A little while back on this here website, I wrote about how elite wide receivers have become the key to winning a national title in this new era of college football. We saw this play out in real time in this past season’s College Football Playoff, where the two teams to meet in the national title game also just so happened to have two of the top wide receiver rooms in the country. Ultimately, the team with the Heisman Trophy-winning soon-to-be Top-10 NFL Draft pick came away victorious.
Nobody understands the current state of the game better than Nick Saban, as we have seen his style of offense adapt from the ground-and-pound attack led by Derrick Henry not too long ago to the air-raid vertical passing attack led this past season by DeVonta Smith. The college football landscape is constantly changing, and if you don't change with it, you will quickly be left in the dust. In order to compete in today’s game, you must be able to put the ball in the hands of elite playmakers at the wide receiver position.
As good as Ohio State’s wideouts were this past season, it is tough to argue that they weren’t clearly second fiddle to what was going on in Tuscaloosa. On top of Smith, who racked up an insane 1,856 receiving yards and 23 touchdown catches in 2020, Alabama also had the luxury of rostering fellow consensus first-round 2021 NFL Draft pick Jaylen Waddle — who missed all but six games with a devastating ankle injury — as well as sophomore John Metchie, who tallied 916 yards and six TDs on the year. The trio, when all healthy, helped make the Crimson Tide into one of the best offenses the sport has ever seen.
While a step behind Saban’s group, the Buckeyes were no slouches in the receiving department. Ryan Day’s duo of Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson have quickly become one of the best wideout tandems in program history. Olave, in his third season in Columbus, racked up 729 yards and seven TDs on the year, while Wilson was right behind him in year two, registering 723 yards and six TDs. These two guys accounted for nearly 70% of Justin Fields’ 2100 passing yards in 2020, and luckily for fans of Ohio State, both will be returning in 2021.
With Smith and Waddle off to the NFL, Ohio State will now have without a doubt the best wide receiver room in the country this upcoming season. In fact, back at the beginning of February, PFF ranked the top 10 returning college wideouts in college football for 2021, and Olave and Wilson came in at No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, respectively. However, it isn’t just about these two superstars, as the line behind them continues to get better and better with the relentless efforts of position coach Brian Hartline on the recruiting trail.
There were few receptions to be had by guys not named Olave and Wilson in 2020, but that will likely change next season. There will be a spirited competition for that third starting spot at wide receiver, and we could even see Ohio State move to more four receiver sets with only one clear starter returning at tight end in Jeremy Ruckert. This is where guys like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jameson Williams, Julian Fleming and Gee Scott Jr. come into play.
Any one of these players would likely be the No. 1 option at almost every other school around the country, but the Buckeyes have the insane luxury of them being added bonuses to their two future first round NFL Draft picks at the top of the depth chart. While the speedy Williams got the majority of the snaps behind Olave and Wilson last year, it would not be at all surprising to see Smith-Njigba usurp Williams as the clear third receiver. The former five-star prospect really impressed in limited playing time in 2020, and with a full year and a more normal offseason under his belt should only continue to improve heading into 2021.
Fleming and Scott didn’t see nearly as much time as Smith-Njigba, but were both very highly-rated coming out of high school — with Fleming the No. 1 WR in the 2020 class — and should also benefit from a real full offseason of work. There are no shortage of options for Ohio State’s new quarterback to throw to, whoever that may be, and after adding the nation’s No. 1 WR in 2021 in Emeka Egbuka and a number of other talented freshmen like Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jayden Ballard joining the mix, Hartline has his room absolutely buzzing.
There isn’t another program in the country that can nearly touch the amount of talent and depth Ohio State has at the wide receiver position. Sure there are a number of big names returning around the country in addition to Metchie, like Clemson’s Justyn Ross and Georgia’s George Pickens, and even around the Big Ten in guys like Purdue’s David Bell and Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle, but nobody’s roster has quite the tandem like Olave and Wilson to go along with just a ridiculous amount of four and five-star guys to compliment them.
The Buckeyes haven’t yet named a starting quarterback, and likely won’t for some time, but whether it will be CJ Stroud, Jack Miller or Kyle McCord tossing the rock in 2021, they will have no shortage of options to throw the ball to. They may not have a player as explosive as Smith was for Alabama in 2020, but this Ohio State receiving core has a chance to be something special.