Coming into the 2020 season, if you would have said Ohio State’s offensive line had to function without Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers, that would have sounded like an absolutely daunting proposition. The pair of interior blockers were integral to keeping Justin Fields and his backfield mates clean for the past few seasons, and are likely destined to become early-round NFL Draft picks later this month. However, after seeing what the team has in store in 2021, the situation doesn’t seem all that dire.
Now, this isn’t to say the the Buckeyes certainly won’t miss the steadying presence of Davis and Myers. A consensus All-American in 2019, Davis burst onto the scene as a third-year sophomore, starting every game that season and blossoming into one the of nation’s premier interior linemen. Myers, who saw his first year as the team’s starting center in 2019, did a phenomenal job of anchoring Ohio State’s offensive line and helped keep the offense on schedule with his consistently strong play up the middle. These two guys were very special players in Columbus, and will now get to show off their tremendous skillsets at the next level.
That being said, Ohio State is well-equipped to overcome the loss of these two stars, and it begins with the two guys returning at the offensive tackle spots.
Thayer Munford is a player who easily could have elected to declare for the NFL Draft, but instead decided to use the free year of eligibility to fulfill a promise he made to his mother that he would become the first member of his family to graduate from college. Starting at left tackle each of the last three seasons, Ryan Day and position coach Greg Studrawa will certainly be happy with Munford’s decision, as he will be one of the nation’s most experienced offensive linemen heading into 2021.
Studrawa said tackle Thayer Munford told him that he hasn’t peaked yet. “He has the chance to be the best tackle in the country… and that’s really what he’s chasing."— Bucknuts (@Bucknuts247) April 7, 2021
While his goal is to become even better this upcoming season, Munford was already pretty darn good during the 2020 campaign. According to Pro Football Focus, Munford ranks as the No. 2 overall returning offensive lineman in 2021 and the No. 1 returning tackle after posting a 91.8 PFF grade this past season. That grade was the fourth-best among all FBS offensive linemen, and the best among edge blockers. Ohio State is thrilled to have him back for another year, and he isn’t the only returning starting tackle for this Buckeyes front.
Studrawa is lucky to have both of his offensive tackles coming back to bookend the Ohio State line, with Nicholas Petit-Frere returning to start opposite Munford. A consensus five-star recruit coming out of high school, NPF got his first chance to start this past season, and he did not disappoint. According to PFF, Petit-Frere was tops in the nation in pressure percentage allowed by Power 5 offensive tackles with an absurd 0.5%. He and Munford were dominant all season long, but especially so against Clemson in the College Football Playoff, where the pair allowed zero pressures and zero sacks on 34 pass-blocking snaps.
Petit-Frere said he did give consideration to the NFL Draft after last year. He decided to come back because he still thought he could improve with another season, plus he saw the opportunity to win a national title by coming back.— Patrick Murphy (@_Pat_Murphy) April 7, 2021
Whereas the two outside spots are already set barring any unforeseen circumstances, the interior of the offensive line is still very much up in the air, but the guys battling for the three remaining spots are all good options.
Of course, the conversation starts with the unit’s lone remaining returning starter in Harry Miller. Starting at guard for Ohio State last season, Miller struggled mightily at times, but he got much better as the year progressed. Of note, Miller was actually recruited as a center, where he was a five-star prospect and the No. 2 player at the position in the 2019 class. The junior was expected to start at center in 2021, but an injury has removed him from spring camp, and it has opened up the opportunity for others to try their hand up the middle.
Greg Studrawa said Harry Miller will be “right back in that mix” at either center or guard when preseason camp begins. He said he expects Miller to be a starter on the offensive line this year, but they'll see what happens in camp.— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) April 7, 2021
One guy that will almost certainly earn a starting job this offseason is Paris Johnson Jr. Heading into his sophomore season, the former five-star prospect was recruited as a tackle, but saw some time at guard towards the end of last year and looked very good doing it. With Munford and NPF entrenched at the tackle spots, moving Johnson to guard is the best way to get the supremely talented athlete on the field, and by the sound of things from Wednesday’s media availability, the transition is going quite well.
Studrawa said sophomore Paris Johnson Jr. wants to learn so badly that sometimes he has to kick the offensive lineman out of his offense. He said that has made Johnson’s transition from tackle to guard go smooth.— Patrick Murphy (@_Pat_Murphy) April 7, 2021
Two more guys to keep an eye on are Matthew Jones and Luke Wypler. Jones was huge for Ohio State last season in his reserve role, earning his first start against Michigan State when three offensive linemen were out due to COVID-19 protocols and again against Clemson when Miller tested positive prior the the CFP matchup. Even after Miller’s return for the national title game, it was Jones who started in his place at left guard. With Miller out for spring practice, Jones has returned to his natural position at center, which is the spot he was recruited at coming out of high school.
Studrawa said he would “absolutely” call Matthew Jones one of his most improved players. He said Jones always had the physical tools but his mental side and demeanor changed because he was tired of not playing.— Bucknuts (@Bucknuts247) April 7, 2021
Wypler, on the other hand, hasn’t seen much of any playing time in his young Ohio State career, but is drawing a ton of praise for his work ethic this offseason. Wypler elected to stay on campus following the national title game when most guys had gone home to continue to work on drills and improve. Wypler came to Columbus as a high four-star guard out of New Jersey, and his focused preparation could very well result in a starting job when the season begins this August.
Greg Studrawa on Luke Wypler: “He's a tough Jersey guy.”— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) April 7, 2021
He said Wypler was at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center less than 24 hours after the national championship game doing drills, sending film to Studrawa and asking for critiques on his techniques.
Of course, in addition to those six names, there are even more guys who could push for playing time in 2021, as Ohio State’s line is as deep as it is talented. Fan-favorite Dawand Jones is banged up a bit in spring practice, but has been progressing nicely as more of a project offensive lineman with a ton of potential. Josh Fryar, a lesser-known former three-star prospect at center, has also impressed some people with his development this offseason.
The Buckeyes may have lost two of their biggest names along the offensive line to the NFL Draft at the end of last season, but the return of both starting offensive tackles as well as a host of talented guys who could talk over starting roles at the three interior spots should be more than enough to get the job done in the new campaign. Ohio State will have a new quarterback in the backfield in 2021, but whoever it is that winds up winning that job shouldn't have too much to worry about in terms of protection.