Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Most impactful Ohio State player who has yet to announce their decision
The Ohio State football program finally received an influx of good news last week as the calendar mercifully flipped from 2023 to 2024. After a rough finish to the Buckeyes’ season – punctuated by an embarrassing Cotton Bowl loss to Missouri – several key starters on the defensive side of the ball opted to “reload the clip” and run it back for at least one more year, with hopes of beating that TTUN and taking care of other unfinished business. I say at least because I’m pretty sure (years of) eligibility is just a myth at this point. But moving on...
Thus far, Tyleik Williams, Lathan Ransom, and Jack Sawyer have all announced their return(s) to Columbus, giving OSU a big, big boost heading into the offseason. Williams was the team’s best interior lineman, while Sawyer led the Scarlet and Gray in sacks, and Ransom acted as the secondary’s air traffic controller prior to suffering yet another unfortunate injury. Of those three, I am personally most excited about the return of Sawyer, as he came on like a freight train at the end of the season, racking up 16 tackles, 7.5 TFL, and 5 sacks in the Buckeyes’ last three games.
But Gene and I are not here to discuss the returnees above... anymore than we already have. Instead, we wanted to focus on Ohio State players who have yet to announce a decision regarding their football future. This is because several Buckeyes are likely still gathering NFL Draft feedback, talking with their coaches and families, and/or discussing NIL deals — as they should.
But they only have one week, until Jan. 15, to declare for said draft. So we should be hearing several more announcements in the coming days or possibly even as this edition of You’re Nuts is being published.
Gene and I are looking toward the future and breaking down whose hypothetical return would be the most impactful for OSU in 2024. And for me, the answer is/was obvious: Marvin Harrison Jr.
Just kidding. The Route Man ain’t comin’ back, folks. We just have to accept it and move on.
While I think I know the real answer, there is a large part of me that simply cannot ignore Ohio State’s most glaring issue from this (past) season. Which was undoubtedly their porous offensive line. So I am going to say that the most impactful return would be that of Donovan Jackson, if he does indeed choose to run it back.
A five-star recruit out of Texas, Jackson hit the ground running in Columbus and appeared to be a star in the making while playing next to former Buckeyes Paris Johnson Jr. and Luke Wypler. But the loss of the latter two (to the NFL) led to Jackson getting two new neighbors in 2023, both of the – let’s face it – less talented variety. And the results were not great. In fact, they weren’t even good. The results were average... At best.
However, I can’t put the blame on Jackson. Nor am I willing to say that he took a major step back. I think the unit was poorly constructed and poorly coached, which put the First-team All-Big Ten guard in a tough spot. I think that he was constantly thinking and/or trying to compensate for a teammate’s shortcomings, ultimately leading to a down year. But a Jackson bounceback in 2024 is surely in play.
Primarily because he is a good freaking player! Who had a rough season in a rough scheme, with rough-ass coaching. But the evidence exists. After playing in all 13 games as a freshman, Jackson graded out as a top-10 guard (P5) in 2022. He did not grade out nearly as well this past season – for several reasons – but there were flashes of brilliance.
Beyond Jackson’s individual talent, there are plenty of other reasons to believe that he could return to prominence, if not dominance, in 2024. First and foremost is OSU’s recent addition of former Alabama center Seth McClaughlin. While the latter endured a difficult Rose Bowl, he brings with him to Columbus 25 games of starting experience. As opposed to Carson Hinzman, who struggled mightily next to Jackson this season.
Also next to Jackson will (presumably) be second-year Buckeye Josh Simmons. The former San Diego State Aztec struggled early on for Ohio State but improved steadily as the 2023 season went along. I am not saying that Simmons will turn out to be the second coming of Paris Johnson Jr., but if he takes another step or two in his development, that would alleviate some of the mental and physical pressure thrust upon Jackson.
I believe that Jackson is the quiet leader and most talented member of the Buckeyes’ offensive line, at least as it stands today. So his return would give the Scarlet and Gray a fairly strong unit (on paper) from middle-to-left, leaving coaches to figure out RG and RT... Easier said than done, I’m aware.
But there are only so many First-Team All-Big Ten players out there, ya know what I mean, Gene? While Jackson had a down season and does not play the most glamorous of positions, I would love to see him back in Columbus. And I think it would go a long way in helping Ohio State’s OL right the ship as well.
Ohio State has a number of players who were integral to the 2023 team still weighing their decisions whether to return to Columbus or test the NFL waters. Of course there is a guy like Jackson, who Josh thoroughly laid out before, in addition to really talented and productive guys for the Buckeyes among the likes of Emeka Egbuka, Denzel Burke, TreVeyon Henderson, J.T. Tuimoloau and others.
Of that group of guys, Ohio State probably needs Henderson back the most. Egbuka is a great wide receiver, and would be WR1 should be decide to return, but the Buckeyes are absolutely loaded at the position thanks to Brian Hartline’s recruiting efforts, and while I do think Egbuka returns, it isn’t a necessity. The same goes for Burke, who is without a doubt Tim Walton’s most talented cornerback, but it is another stacked room with a budding star in Jermaine Mathews Jr. waiting in the wings.
Henderson and Tuimoloau are both the feature players in position groups that are lacking in the depth department. Should Henderson go, it leaves just Dallan Hayden alongside freshmen James Peoples and Sam Williams-Dixon as the only scholarship running backs on the roster. Ohio State is similarly thin at defensive end, with the returning Jack Sawyer joining Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson as the only edge rushers with any meaningful game reps should Tuimoloau elect to enter the NFL Draft.
(Editors Note: Ohio State just added star RB Quinshon Judkins via the transfer portal)
However, neither of those guys are who I’m choosing for this exercise. For the sake of making a larger argument, I think that Jordan Hancock is actually the player with the chance to make the biggest impact if he were to come back to Ohio State — and it isn’t entirely all to do with his own personal skillset, despite being an excellent player.
Hancock would be a great player to see return, as he quickly became an integral part of Jim Knowles’ defense at the nickel safety/slot corner position. By season’s end, Hancock actually played more snaps than anyone in the secondary besides Davison Igbinosun and Josh Proctor. Hancock finished with a team-high two interceptions, including a pick-six against Rutgers that turned the tide in a close game, to go along with 41 total tackles, two sacks and five pass breakups.
While Hancock is a stud, and will likely only get better should he spend another year developing in Columbus, his return would also allow Ohio State to move Sonny Styles to linebacker, which is the other half of the equation for me choosing Hancock.
With Ransom already announcing his decision to return, Hancock’s return would solidify two of the starting safety positions, with three guys available to battle it out for the third spot in Ja’Had Carter, Malik Hartford and Cedric Hawkins. Styles is a special athlete, but doesn’t seem all that well-suited to play in a role that demands deep coverage. His skillset would benefit Ohio State far more at linebacker, where he would have more opportunities to wreak havoc in the run game as well as rush the passer.
Especially with both Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers gone, the Buckeyes could use a sure-thing at linebacker. Cody Simon will be back, and we are still waiting to see what former five-star C.J. Hicks can be at this level — he should also be switching positions to the Jack, but that is a discussion for another day — but outside of that there are a lot of question marks. Having Hancock, Ransom and any of the three guys mentioned at safety with Styles and Simon at linebacker gives Ohio State its optimal back seven.