COLUMBUS, Ohio — Now that National Signing Day has passed, we have a clearer picture of what Ohio State’s depth chart will look like in the coming year.
The Buckeyes will replace four defensive starters from last season and will lean heavily on their second-ranked 2017 recruiting class in order to help fill some holes.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Ohio State’s defensive depth chart is set to look like, and the biggest questions facing the Buckeyes heading into 2017.
|1.||Tyquan Lewis||RS Senior|
Analysis: There isn’t a more loaded position on either side of the ball for Ohio State heading into 2017 than defensive end. The Buckeyes don’t only return the reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in Tyquan Lewis and former 5-star prospect Nick Bosa, but will add to their depth with incoming 5-star freshman Chase Young. Look for OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson to lean on his ‘Rushmen’ package even more in an effort to put the Buckeyes’ best pass-rushers on the field.
|1.||Sam Hubbard||RS Junior|
Analysis: Much like a season ago, Sam Hubbard will serve as Ohio State’s official starter opposite Lewis, but for all intents and purposes, Jalyn Holmes should be considered a co-starter alongside his classmate, as he’ll find himself on the field plenty thanks to the ‘Rushmen’ package. One of the top prospects in the Buckeyes’ 2016 class, Jonathon Cooper could himself the odd man out on a crowded depth chart in 2017.
|1.||Michael Hill||RS Senior|
|2.||Malik Barrow||RS Fresh.|
|3.||Davon Hamilton||RS Soph.|
Analysis: Michael Hill returns as Ohio State’s top interior defensive lineman, but redshirt freshman Malik Barrow could push the fifth-year senior for playing time. Of all the positions on the Buckeyes’ depth chart, this is the one that needs the most improvement in the coming year.
|1.||Tracy Sprinkle||RS Senior|
|2.||Robert Landers||RS Soph.|
|3.||Dre’Mont Jones||RS Soph.|
Analysis: Much like defensive end, Ohio State will rely on a steady rotation of defensive tackles in 2017, especially with senior Tracy Sprinkle returning from injury. With Robert Landers and Dre’Mont Jones having shown a propensity for making plays, true freshmen Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage are likely redshirt candidates.
|1.||Chris Worley||RS Senior|
Analysis: After providing a steadying presence on the Buckeyes’ defense in 2016, Chris Worley returns to his role as Ohio State’s starting SAM linebacker in 2017. Meanwhile, Malik Harrison showed plenty of promise on special teams in 2016 and freshman Brendon White possesses the potential to play multiple positions — on either side of the ball.
|1.||Dante Booker||RS Junior|
|3.||Tuf Borland||RS Fresh.|
Analysis: Originally Ohio State’s starting Will linebacker a season ago, Dante Booker lost his spot in the Buckeyes’ starting lineup when an early-season injury paved the way for the emergence of Jerome Baker. Assuming he’s at full strength in 2017, Booker could slide into the middle of OSU’s defense, where he’d compete with 5-star freshman and early enrollee Baron Browning for the right to replace Raekwon McMillan.
Analysis: In Booker’s absence, Baker emerged as a star last season and should resume his role as the Buckeyes’ starting WILL linebacker. Keandre Jones possesses plenty of upside and could wind up as Baker’s replacement in 2018. While freshman Pete Werner is a redshirt candidate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the 4-star prospect shine on special teams in the coming year.
|3.||Damon Arnette||RS Soph.|
Analysis: Having spent his sophomore season rotating alongside Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, the return of Denzel Ward should provide some semblance of experience to the Buckeyes’ secondary. Behind him, Shaun Wade has high upside as a 5-star prospect and Damon Arnette could crack the lineup as a nickel back.
|2.||Kendall Sheffield||RS Soph.|
Analysis: Perhaps the most intriguing position battle on the Buckeyes’ defensive depth chart is 5-star freshman Jeffrey Okudah vs. former 5-star prospect Kendall Sheffield for the right to start opposite Ward. As an early enrollee, Marcus Williamson will provide depth and could play on special teams.
|2.||Erick Smith||RS Junior|
Analysis: With Malik Hooker off to the NFL, an opening for a playmaking safety in Ohio State’s secondary exists. Sophomore Jordan Fuller could be the man for the job, although he’ll first have to fend off fourth-year safety and heavy hitter Erick Smith. Should the Buckeyes decide they’re OK without him at corner, Okudah also possesses the potential to play safety.
Analysis: Damon Webb will serve as the lone returning starter in the Buckeyes’ secondary in 2017. Depth behind the senior is seemingly lacking, but Isaiah Pryor possesses high upside and Amir Riep could play either corner or safety.