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:
Let’s continue with No. 7:
No. 7: Sam Hubbard, redshirt sophomore defensive end
After committing to Ohio State in 2014 as a four-star safety and then switching to linebacker, Sam Hubbard took a roundabout way to playing on the defensive line last season. On the contrary, many of his rushes to the quarterback in 2015 were straight shots.
He can thank Joey Bosa for that. The first non-quarterback selected in this year’s NFL Draft set the stage for his transition to a 3-4 five-technique position by drawing double teams with consistency at Ohio State last season, and Hubbard was one of main beneficiaries. He finished with 6.5 sacks, second on the team to Tyquan Lewis’ 8. And with Bosa gone, he’ll need it to be the start of something rather than the peak.
It’s hard to predict with Hubbard because it always has been. Coming out of high school, everyone agreed he was talented but few knew quite what he would be, with most recruiting sites labeling him the vague “athlete.” He’s put on 40 pounds since then, and suddenly as a 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive end, he measures almost exactly what Bosa did at this year’s Scouting Combine (6-5, 269).
Again, he’s not Bosa. He doesn’t have the chiseled strength, or that awareness hardened by years of starting in the limelight for one of the top programs in the country. But the Buckeyes will need him to start adopting that kind of role if the 2016 defense is going to come near what the 2015 one was.
He’ll need to be able to generate sacks on his own, beating tackles around the end and fighting through double teams. He’ll need to command that extra attention at times. The pressure is going to be critical with three new starters in the secondary.
But mostly, the Buckeyes will need Hubbard to take his strength and speed and tenacity and put it toward a set position in a defined role for the first time as a college athlete. Ohio State has plenty of defensive talent left, including one of the most reliable linebackers in the country, but what it hasn’t established yet is who the game-changer will be. Bosa has been that the past couple years, but Ohio State needs someone to take control of that role, even if that someone can’t do it quite as well.
It’s time Hubbard starts commanding the double teams rather than reap the benefits of them.