Six Ohio State football players appear in PFF’s top ten returning position players for 2021

·8 min read

Ohio State once again lost a slew of players to the NFL draft. In fact, the Buckeyes are the only program to have sent at least ten to the next level over the last two years.

And while that’s a good thing when it comes to selling the program, it would make one believe there’s a lot to replace for this fall. There’s some truth to that, but it doesn’t mean that there’s not still a ton of talent coming back on the roster. At Ohio State, there is depth and talent just waiting to ooze out the next season. So it is in 2021.

In fact, Pro Football Focus is a big believer in some of the talent coming back to OSU’s roster as well. It published a top ten list of returning college football players at each position this fall, and the Buckeyes have six appearing across different groups.

Let’s see what Anthony Treash of PFF thinks.

NEXT … A Dynamic Deep Threat

Chris Olave – No. 1 returning wide receiver

LOOK. Ohio State football has had some crazy speed in recent years
LOOK. Ohio State football has had some crazy speed in recent years

Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Chris Olave (2) heads up field after a catch against Clemson Tigers safety Lannden Zanders (36) in the second quarter during the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Credit: USA TODAY Sports

What Pro Football Focus says

“Olave was projected to be a first-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft but made the surprising decision to return to school and boost his stock even higher. For the Buckeyes, this is clearly fantastic news. They are returning perhaps the most refined route-runner in college football.

Olave has generated a step or more of separation on over 87% of his targets since 2019, the highest rate in the country. Against single coverage over the past two seasons, he has racked up 15 receptions of 15-plus yards in which he had more than a couple of steps of separation. That trailed only Alabama’s DeVonta Smith for the most in the FBS (19) and was five more than the next-best Power Five receiver.”

NEXT … Another Big-Play Threat at Receiver

Garrett Wilson – No. 2 returning wide receiver

Watch: Justin Fields drops long dime to Garrett Wilson in Sugar Bowl
Watch: Justin Fields drops long dime to Garrett Wilson in Sugar Bowl

Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson catches a pass in front of Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick during the first half of the Sugar Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

What Pro Football Focus says

“Ohio State may no longer have Justin Fields, but the team certainly has the clear-cut best wide receiver duo in the country. That’ll surely ease the transition for (most likely) C.J. Stroud at quarterback.

Like his teammate Olave, Wilson is one of the best route-runners in the game. He impressed against single coverage (sixth in PFF grade on such plays) and frequently found soft spots against zone while working from the slot. That led to a separation rate that ranked eighth-best in college football this past season. The 2019 five-star recruit is bound to put up numbers in this offense once again in 2021.”

NEXT … A Talented and Veteran Tackle

Thayer Munford – No. 1 returning offensive tackle

Ohio State offensive lineman Thayer Munford to return for 2021 season
Ohio State offensive lineman Thayer Munford to return for 2021 season

Oct 26, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman Thayer Munford (75) during the third quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“Munford is taking advantage of his “super senior” year and returning to school for the 2021 season, which is a big positive for the Buckeyes. He was a decent starter at left tackle for Ohio State in 2018 and 2019, but he took he improved his play even further in 2020. Munford posted a 91.8 PFF grade this past season, the fourth-best mark in the FBS and the highest mark among returning tackles.

His pass protection was nearly flawless in 2020. Munford stood strong against quality pass-rush units, such as Michigan, Clemson and Alabama, and displayed tremendous processing speed against stunts and blitzes all year long. Over the course of 264 pass-blocking snaps, he allowed just three pressures — none of which were sacks or hits on quarterback Justin Fields. In turn, his pressure rate allowed was half a percentage point lower than any other Power Five left tackle.”

NEXT … Another Breakout Tackle

Nicholas Petit-Frere – No. 9 returning offensive tackle

Ohio State's Harry Miller, Nicholas Petit-Frere names O-line starters
Ohio State's Harry Miller, Nicholas Petit-Frere names O-line starters

Nicholas Petit-Frere (78) is competing to start at right tackle.
Credit: USA TODAY Sports

What Pro Football Focus says

“Petit-Frere was the Buckeyes’ top recruit in the 2018 class, ranking seventh nationally as a five-star background. He saw just over 300 snaps in his first two years on campus, with most coming in a rotational role. But all of them left much to be desired, especially his lone start in 2019 against Northwestern when he posted a 14.5 pass-blocking grade and allowed three pressures. In 2020, though, Petit-Frere looked like a new player. He was easily the most improved offensive lineman in college football this season in both facets.

Petit-Frere posted an 83.9 pass-blocking grade in 2020 and allowed just four total pressures across seven starts — three of which came against Alabama. On true pass sets, he joined teammate Thayer Munford with a top-10 pass-block grade ranking. With those two manning the end spots on the offensive line, Ohio State will boast the best tackle tandem in college football next season.”

NEXT … An Interior Menace

Haskell Garrett – No. 1 returning interior defensive lineman

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan State: Report card and snap counts
Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Michigan State: Report card and snap counts

Dec 5, 2020; East Lansing, Michigan, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive tackle Haskell Garrett (92) celebrates a touchdown during the second quarter against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium. Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

What Pro Football Focus says

“Garrett was a four-star prospect and a top-100 recruit in the 2017 class, but he didn’t consistently see the field until the 2020 season after just over 400 snaps over his first three college campaigns. Yet, Garrett broke out in a big way in 2020, earning an astounding 88.9 pass-rush grade that trailed only Alabama’s Christian Barmore — a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft — for the best in the Power Five.

Garrett may have generated only 18 pressures in eight games, but he won on a consistent basis. In fact, his 17.9% win rate also trailed only Barmore for the best mark in the Power Five. He is a force of nature with heavy hands, bound to wreak havoc again in 2021.”

NEXT … A Fast Rising Edge Rusher

Tyreke Smith – No. 9 returning edge rusher

WATCH: Ohio State drops hype video for defensive end Tyreke Smith
WATCH: Ohio State drops hype video for defensive end Tyreke Smith

Jan 1, 2021; New Orleans, LA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Tyreke Smith (11) celebrates after tackling Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) in the third quarter during the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Credit: Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

What Pro Football Focus says

“Smith was a top-35 recruit in the 2018 class, according to 247Sports, but didn’t see the field on a consistent basis until the 2020 season. The 6-foot-4, 267-pound edge rusher looked as good as many had hoped, posting an 85.1 pass-rushing grade, a 25.3% pass-rushing win rate (fourth in the FBS) and a 22.3% pressure rate generated (second in the FBS).

Smith has routinely shown the ability to attack with quickness and win with power. He essentially played only half a season in 2020 (seven games) and was in the midst of a big-time breakout. Expect that to continue in 2021 and for Smith to end up in the elite tier of pass rushers by the campaign’s conclusion.”

NEXT … What We Say About the List

PFF’s Top Ten returners at each position

Credit: Ohio State Dept. of Athletics

What We Say

The list is a good one, and it’s hard to get too upset about so many Ohio State players appearing. However, we have a couple of beefs. There is a case that could be made for Jeremy Ruckert at tight end. It’s hard to think there are many more talented tight ends in the country. Look for his pass-catching numbers to significantly climb in 2021.

Also, I’m not sure Tyreke Smith is going to be more explosive than Zach Harrison this season. He could break out for sure, but almost everyone else has Harrison as the slightly better of the two and a potential first-rounder in the 2022 NFL draft.

Lastly, watch out for an improved secondary this season. Josh Proctor has all the fast-twitch, high-skill set to be a difference-maker at safety, and Sevyn Banks might be a first-round talent when it’s all said and done as well.

Nine or ten OSU players probably would have resulted in some nasty-grams from other programs’ fans being sent to Pro Football Focus we’re guessing though.

To get a look at the entire list of top ten returning payers at each position, feel free to visit the piece put together by PFF for yourself.

List

Ohio State football projected depth chart, post-spring defense and special teams

Ohio State Football: Way-too-early 2021 projected depth chart, defense
Ohio State Football: Way-too-early 2021 projected depth chart, defense

List

Ohio State football 2021 projected depth chart, post-spring offense

Ohio State Football 2021 projected depth chart, post-spring offense
Ohio State Football 2021 projected depth chart, post-spring offense

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