. Ryan Day and his staff have the program buzzing, and as a result a number of their players now have the chance to achieve their dreams of playing in the pros. Unfortunately for Buckeye Nation, this means that a bunch of the fan favorites on the roster don't get to stick around all that long.

Monday was the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft, and there were not all too many surprises in terms of those on their way out. Of course, Justin Fields is moving on, as he is widely regarded as the No. 2 QB prospect behind only Trevor Lawrence. Joining him are a number of talented players, including Baron Browning, Drue Chrisman, Wyatt Davis, Blake Haubeil, Josh Myers, Trey Sermon, Tommy Togiai, and Shaun Wade. Of the group, Togiai was likely the only one who was a bit shocking to folks, but the DT had a dominant junior season and is ready to make the jump to the next level.

However, there were some surprises when it came who chose to return. While the Buckeyes are obviously ecstatic to get one more season from Thayer Munford, Jeremy Ruckert and Tyreke Smith, the biggest head-turner was the decision by Chris Olave to come back for his senior season. Projected by many as a late first/early second-round pick, Olave wants to earn his degree and chase a title in Columbus, and I’m sure Brian Hartline is thrilled — as are all fans of Ohio State.

With those decisions out of the way, we have a much better look at what next year’s roster will look like, which means it is as good a time as any to take a stab at predicting the 2021 depth chart. I’m sure there will be a ton of change between now and the start of next season, and almost all of this will likely wind up being wrong, but here is how things appear to shake out at this current moment.


Offense

Quarterback

Rutgers v Ohio State Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

QB1: C.J. Stroud

While there will surely be a spirited competition between Stroud, Jack Miller and Kyle McCord, it appears as though Stroud has the inside track to earning the starting quarterback job. The 6-foot-3 California native did not attempt a pass this season, but the Elite 11 winner came to Columbus as the No. 2 pro-style QB in the 2020 class. Ryan Day has been known as a quarterback guru, and there is no reason to think Ohio State’s next QB won’t put up big numbers in 2021.

To quell any fears you may have about a first-time starter next season, I don't think Chris Olave would have elected to return for another season if he wasn’t 100% sure the team’s next quarterback was going to be great.

Running Back

RB1: TreVeyon Henderson
RB2: Master Teague

Master Teague began the 2020 season as the team’s starting running back, splitting carries with Sermon until the latter’s breakout performance in the Big Ten title game. While I think Teague is a very solid back, I just don't think he possess the necessary tools to be an every-down ballcarrier at Ohio State. He is a tough downhill runner with great strength, but lacks the wiggle and lateral quickness needed to pick up those extra yards. I’m incredibly high on incoming freshman TreVeyon Henderson, and think the nation’s No. 1 RB in the 2020 class could take over the starting job right from day one.

The Buckeyes will have no shortage of options in their running back room, and I would also love to see Miyan Williams get a legit chance to earn the RB1 spot. Behind that group remains Steele Chambers and Marcus Crowley, as well as incoming freshman Evan Pryor.

Wide Receivers

WR1: Chris Olave
WR2: Garrett Wilson
WR3: Jameson Williams

Ohio State will run it back with the same trio of wide receivers they had last season, making life much easier for whichever quarterback winds up winning the starting job. Olave and Wilson were the guys for the Buckeyes all year long, combining for 1,452 yards and 13 touchdowns on 93 receptions as a duo. By contrast, Williams was third on the list with just nine catches for 154 yards and two scores. I think we will see Ohio State look to spread the rock out a lot more next season, which could open the door for other guys to get involved as well.

With a full season under the belt of guys like Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Gee Scott Jr., we should see an increased role for that sophomore trio — especially with how much Ohio State has liked to rotate receivers in the past. It would also not be at all surprising for Smith-Njigba to start over Williams, as the Texas native showed tremendous flashes as a freshman. The best receiver room in the country likely resides in Columbus, as Hartline’s group also now adds the No. 1 WR in 2021 in Emeka Egbuka as well as another duo of four-star prospects.

Tight Ends

Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

TE1: Jeremy Ruckert
TE2: Cade Stover

The return of Ruckert is a massive boost for Ohio State’s tight end, which otherwise contains a number of question marks with the graduation of Luke Farrell. Ruckert has made a number of highlight plays early in his Buckeye career, even in an offense that doesn’t feature the tight ends in the passing game all too often. He has incredibly reliable hands, and his blocking has been tremendous. With another season like 2020, he could very well play his way into a day one NFL Draft pick.

The rest of the room behind him is largely wide open, with likely either Joe Royer or Cade Stover earning the nod as the backup. Royer was a former three-star prospect, and Stover was recruited as a defensive player before switching to the offensive side of the ball. Listed at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, I'm giving Stover the nod based on his size and athleticism.

Offensive Line

LT: Thayer Munford
LG: Paris Johnson Jr.
C: Harry Miller
RG: Matthew Jones
RT: Nicholas Petit-Frere

While Ohio State is losing its two biggest names along the offensive line in Davis and Myers, I think there is a legitimate chance next years unit is just as strong. The return of both Munford and NPF, who were incredible this past season, gives the Buckeyes consistency on the outside. Miller, who played guard this year, can now slide back to his natural position at center. Johnson was recruited as a tackle, but we saw him look strong playing guard for a few snaps against Clemson, and I think he’s too good to leave off the field. He and Jones are likely interchangeable at either guard spot.

Ohio State’s offensive line next season features a ton of depth and a lot of versatility. Behind those five, you have fan favorite Dawand Jones, who could likely fill in at any position besides center. Luke Wypler will function as the backup center, while Enokk Vimahi and incoming five-star freshman Donovan Jackson are your reserve guards. There are a bunch of talented bodies that can be moved around along that line, and I expect big things from this unit in 2021.

Defense

Defensive Line

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

DE1: Tyreke Smith
DT1: Haskell Garrett
DT2: Taron Vincent
DE2: Zach Harrison

Getting Smith back is huge for the Buckeyes, as he really came on late last season and quickly became Ohio State’s best pass rusher next to Jonathon Cooper. Harrison was hyped up as the next big defensive end prospect but has yet to reach that level, so hopefully he can make that jump heading into year three. Defensive tackle may be Ohio State’s biggest issue, but the program got a huge boost on Tuesday when Haskell Garrett announced he would be taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility and returning for another season.

With Garrett back in the fold, it takes some of the pressure off of Taron Vincent, who would have otherwise been expected to fill the huge shoes of both Garrett and Togiai by himself. Guys like Jerron Cage and Antwuan Jackson played well in limited snaps last season, but it is tough to tell what you will get from them on a consistent basis. Ty Hamilton — younger brother of DaVon Hamilton — will also compete for a spot in that rotation. One of those DTs will have to step up alongside Garrett for Ohio State to once again be strong up the middle.

Defensive end is much deeper, where behind the starters we will see Tyler Friday and Javonte Jean-Baptiste continue to rotate in. There are a number of young guys to keep an eye on among the sophomores and incoming freshman, but don't be surprised to see 2021’s No. 4 overall prospect Jack Sawyer get some snaps in year one.

Linebackers

MIKE: Teradja Mitchell
SAM: Kourt Williams
WILL: Dallas Gant

Ohio State will be tasked with replacing its entire starting trio of linebackers, and none of the guys behind them have much experience taking meaningful snaps. Mitchell has been talked about for some time as a great athlete and a hard hitter, and he seems destined to take over Tuf Borland’s role in the middle. Gant has flashed in limited playing time on the outside, and he also seems to be in line for a starting spot. The SAM spot is the most wide open in my eyes, but I think Kourt Williams — recruited as a Bullet but coming off an ACL injury — would serve the role perfectly if healthy.

As nobody really has a firm hold on any of the three starting spots, there are a number of interesting names to keep an eye on, including most notably Craig Young, Tommy Eichenberg and Cody Simon. There is also a chance we see senior K’Vaughan Pope finally break through and make an impact, but I think Ohio State will look to feature their youth if possible.

Secondary

Ohio State v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

CB1: Sevyn Banks
CB2: Ryan Watts
Slot: Cameron Brown
Safety: Josh Proctor

This is by far the hardest position group to project on next year’s roster, as this past season’s unit certainly did not leave fans with a ton of optimism moving forward. Wade is off to the NFL, which moves Banks, who played just okay this year, from the No. 2 corner up to the No. 1 spot. The second outside corner is largely up for grabs, and I wouldn’t hate to see some fresh blood like Watts earn the job. Brown is Ohio State’s fastest corner, and as long as he fully recovers from his achilles injury, he has the best chance at earning the slot role.

As we saw towards the end of the season, Ohio State likes Proctor over Marcus Hooker as the one-high safety, but we could see both when the team looks to go with a two-safety look. Marcus Williamson, who bounced between corner and safety, could also feature as the team’s other safety next to Proctor on those sets. We also saw Lathan Ransom play the slot late in the year, and he could certainly push Brown for that job if the latter isn't quite healthy.

The Buckeyes have a ton of youth coming in among the secondary positions, and it will interesting to see just how much those guys play a role as freshmen if the current crop of DBs continue to struggle like they did in 2020.

Special Teams

K: Jake Siebert
P: Jesse Mirco

Not much to discuss here. Siebert took over for Haubeil when he was out with a groin injury, and went 16/16 on extra points in his absence. Mirco is a freshman coming in from Australia, and he will likely take control of the punting duties in year one.