It certainly depends on the definition of an always-fluid term that means different things to different people but as the days inch closer to spring football at Ohio State, so too does the anticipation of 2021's "breakout" Buckeyes.
We're going to lend a whole lot of poetic license to the term for these next few paragraphs because it'll mean different things to the guys on this list. But in the world of #content, this is what we can do. World, oyster, breakout-means-whatever-I-want-it-to kinda thing! Let's go!
This list is d-line heavy because of what it means to get high-pressure reps under associate head coach and defensive line maestro Larry Johnson. There is such a clear and obvious path showcasing proper development of that position group that it's genuinely inspiring. If you're at all interested in the idea of 'craft' and how properly-applied expertise creates legitimate works of art, then there's probably no better example of coaching craft than Johnson. Interior, exterior - it literally doesn't matter. If you have the natural ceiling, Johnson will get the best out of you and Zach Harrison is the next guy in a long line of hand-in-the-ground OSU talent.
Almost all of the guys we're talking about here: Joey and Nick Bosa, Chase Young, and many more made terrific impacts as freshmen but then really jumped in the radar that next season. And then that third season? Every time an opposing team snapped the ball, those guys made a little more money. This will be Harrison's third season.
He had five sacks in 14 games as a true freshman in 2019, 4.5 sacks in seven games as a sophomore in 2020. That's basically an equal amount of production with less games and a pretty significantly less-talented secondary. It feels almost like a foregone conclusion that Harrison will have that sack total into the teens in 2021. Every time an opponent snaps that football, imagine the sound of a cash register opening.
The same concept applies to Haskell Garrett in 2021. His first real snaps were in 2019 as a sophomore and made a big jump in production his junior and senior years. He could have left for Sunday football but decided to come back for one more go in the Scarlet and Gray.
We probably under-appreciate interior defensive lineman because the stats don't pop the same way it does for d-ends and "wins" in the A Gap have a tendency to not be huge plays in the grand scheme of games. You also can't over-appreciate experience and talent for three-technique guys. It's a position of nuance. After an All-American season in 2020, Garrett's return is massive for Ohio State because it shores up a run game gap (or two!) when the Buckeyes insert a new group of linebackers in 2021 and gives Ryan Day and Larry Johnson some room to play with another DT given Tommy Togai's departure to the NFL.
You could make the argument that Garrett technically "broke out" in 2020 but we're stretching the definition of that term in this space, plus we should give him a full 14 or 15 game season (see what I did there?) before we say a player is in 'breakout' mode.
I would expect Garrett to pad that bank account with every single snap in 2021 and considerably increase his draft prospects. He probably wasn't a first round guy if he left this past season but another big year and he just might be a first night pick this time next year.
There's a Brinks truck somewhere in the world waiting to be loaded with the money that both Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are going to make the second they step onto the field in 2021. After what we saw DeVonta Smith do for Alabama in 2020, the H-word should probably start getting tossed around that OSU receiver room this season. Both guys deserve the attention, but Garrett Wilson's time to shine nationwide comes this fall.
His hands and catch radius are probably the best in the nation and his punt returning ability is a platform where one play can grab the collective attention of the national football media. Olave makes the steady plays; Wilson makes the ones that go viral.
There should be a healthy discussion in the coming months about this OSU receiving group's ability to do what they've done in the past with a new inexperienced quarterback at the helm. That's a fair bit of skepticism that should give Wilson and company the proper motivation to go bigger than ever before.
Barring a below-average quarterbacking year for the Buckeyes, Wilson will get his and then some in 2021 in a way that we haven't seen in quite some time. 2007 was the last time the NFL drafted an Ohio State Buckeye receiver in the first round (Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez). The 2022 NFL Draft should see the next two.
It's impossible to ignore flashes of brilliance especially in young players. No one on Ohio State's offense showed more fleeting moments of potential than Jaxon Smith-Njigba in 2020. His remarkably insane toe-tapping TD grab versus Nebraska was a ridiculous introduction to Buckeyes fans - although it turned out to be his only touchdown of the year.
We grade receivers on a curve that is sometimes weighted by factors that put a proverbial thumb on the scale, an all-timer at quarterback is probably the greatest of those factors. Fair or unfair, a new QB could affect JSN's "breakout" potential a whole lot more than Garrett Wilson, but he's on this list for one big reason: he can line up anywhere.
This seems like a hot take, but he might just be the next K.J. Hill. We're certainly TBD on whether he keeps lining up in that slot position given the two titans on the outside but the comp feels legit knowing what we know right now. His two best games were also against Ohio State's two best opponents, Clemson and Alabama.
When the conversation about all the weapons the Buckeyes have at this new QB's disposal, Smith-Njigba won't be too far down the list. Whoever wins that job would be good to look JSN's way as an 'always open' safety blanket.
Full disclosure, my bias is bucking its head on this one. I'm not entirely sure there was a more vocal proponent of Miyan Williams when he was destroying defenses at Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati and single-handedly keeping tier one Ohio H.S. football programs from scheduling the Warriors for three seasons.
There's a reasonable chance that the Buckeyes have a 'running back by committee' approach to 2021's season which means Williams should get snaps. If you give this kid a chance - a real chance - he's going to take it and hit stick anyone in the way.
We saw that ceiling in the Sugar Bowl versus Clemson. The Buckeyes were on their way to 600+ yards of total offense but this wasn't a garbage-time snap against the threes. Up 14 points midway through the third quarter, Williams showed the potential, making a guy miss in space, showing speed in the open field before running over safety and future NFL "glue guy" Nolan Turner.
The bar is back to the proper height for Ohio State running backs and there are guys presumably in front of Williams on the depth chart. If he gets proper reps however, he won't be behind many for long.
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