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. 6: Tyquan Lewis, junior defensive end
Tyquan Lewis cashed in a 2015 season that was successful by the numbers — first on the team with 8.5 sacks, second with 14 tackles-for-loss — and was made doubly impressive by the fact that he played through last year with a shoulder surgery.
But like his co-starting defensive end this year, Sam Hubbard, Lewis will have to raise that bar this year with Joey Bosa gone. Replacing the No. 3 overall NFL Draft pick’s five sacks will be one thing, but replicating Bosa’s presence to command double teams — or even repeating his own sack numbers without those free shots to the quarterback — will be the target falling squarely on Lewis’ back this year.
He’s the only starter returning up front in a league built on play in the trenches and the second-most experienced defensive starter. Lewis will be the guy expected more than any to bring an all-around game, giving quarterbacks difficulty in their drop-backs and finding ways to misdirect and even blow up running plays. The Buckeyes need a player in the front four that opponents have to design plays to avoid, and Lewis is the most developed all-around prospect they have for that kind of role.
The junior finished the year with eight sacks but only two quarterback hurries, which shows he was efficient in converting his pressures but not the all-around wrecking ball Bosa was with five sacks and 14 hurries. He’ll need to fix that with Bosa gone this season.
Lewis underwent surgery in January to fix that hurting shoulder. He had it done as early as he could and says he’s back to full-go, but the Buckeyes will need him to be correct in that assessment. With three new starters in the secondary, pass rush will be paramount, and Lewis and Hubbard will be the guys counted on to make it happen.
Lewis received the nod over Hubbard on this list due to experience and proven balance, but their expectations and potential impacts for this season are nearly identical. They split the responsibilities the Buckeyes will have to generate a pass rush for a retooling pass defense and to help create splash plays on a team with few proven playmakers, and that shared load is why both sit just outside of the top five.