Following another stellar season that culminated in a 12-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl win, Ohio State will see more turnover in 2016 than just about any program in the nation. After sending 12 players to the first four rounds of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes return just 24 percent of their 2015 production on offense and defense. That’s lower than all but one team in the country (UMass), according to SB Nation.
And so it’s time for new faces to step up – as they often do at Ohio State, the Midwest’s best program at recruiting talent and then turning it over to the NFL. All of the starters and role players will have their importance, but some will carry far more than others.
Each day at noon (ET) through July 21, we’ll count down another one of the 10 most important players to Ohio State in 2016. Because it’s still early, we’ll be making some role projections. With only 10 spots, we’ll leave off some crucial players, too. That’s part of the game.
Here’s our list so far:
No. 7: Sam Hubbard, redshirt sophomore defensive end
No. 6: Tyquan Lewis, junior defensive end
Let’s continue with the top five:
No. 5: Mike Weber, redshirt freshman running back
Urban Meyer never had a 1,000-yard running back during his great run at Florida, and how he’s had one break the 1,500-yard plateau in three straight seasons. Before Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott became top draft picks, they were the bell-cows of his newly adapted run-based, option- and zone-heavy approach.
Now, it’s Mike Weber’s turn. The former four-star recruit out of Detroit is expected to step into the early lead role as a redshirt freshman. With it will come a few different responsibilities: First and foremost, it’s to set the pace and identity for a program that has started to live through its offense under Meyer. The second is to be a steadying hand for a unit that returns just three starters and showed last season it can get a little out of whack.
Despite all the talent it brought back from a national championship squad, the 2015 Ohio State’s offense dropped from ninth nationally in total yards 41st. The offensive line underperformed for most of the season, the play-calling lacked rhythm and risk and the quarterback play was mostly a poor juggling act. Ohio State still managed to go 12-1 with the 100th-ranked passing attack, and it’s hard to think about where they might have been without Elliott, who topped 100 yards in every contest but one. That one, of course, was the one loss, to Michigan State.
Weber isn’t going to be Elliott, who is one of the most balanced and consistent players the Buckeyes have ever seen. Weber’s expectations will be less – but not dramatically less – because running the ball remains Ohio State’s blood, especially with a mobile quarterback returning. And when the most productive returning receiver on the team is a converted running back, the likelihood of Meyer and offensive coordinator Ed Warinner reversing the script just for this season is pretty poor.
Of course, Weber is not the only guy back there. Senior Bri’onte Dunn is another former four-star recruit who has waited behind Elliott and Hyde his entire career. Either he or Weber will have to be incredibly productive this year. It’s likely to be Weber, but the lack of total certainty is what keeps Ohio State’s talented freshman from moving higher on this list.