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Players to Watch: Carnell Tate

There’s probably no harder spot on the field at Ohio State to start at as a freshman, but Tate is going to push for significant playing time in year one.

Ohio State Spring Football Game Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about players to watch this upcoming season. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Player to Watch” articles here.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: an Ohio State wide receiver recruited by Brian Hartline is expected to be very good, very fast.

There is perhaps a no more loaded position group at any program in the country than the pass-catchers in Columbus. The Buckeyes have produced three first-round NFL Draft picks at the wide receiver position in just the last two years, and have the top two projected selections at the position in 2024 with Marvin Harrison Jr. — likely a top-three overall pick — and Emeka Egbuka. Maybe even more impressive is that this incredible run of success shows no signs of stopping.

In addition to Julian Fleming, the No. 1 wideout in the 2020 class, Ohio State now adds the No. 1 receiver in the 2023 class to the roster in five-star Brandon Inniss, as well as a pair of top-10 wide receivers and top-60 overall players in Noah Rogers and Carnell Tate. On top of that, the Buckeyes currently hold verbal commitments in 2024 from five-star Jeremiah Smith — the No. 1 WR in the 2024 class and one of the most impressive prospects at the position since Julio Jones — and five-star Mylan Graham.

All that is to say that the Buckeyes are absolutely loaded at wide receiver. This year’s group will obviously be led by Harrison Jr. and Egbuka, but the third man in the mix is still a bit up for grabs, and will likely see more of a rotation than the top two spots.

Fleming is the favorite to play the majority of the time as WR3, but that is not set in stone. The 6-foot-2 former five-star has seen his collegiate career significantly plagued by injuries, playing in just 23 games — mostly in a part-time role — over his first three years with the program. In those games, he has totaled 53 catches for 693 yards and seven touchdowns. Those aren’t terrible numbers by any means, but by comparison Egbuka, who came in the year after Fleming, has tallied 83 catches for 1,342 yards and 10 TDs over 21 games in just two seasons.

Needless to say, Fleming could still be a great player for Ohio State, but he has not exactly run away with the job, especially as yet another injury kept him out of the majority of spring practice and the Buckeyes’ spring game. With both Fleming and Egbuka missing time this spring, it has given a chance for the young guys on the roster to get addition reps at receiver, and freshman Carnell Tate has seemingly made the most of his opportunities.

“The feedback we are getting from academics, nutrition, strength and conditioning, position coaches, strength and development, everybody has such great things to say about him...” Ryan Day said about Tate back in April. “It translates on the field; he’s prepared, he takes care of his business, and is very mature. On the field, he’s making a lot of plays. He has to pick up a lot of offense; for a young player, he has a pretty mature route tree, does a nice job at the line of scrimmage, catches the ball strong, makes plays, all really encouraging signs.

Already drawing praise from the head coach, it is no surprise to see Tate stepping up right away in his first taste of collegiate ball. Hailing from IMG Academy, the No. 3 WR in the 2023 class per 247Sports, was already used to playing alongside and against some of the best competition at the prep level. Director of Scouting at 247Sports Andrew Ivins had this to say of Tate’s abilities:

“One of those prospects that just seems to be good at pretty much everything. [...] Quickly found success at the national powerhouse and established himself as a go-to target in what has traditionally been a low-volume passing offense. [...] Should be viewed as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the class of 2023 given resume and ability to consistently get open.”

Tate possesses great size for a first-year wideout, standing at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds. The Chicago native also has the added benefit of not yet getting ruined by Mick Marrotti and the OSU strength program, who will probably look to add another 15-20 pounds to his frame regardless of how it will impact his play style. It is for that same reason that I worry about Fleming, who is listed at 205 but looks even bigger than that, which may impact both his ability and injury potential — but that is a topic for a whole different column.

While Inniss was a higher-ranked prospect than Tate, the latter has a step up in the position battle as an early enrollee. Both of them will likely become stars for Ohio State in the not-so-distant future, but a strong spring has Tate in position to see significant reps in year one. It isn’t totally uncommon for a freshman to get real playing time at wide receiver, as not too long ago Garrett Wilson hauled in 30 catches for 432 yards and five TDs as a first-year. While it’s not fair to Tate to compare him to Wilson just yet, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him put numbers close to that this season in a Buckeye offense that loves to throw the ball.

If Fleming is fully healthy, he will likely get the bulk of the reps behind Harrison Jr. and Egbuka, but I think Tate is going to get the next-most reps behind him. I really like some of the other guys in that room, including Jayden Ballard, Xavier Johnson and even fellow freshman Noah Rogers, who was also an early enrollee. But Carnell Tate is a player that I will have my eye on this season, and one that I think Ohio State fans will want to watch as he moves his way up the depth chart in year one.