Top 5 Buckeye Breakout Candidates
Every season provides an opportunity for under-the-radar players to play above their expectations. In past seasons, they have been players like Robert Landers, Pat Elflein, Cardale Jones and even J.T. Barrett in his magical freshman season.
When predicting breakout candidates in college football, the science behind the process is not very concise. In reality, every player who is not nationally known has the opportunity to make plays and reach stardom. The key factor lies behind the consistency to play at a high-level in every game.
The following Buckeyes have the ability to see the field very often this season, and their talents could allow for them to make a lasting impact on the program:
1. Binjimen Victor, WR, Sophomore
Victor only appeared in three games and recorded four catches during 2016, but the true sophomore showed flashes of his unbelievable ability. At 6-4 and 195 pounds, Victor has shown the capability of being a prototypical red-zone target for Barrett this season. More specifically, a play during the 2016 matchup with Nebraska was our first glimpse of his strengths. Victor lined up solo to Barrett’s left side and ran a fade route to the back corner of the red zone. The young wideout showed off his outstanding vertical leap to come down with the ball over an outreaching cornerback. Replay reversed the touchdown call, but the ability shown gives Buckeye fans throwback memories to the likes of Michael Thomas and Michael Jenkins – or, if you want to ride in the way-back machine, Cris Carter.
2. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Freshman
Dobbins is the first of two true freshman to make this list, and his fall camp performance has everything to do with it. During media sessions, coaches and teammates rave about the playmaking ability he has flashed thus far in practice. He has been so productive to the point that running backs coach Tony Alford confirmed the frosh will be second-string to Mike Weber. Dobbins also makes the list because it fits my bold prediction of 2017: Hamstring injuries are so hard to fend off, and it could possibly cause Weber to miss significant time throughout the season, so I believe that leads the way for Dobbins to take over the starting role and become OSU’s leading rusher this season. The preseason hype from the coaching staff supports that Dobbins has the abilities to fill the role if granted the opportunity.
3. Dante Booker, OLB, Redshirt Junior
Booker is the only projected starter vs. Indiana on this list, but the hurdles of his career allow 2017 to be the season where he meets expectations. After a pair of second-string seasons and a medical redshirt season last year, Booker is finally healthy and ready to take the next step under defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. Booker has the range and coverage ability to control the slot, as well as the run-stuffing capabilities of a Mike linebacker. Adding the fact that he is a vocal leader in the program emphasizes how important his play will be this season. His career stats do not speak for his abilities, as he played in 11 games as a freshman during the 2014 national championship campaign.
4. Dwayne Haskins Jr., QB, Redshirt Freshman
I know, putting a guy on this list that will only see the field in mop-up duty or injury replacement scenarios seems a little crazy. The reasoning behind it has more of a futuristic impact. Haskins was a consensus four-star recruit out of Potomac, Md., and he has yet to take a college snap in his career. This season, Haskins has the second-string position locked up after redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow broke his hand during fall camp. With all the backup snaps in hand, Haskins will have the opportunity to dazzle the coaching staff during any potential blowouts in 2017. A good showing could give him the upper hand heading into 2018’s quarterback competition. Haskins is the prototype Urban Meyer quarterback who will shine when put into a game. I believe he enters mop-up duty vs. Army and UNLV and puts on a show.
5. Jeffrey Okudah, CB/SS/FS, Freshman
Okudah rounds out the list because his versatility will allow for him to see extra playing time. The highly recruited defensive back played mostly safety during his high school career, but he showed off some intense man coverage skills while playing cornerback during the 2017 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. At OSU, Okudah will focus on the corner position in hopes of finding an early role in the nickel back rotation. He will also be able to provide relief at the safety spot for the likes of Damon Webb, Jordan Fuller and Erick Smith. He and fellow freshman Shaun Wade are in line for solid playing time this fall, but it seems Okudah is higher on the rotation list and has all the talent needed to be a big-play factor for the Silver Bullets.
There are many positions with enough depth to produce breakout players, so the early season challenges in the schedule should help expedite the maturation process of the young team. The Indiana game on Thursday (8 p.m. Eastern, ESPN) will provide an opportunity for several new starters or role players to get comfortable before Week 2’s clash with No. 7 Oklahoma. Predicting breakout performances can be very difficult to do, but OSU will need them with certain positions such as wide receiver currently lacking an established playmaker.
The talk is almost over because it is officially game week. We’ve heard positive feedback about many unproven Ohio State players, and given the talent littered up and down the roster it’s a good bet several will emerge this fall.