COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio State has had five receivers drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft since 2018, including three in the first round.
That trend will continue with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka back this season. Both were named to the Associated Press preseason All-America first team on Monday.
Harrison was the highest-graded and most valuable receiver last season, according to Pro Football Focus’ wins-above-average metric. Another season like the one he had in 2022 would undoubtedly make him a top-10 pick. Terry Glenn is the highest receiver drafted out of Ohio State, at No. 7 in 1996. Last season, Harrison gained 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns on 77 receptions. Ohio State’s quarterback competition is still ongoing, but Harrison said he trusts whoever coach Ryan Day picks to be the starter.
“I think they’re both going to do the right thing … make the right reads,” Harrison said. “I think they both definitely have the arm talent to be able to make any throw in the offense that’s asked of them. I don’t think too much will be different.”
Meanwhile, Egbuka could very well be the second receiver drafted in 2024. The junior from Washington recorded the second-most receiving yards (1,151) and touchdowns (10) among returning Power Five receivers behind only Harrison. Egbuka said he dealt with a “few nagging” injuries last season and had a “couple surgeries” in the offseason.
“The goal is for there to be no drop-off. I don’t feel like there’s much of a drop-off when Chris [Olave] and Garrett [Wilson] left or when Jaxon [Smith-Njigba] left, so that’s kind of what we do,” Egbuka said. “It’s my job to pass the torch to the younger players and give them every nugget that I have.”
Trying to cover both players is hard enough, but don’t forget about Julian Fleming, the No. 1 rated receiver in the class of 2020. The Pennsylvania native has yet to have his breakout season after having shoulder surgery on both arms, once following his freshman year and the other after his sophomore year. But there’s certainly room for him to put up numbers with the attention opposing defenses have to give Harrison and Egbuka.
“The thing I’ve really been focused on is health,” Fleming said. “You know, just constantly taking care of my body the best that I can, coming in here, getting all the extra treatment, getting all the extra work that I possibly can to stay healthy and constantly be able to be available.”
Another receiver who could have a big impact for the Buckeyes is Jayden Ballard. The junior from Massillon has learned from players like Wilson, Olave and Smith-Njigba during his two seasons at Ohio State and believes he’s ready to make a leap as a reliable option in the passing game.
Xavier Johnson, nicknamed “X” by his teammates, is an X-factor. The former walk-on turned captain will wear the Block O jersey this season. He played receiver and running back last season as the Buckeyes dealt with multiple injuries to their backfield. Johnson caught 13 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 146 yards and another score. He also returned 12 kicks for 269 yards and recovered two blocked punts.
“X is the perfect example for what you want an Ohio State player to be,” Harrison said. “He kept working, never really complained about anything. Just his leadership on and off the field. He’s the kind of guy you want leading the team. Like I said, he’s just a great example for myself and the rest of the guys on the team, so I think he’s just the perfect person to wear the Block O.”
As for the guy coaching the receivers, Brian Hartline has his hands full. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in January and the question became: Would Day allow him to take over play-calling responsibilities? During an appearance on the “Buckeye Roundtable” on 97.1 The Fan on Monday night, Day said calling Ohio State’s offense this season will be a “joint effort” between him and Hartline.
“I have a lot of confidence. The guys around me, the players around me give me a lot of confidence but gosh I literally walk in every single day learning from some of the best,” Hartline said. “I’m really just trying to learn as much as possible and every time I get an opportunity to do so I feel like I have.”