The Ohio State Buckeyes have recently become one of the most impressive wide receiver pipelines in all of college football. While the Alabama Crimson Tide have a very well documented foursome of first-round picks at the wide receiver position over the last two years via Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith, Ohio State’s talent has been much more methodical in their entry to the league—and their successes are hard to ignore.
Since 2016, Ohio State has sent Michael Thomas, Curtis Samuel, and Terry McLaurin to the NFL as their starring talents. None were first-round draft choices, with Samuel topping out as the No. 40 overall pick in his respective draft class. There have been other choices of note, too, such as Parris Campbell. Ohio State’s ability to send pro-ready talents to the NFL is impressive; particularly when you factor in their successes quickly in the NFL.
Thomas has twice led the NFL in receptions and started his career with four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. McLaurin, with bad quarterback play, is averaging more than 1,000 yards through his first two seasons as well. And not only that, McLaurin is now reunited with Samuel, too—Samuel surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the first time in 2020 and cashed in with a nice-sized contract with Washington.
But the wide receiver factory in Columbus isn’t done yet, and thanks to wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, the best may be yet to come for Ohio State’s receiving alumni. Hartline missed the opportunity to coach Thomas and Samuel—he was only a graduate assistant in 2017—but he took over as wide receivers coach for Ohio State in 2018 to help mold both Campbell and McLaurin as talents, as well as a whole gaggle of mid-tier prospects and talents like K.J. Hill, among others. But his next two pupils may be the best yet.
Receiver Chris Olave surprised this past winter with his decision to return for another year at Ohio State. After all, the quarterback he meshed so well with, Justin Fields, was turning pro himself. But Olave’s decision was made and now he stands to benefit from being a well-accomplished talent and an even better technician for 2022. He’ll share the spotlight with junior receiver Garrett Wilson; the duo should make life easier on whoever is Fields’ successor at quarterback. Wilson was not eligible for the 2021 NFL Draft, but Olave likely would have been a top-50 selection based on his film, route-running, hands, and production. In a less crowded field of wide receiver prospects, perhaps Olave can be the Buckeyes’ first first-round wide receiver since Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez back in 2007.
My personal notes on both players showcase their ability to win in space and in one on ones. Wilson is a former high school basketball player who averaged 21 points per game and had collegiate offers to play hoops. That “point guard” quickness is a terror to keep boxed in from the slot. Olave is dynamic with outside speed—he was a high school sprinter who ran in the 10.8s in the 100m dash. They’re different types of talents but they share one key commonality: they’re hard as hell to cover.
Neither one is a big high-point target and both have misplayed reps where they’ve needed to elevate “above the rim” to attack the football. But an accurate quarterback who operates on schedule will have little issue hitting either in stride with vast amounts of separation. With a full-fledged 2021 schedule awaiting, both Wilson and Olave feel destined for big years. Neither managed to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in 2020 but then again Ohio State only played eight games on the year—and Olave missed the Big Ten Championship Game due to COVID protocols, too.
The play of the duo in 2020 should serve as the warning we all need to avoid the trap many fell into with Thomas, Samuel, and McLaurin. These dudes can ball. It doesn’t appear as though they’ll be slept on in 2021 to the same degree as their predecessors, and we’ll do our part here at TDN—our early summer evaluations have Olave as a top-20 prospect and Wilson in the top 50 as things currently stand.
Pair a nearly 15-year drought on first-round wide receivers after the Buckeyes put through four first-round receivers in four years from 2004-2007 (Ginn Jr, Gonzalez, Santonio Holmes, and Michael Jenkins) with the successes of the Day 2 receivers Ohio State has put through over the last four seasons, and now feels like the perfect time for Olave, Wilson, or both to break the drought.