Parris Campbell, Johnnie Dixon, and Terry McLaurin all could have declared early for the 2018 NFL Draft, following in the footsteps of former Buckeye receivers like Michael Thomas and Noah Brown.
Campbell likely would’ve been a mid-round pick, possessing the game-breaking speed so sought after in the NFL. The same can possibly be said for Dixon and McLaurin, who combined for 14 touchdown catches last season for the 12-win Buckeyes.
But, instead of taking the (mostly) guaranteed paycheck that comes with the NFL Draft, all three receivers are coming back to Ohio State for their senior seasons.
Even despite the uncertainty at quarterback.
Gone is four-year starter and team captain J.T. Barrett, leaving the Ohio State program with more passing records than any player before him. Now, heading into the 2018 season, head coach Urban Meyer must usher in a new era of Ohio State football.
The post-J.T. era; headed by either Dwayne Haskins (rSo), Joe Burrow (rJr), or Tate Martell (rFr).
The three quarterbacks are currently in the middle of the most important position battle of the 2018 season, with the eventual winner being tasked with leading the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff.
So why, with so many unknowns surrounding the most important position in football, would receivers like Parris Campbell and Johnnie Dixon return to Ohio State?
The answer — as simple as it may be — lies in the play-style of their new signal-caller(s).
J.T. Barrett, for all that he did for the Ohio State program over the last four years, was definitely not without his shortcomings. And despite holding the Big Ten record for passing touchdowns in a career, Barrett didn’t always make it easy for his receivers to put up big numbers.
It was no secret that Ohio State’s offense with Barrett at the helm was predicated on the quarterback run. So, with Barrett getting sometimes 20-25 carries per game depending on the opponent, Ohio State’s receivers — no matter if it was Michael Thomas or Parris Campbell — were often completely phased out of the offense.
929 yards is the highest single-season receiving total of any Ohio State receiver from 2014 to 2017, attained by Devin Smith in the 2014 season. And while that total certainly isn’t low, it’s worth noting that 269 of those yards came with Cardale Jones under center; a much more pass-happy quarterback.
This season, with 14 games played, Ohio State’s leading receiver — Parris Campbell — totaled just 573 yards; a majority of which came from behind the line of scrimmage.
But perhaps the most telling case comes from current Dallas Cowboys receiver Noah Brown. In his lone season with the Buckeyes in 2016, Brown managed just 402 yards on 32 catches. Yet, when faced with the opportunity to be the Buckeye’s main receiver for the 2017 campaign, Brown instead opted to enter the NFL Draft.
Now, it’s impossible to say what the receiver’s reasons were for heading to the NFL early, but one has to think Ohio State’s anemic passing offense was one of them. Brown, as foolish as it may have been, must have believed that he couldn’t improve with another year of Barrett throwing him the football.
That’s what makes Campbell, Dixon, and McLaurin’s decision to stay at Ohio State so telling.
Dwayne Haskins — the hero of the Michigan game last season — appears to be the front-runner to land the starting role in 2018. Haskins is a pro-style quarterback; more similar to the likes of Cardale Jones than J.T. Barrett.
Against Michigan, coming on for an injured J.T. Barrett, Haskins immediately breathed new life into an otherwise stagnant offense. Before exiting late in the third quarter, Barrett had thrown for a putrid 30 yards on eight attempts.
Haskins, over the course of a quarter-and-a-half, managed to more than triple Barrett’s output, throwing for 94 yards on 6/7 passing to beat the Wolverines 31-20.
Should Haskins win the quarterback battle this offseason at Ohio State, the 2018 Buckeye offense will look much different to what it has been during the J.T. Barrett era. Dwayne Haskins isn’t afraid to throw the ball downfield, which can only help his receivers.
Campbell, Dixon, and McLaurin all have the potential to be successful in the NFL, but maybe J.T. Barrett wasn’t the right quarterback to see that future through. So why not see what Dwayne Haskins (or Joe Burrow and Tate Martell) can do?
Maybe Ohio State will see its first 1,000-yard receiver since Mike Jenkins in 2002.
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