Who are the top 5 Ohio State players you should know for the 2023 season?
Kyle McCord | Quarterback
On Tuesday, Ryan Day named the third-year Buckeye as the team’s starting quarterback for Saturday’s season opener against Indiana. However, newly minted backup Devin Brown will also play in the game while the competition will continue into the season; presumably wrapping up officially before Ohio State heads to South Bend to take on No. 13 Notre Dame.
Listen to Ryan Day’s Tuesday press conference announcing McCord as the team’s starter:
McCord has started one game in his career, spelling first-year starter C.J. Stroud in 2021 when he was nursing a bum shoulder. McCord came to Ohio State as the No. 28 prospect in the 2021 recruiting class, the No. 6 quarterback in the country. Despite the prominent recruiting status, he has not had much in-game experience during his first two years in Columbus.
He has played in 12 games, going 41 for 58 for 606 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, but as the coaches discussed the decision to start McCord, both Day and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles described him as calm and consistent and alluded to the fact that he made the right decisions and generally avoided mistakes.
You expect a level of steadiness from a third-year player, and with the embarrassment of riches that Ohio State has in terms of offensive firepower, making the basic — but perhaps not extraordinary — plays isn’t the worst possible outcome.
However, perhaps the biggest plus in McCord’s column is the fact that he has a long history with the next guy on this list, wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. The two played together at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia (although McCord is technically a New Jersey native), so they have years of reps and chemistry built up that can’t be overlooked for a new starter.
Marvin Harrison Jr. | Wide Receiver
What can be said about Marvin Harrison Jr. that hasn’t already been said? He is the best receiver in college football; if not the best player in college football. He is one of the top preseason Heisman candidates. He is a slam-dunk first-round NFL Draft pick. He might just be an alien.
Last season was supposed to be about Jaxon Smith-Njigba capitalizing on his breakout sophomore season in 2021 to become Ohio State’s definitive No. 1 wide receiver. However, injuries derailed that plan, opening up an avenue for Harrison to assert himself as arguably the best skill position player in the entire country.
In 2022, Marv had 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns and went from a Pro Football Hall of Famer’s son to a guy who many started talking about as a future Hall of Famer in his own right. Harrison Jr.’s size, precision, work ethic, and otherworldly physical gifts have made him the most dangerous weapon in college football. While there is no doubt that defensive coordinators will scheme to try and stop him from dominating games, thanks to the ridiculous collection of weapons that Ohio State has on offense, that won’t always be possible; and even when it is, I’m not even sure if there are three players in the country that could collectively slow down Marvin Harrison Jr.
TreVeyon Henderson | Running Back
The 2022 season did not go as planned for TreVeyon Henderson. After an incredible true freshman year, the running back was supposed to be a bell cow for Ohio State and a potential Heisman contender. However, injuries derailed Henderson’s potential almost from the jump, and nearly never throughout the season did he look like the player who showed so much promise the year before.
This led to the emergence of Miyan Williams as not only a change-of-pace back, but as a legitimate contender to the role of RB1 for the Buckeyes, but he also was regularly beset with injuries, which allowed Dallan Hayden and Chip Trayanum to also have moments to shine in 2022.
Henderson and his family have been vocal about how disappointed they were with how Ohio State handled his injury last year, both in terms of the internal medical decisions made by the program and how it was discussed publicly, and they are right. However, he has since put that — and thoughts of transferring — behind him and is healthy for the start of the new season.
Back at 100% (or as close to it as a running back can ever get) Henderson has the potential to be a legitimate difference-maker for Ohio State this season in the way that a Buckeye back hasn’t been since J.K. Dobbins.
J.T. Tuimoloau | Defensive End
When the Buckeyes landed the services of five-star prospect J.T. Tuimoloau, many assumed that OSU had found the successor to the Bosa brothers and Chase Young. At 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, it felt like the next great Buckeye sack artist had arrived in Columbus. To his point, that has not proven to be true, even though Tuimoloau has shown moments of brilliance — including what I believe is the greatest defensive game in Ohio State history.
But optimism is on the rise that now in his third year as a Buckeye, the Edge rusher will be able to take the next step thanks to not only his continued personal development but that of the rest of the defense as well. With his running mate Jack Sawyer returned to his natural position as a defensive end, the best interior defensive line in the last three years, and a secondary that feels like it might just be back to #BIA standards, opposing offenses shouldn’t be able to focus on Tuimoloau as much as they have in previous seasons, which just might provide him the opportunity to take the long-awaited step to the elite level of Ohio State ends.
Tommy Eichenberg | Linebacker
I’m not going to lie, when Tommy Eichenberg took over as Ohio State’s starting middle linebacker, I was neither impressed nor excited. Like many, I assumed that he was another incarnation of Tuf Borland, a slow, sub-athletic who achieved something approaching competency due to toughness and intelligence, but could never ascend to the level necessary to live up to the Ohio State linebacker legacy.
But to paraphrase Vivian Kensington in “Legally Blonde: The Musical” (played by Toledo native and former Miss America Kate Shindle), “When I’m wrong, then I say I’m wrong, and I was wrong about Tommy.”
Eichenberg clearly has the toughness (he played with two broken thumbs last season) and intelligence (okay, maybe playing football with two broken thumbs isn’t the smartest thing you can do) that I assumed would be his calling cards, but he has also proven to be far more than the replacement-level MAC talent that I thought he would be.
While he might not yet be at the level of a Spielman, Hawk, Katzenmoyer, Johnson, Shazier, Gradishar, Cousineau, or his coach Laurinaitis, if Eichenberg has the year that many think he is capable of, he could very well approach that level.
But here’s the thing: You already know about all of those guys. There has been endless discussion over the battle between McCord and Brown throughout the offseason and the other four are not just returning starters, but major contributors. So, if you really want to get prepared for the upcoming season, you have to dig a little deeper and get to know these other five players who are positioned to have a major impact for the Buckeyes in their first real expanded opportunities for Ohio State.
Who are the top 5 Ohio State breakout players you should know?
Carnell Tate | Wide Receiver
Under Day and wide receiver coach/new offensive e coordinator Brian Hartline, Ohio State has become the undisputed Wide Receiver U in college football, routinely turning out first-round NFL Draft picks and players who make instant impacts on their teams at the next level.
While the Buckeyes have an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver this season, starting Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka, and a finally healthy (knocks on wood) Julian Fleming, a true freshman is waiting in the wings to seize whatever opportunities he is presented with.
True freshman Carnell Tate comes to Columbus as Hartline’s latest five-star prospect and has dazzled the coaching staff since arriving in January. Throughout the offseason, Tate has been a topic of conversation, not only because of what he could bring to the team down the road, but what he can do for them this very season.
Last week, Harrison Jr. told the media that he felt like Tate — as a true freshman — was further along in his development than Marv was at this time last year as a sophomore. While everyone’s eyebrows were already raised at the potential for Tate to have an impact this season, a comment like that — from someone who knows the position as well as Harrison — pushed those forehead caterpillars practically to the other side of their heads.
Hear Harrison’s full comments on Tate in the podcast below:
When Day spoke to the media on Monday, Tate was one of the freshmen that he guaranteed would play in the season opener against Indiana. And while there is always the possibility that excited fans and media members will get overexcited about the potential for an electric young talent to make an impact, this feels like more than that; this feels like the next great Buckeye receiver is here and can’t be kept off of the field.
Sonny Styles | Safety
The hype was always going to be there for Sonny Styles. The son of a great Buckeye player, a five-star prospect from the Columbus suburbs who reclassified to get to college a year early, the anticipation of what he could do has been at the forefront of fans’ minds for quite a while now. Despite not turning 19 years old until the day before this November’s game against Michigan, the younger of two Styles brothers on Ohio State’s roster appears primed to make a huge impact on the OSU defense this fall.
At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Styles is an unbelievably gifted physical athlete, and while his father Lorenzo played linebacker for the Buckeyes, Sonny has found himself with the versatility to play a number of different positions on the field, something that has made second-year defensive coordinator Jim Knowles excited about the possibilities.
Knowles has confirmed that Sonny will start at the Nickle safety position, but probably won’t come off of the field when offenses dictate a different defensive scheme. While Sonny could move to another safety position in those circumstances, he also has the size and ability to move up into a traditional linebacker spot to attack the run and/or rush the passer.
Nearly everyone associated with Ohio State has raved about Sonny’s development from 2022 until now, which has only amplified Buckeye fans’ excitement to finally see him on the field. After the secondary was a major liability last season, adding the athleticism of the younger Styles into the mix can only help get the OSU defense back to its Silver Bullet legacy.
Josh Simmons | Left Tackle
Ohio State tends to be far more hesitant to dive into the transfer portal than many of its blue-blood brethren. While the Buckeyes have brought in transfers over the years, rarely has it been for a big-name player expected to make an instant impact.
However, OSU is hoping that its latest addition bears similar results to when Jonah Jackson left Rutgers to come to Columbus for the 2019 season. Although he had been an All-Big Ten performer, he wasn’t expected to be nearly the impact player that he turned out to be, becoming a first-team All-Conference selection, third-round draft pick, and eventual Pro Bowler.
While the expectations are not nearly as high for San Diego State transfer Josh Simmons, Day and offensive line coach Justin Frye are hoping that they were able to find a diamond in the rough to solidify an otherwise suspect offensive line. With the departures of Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones, there were two open tackle positions that had to be filled.
The next man up from last year’s line was Josh Fryar, who started one game at right tackle last year. The assumption going into fall camp was that he would make the move to the presumably more important left tackle spot when Simmons, Tegra Tshabola, Luke Montgomery, and Zen Michalski competing for the other.
However, after the first week or so of practices, Day confirmed that Fryar had moved back to the right side and that Simmons was holding down the left tackle position. While it took the head coach a few more weeks to officially confirm that the former Aztec would be starting, the line has seemingly solidified with Simmons and Fryar occupying the outsides.
With a first-time starter at quarterback, offensive line play is going to be a huge factor in how McCord (or eventually Brown) performs this season. If Simmons is able to quickly acclimate to the step up in competition, that should bode well for the Buckeye offense. The season opener against Indiana should tell us a lot as IU head coach Tom Allen will undoubtedly throw everything imaginable at the reconfigured Buckeye o-line.
Kenyatta Jackson | Defensive End
Kenyatta Jackson played a total of 24 snaps on defense in 2022 and half of those came in Week 2 against Arkansas State. The Edge rusher did not play after Week 5 in the Buckeyes’ 49-10 blowout win over Rutgers, preserving his redshirt.
However, that has not stopped the hype for the former five-star recruit coming into his second season in Columbus. While Tuimoloau and Sawyer are firmly entrenched at the defensive end spots, the more that Knowles and defensive line coach Larry Johnson talk, the more it sounds like Jackson will not only be a rotational piece up front, but will be integral to the team’s plans.
Johnson has long been known for his philosophy of rotating players across the d-line, so much so that there might be a bit of a feud going on between LJ and Knowles about just how much rotation is good to keep guys fresh and how much is excessive. However, neither guy seems to have an issue with the idea of having Jackson in the game far more than he was in 2022.
At 6-foot-5, 260 pounds, Jackson has shown a unique athletic ability to move coming off of the ball. While you always want your Edge rushers to be able to physically overwhelm their blockers with strength and speed, something that many of the best have is the ability to get low and move around tackles and tight ends, essentially avoiding the bulk of their blocks. Jackson apparently has that.
The hype is high for Jackson, with some even wondering if he should supplant Sawyer in the DE rotation. While that seems premature, especially with Sawyer finally getting to be back at end for the first time in far too long, if Jackson is able to make it impossible to keep him off the field, that would mean that the OSU defensive might just be capable of wrecking games for the first time since 2019.
Malik Hartford | Safety
We are now less than two days away from the start of Ohio State’s football season, and we still don’t know who the third starting safety will be. Styles is set as the Nickle and Lathan Ransom is firmly entrenched as the strong safety/Bandit. However, on Tuesday Knowles said that veteran Josh Proctor, transfer Ja’Had Carter, and true freshman Malik Hartford were all still in the mix and capable of playing.
When fall camp started, I had assumed that former Syracuse safety Carter would claim the spot, and he might have, had he not had to deal with some injury concerns during camp. But while the coaching staff praised Proctor coming out of camp, he was benched halfway through the season opener against Notre Dame last year, so you have to wonder how much confidence Knowles and safeties coach Perry Eliano actually have in him.
So, there is a distinct possibility that Hartford will start on Saturday against Indiana, but even if he doesn’t, it seems clear that the Lakota West product will be integral in the defense’s plans for the secondary, not only this year, but in the future as well.
While some might be concerned with the prospect of starting two young, unproven players at safety like Styles and Hartford, if Carter isn't 100%, that is the way that I would go. Athleticism is something that can’t be taught and these two youngsters have it in spades. While the Buckeyes do open up against a conference opponent, I can’t imagine that IU is going to seriously test Ohio State, so getting Hartford serious reps in the first four games of the season will only help him for when the Buckeyes travel to South Bend before starting the Big Ten season.
I firmly believe in the value of experience, schematic knowledge, and time in a college football strength and conditioning program, but if veteran players aren’t capable of clearly and firmly grabbing onto a starting spot and keeping younger players at bay, then I think the philosophy at a place like Ohio State — where young talent is never in short supply — should be to err on the side of youth and athleticism.