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What If: Ohio State’s receivers can’t top last year’s performers?

With the success the trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba experienced last season, it will be difficult — even with the receiver room the Buckeyes have — to top it.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl Game - Ohio State v Utah Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the most exciting parts of Ohio State’s offense last season was the talented trio of receivers in Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Olave and Wilson alone had a combined 135 catches for 1,994 yards and 25 touchdowns. With both players being drafted, their shoes must be filled — which is clearly not going to be an easy task. What if it can’t be done?

Let’s back it up for a minute. C.J. Stroud truly could not have begun his collegiate career with a better offense. Between having two great running backs in TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, the aforementioned receivers and a strong offensive line, it definitely made for a nice transition into college football. This is not to take away from any of Stroud’s talent (the guy was a Heisman finalist), but it certainly didn’t hurt him.

One of the biggest things that helped Stroud, I believe, was the experience and leadership that Olave and Wilson brought to the table. It was like that one meme of Joe Burrow saying “F it, Ja’Marr’s down there somewhere,” in reference to saying that he could throw the ball anywhere and Ja’Marr Chase would catch it. I feel like that was the case with Olave and Wilson (and honestly JSN, too). Stroud had to feel more at ease knowing that these two guys for sure had his back.

Now, Olave and Wilson have moved onto the pros. That leaves Smith-Njigba to be the top dog this year. Statistically, he had the best season out of all the receivers on the team last year with 95 receptions for 1,606 yards and nine touchdowns. However, he kind of burst onto the scene, with defenders not having a good idea of how to stop him.

Now, with a full season under his belt, opposing teams will have a better idea of how to defend him. He will also be double-teamed at times. Therefore, the Buckeyes MUST have solid No. 2 and No. 3 receivers. Enter, Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming.

Buckeye fans got to see flashes of greatness from these guys during the Rose Bowl, but it will be interesting to see how they play as starters this season. Personally, I’m expecting the most from Harrison, considering he scored all three of his touchdowns last season during that game. The fact that the Buckeyes already had confidence in him, a true freshman, during their bowl game demonstrates the talent that he possesses.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Capital One Venture X - Ohio State v Utah Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Egbuka, also primed to have a big sophomore season, has the advantage of being able to play in whatever receiver position he needs to. While he mostly lined up at outside receiver in high school, Egbuka backed up JSN in the slot this past season, learning those skills from one of the best in college football. Therefore, I think he could have an edge over Fleming for the final starting position.

So, this is the plan. JSN, Harrison and Egbuka to be the new best trio of receivers in the game. But, what if that doesn’t happen? What if JSN struggles to top his breakout season? What if Harrison and Egbuka’s inexperience is too much for them to overcome?

While I highly doubt any of this is going to happen, it is still a problem one must ponder. It is going to be a young team on offense, with the starting QB, RB and two of the receivers (most likely) only coming into their first or second year of collegiate football. Henderson may be relied upon more heavily, which could take away from his effectiveness. Stroud might not experience as much success, because his legs certainly don’t seem to be an option after last year.

How likely is it that Ohio State will generate two historical trios of receivers in back-to-back years? Honestly, extremely. While I am not completely sure the 2022 receivers can match last year’s, there is no reason why JSN, Harrison and Egbuka won’t have some of the best stats among their position in the sport. I believe it might take a few games for these guys to find their groove, which might cause a little bit of panic among the Buckeye faithful, but once they do, I don’t think there will be any looking back.