PHOTOS BY DAVID HEASLEY
Sophomore QB Justin Fields
Everywhere Justin Fields has gone, expectations have followed. Rated the No. 2 overall player in the country coming out of high school in 2017, the five-star recruit has the eighth highest prospect rating of all time. However, his 2018 freshman season at Georgia saw the highly touted quarterback fail to win the starting job under center. Fields likely felt his status as a backup wouldn’t change ahead of the next year either, hence his transfer to Ohio State. Despite completing only 27 passes last season at Georgia, Fields has the No. 4 highest preseason odds to win the Heisman Trophy in 2019 per Bovada. Given the hype, Fields’ first time throwing passes in front of the Buckeye faithful at the Horseshoe was a head-scratcher. Fields’ inconsistent Spring Game performance in April saw him complete 4-of-13 passing, with 98 of his 131 yards coming on one single play. Most people are willing to suspend judgment from that exhibition, but even head coach Ryan Day waited until the tail end of fall camp to name Fields the official starter. With Buckeye fans spoiled by witnessing the greatest passing offense in program history last season with Dwayne Haskins at the helm, a potentially shaky start from Fields could be jarring. the expectations are still sky high for the second year QB, but the jury is still out. A stellar season would confirm the praise that’s long been heaped upon him, but a mediocre year would, for the first time, have everyone doubting the quarterback who has already transferred out of one unfavorable situation.
Junior RB J.K. Dobbins
Ohio State’s football history is deeply enriched with legendary feature backs. From the only two-time Heisman winner in Archie Griffin in the 70s, to Eddie George in the 90s, and most recently, national champion Ezekiel Elliot. After two seasons of splitting carries with Mike Weber, J.K. Dobbins will finally have the chance to prove he belongs in the discussion of great Ohio State running backs as he will be the unchallenged workhorse out of the Buckeye backfield. That potential was first shown two years ago, when Dobbins rushed for 1,403 yards as a true freshman on a staggering 7.3 yards per carry. With increased expectations, carries, and an injured Mike Weber not taking as much off his workload last season, Dobbins was significantly less effective. Despite 36 more carries, Dobbins had 350 less yards on the ground, and his impressive 7.3 yards per carry shrank to 4.6. Needless to say, Dobbins will look for a rebound season in 2019. If able to replicate his freshman yardage, Dobbins would vault himself into the No. 3 all-time career rushing slot at Ohio State. However, his season will have implications that reach further than his Buckeye legacy. Dobbins will be eligible for the NFL Draft after this year, and he is slated as one of the top backs in the class. Outside of Zeke, there hasn’t been an Ohio State RB taken in the first round of the draft since Beanie Wells in 2009, and the value of the position in the NFL is dwindling by the year. While Dobbins is certainly the most talented Buckeye running back prospect since Zeke, this season will have a heavy impact on whether he is an early round pick or slides to the back of the draft like his former counterpart, Mike Weber.
Senior CB Damon Arnette Jr.
Five games into the 2018 season, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller projected Damon Arnette to go in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft. At season’s end, you couldn’t have paid an NFL GM to share that opinion. Arnette was the source of heaping fan criticism, citing his play, among others, as the explanation for a Buckeye defense that gave up more yards per game (403.4) than any in program history. Arnette was routinely flagged for pass interference penalties in crucial situations during big games, which was deflating for a defense that struggled with giving up big plays all year. Suddenly Arnette found his draft stock trending downwards, and former Ohio State legend Cris Carter even talked him into returning to Ohio State for a fifth season. Arnette will be playing with a chip on his shoulder in 2019. If anyone was in doubt that the Florida-native is red up about proving the doubters wrong, they need only turn to a spring practice in April that saw Arnette first jawing with, then swinging at Buckeye wideouts. the maligned Buckeye defense has endured hearing about its poor year for the entire off season, and Arnette will be chief in bringing the intensity and senior leadership necessary to right the ship. While he hasn’t yet lived up to the standard of Ohio State cornerback that has seen four CBs taken in the first round of the NFL Draft in the past four years, Arnette will have the chance to climb the draft board after a strong 2019 season or else risk being overlooked entirely.
Senior WR Binjimen Victor
Down 12 to rival Penn State with under seven minutes to play, Ben Victor made an across-the-body catch, ripped the ball from a defender and proceeded to break tackles, cut back and gallop to the endzone on a breathtaking 47-yard touchdown that sparked an Ohio State comeback win. However, that was one of just 21 catches and 4 touchdowns Victor hauled in during his 2018 campaign. With a 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame, that play alone demonstrated that Victor has all the size, athleticism, and playmaking ability to compete at the next level. But the Florida-native has only shown it in ashes. Given Dwayne Haskins’ record-breaking passing attack last season, one might think Victor would’ve been primed for a breakout year. Instead, Victor caught more than two passes in just two games, and 237 of Haskins’ 373 completions went to Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon. To Victor’s benefit, only Hill is returning to the team out of the four this season. Another positive sign for Victor is the chemistry between him and Justin Fields, which was on full display during their 98-yard touchdown connection in the 2019 Spring Game — the exhibition’s most electric highlight. While Hill figures to be the top possession receiver for the Buckeyes, Victor may end up with more game-breaking highlights as he may be the go-to long ball and run-after-catch option for the Buckeyes, as well as a red zone threat due to his size. While improvement was expected of Victor last season, it will be necessary this year as the Buckeyes try to replace the record-setting receiver production from 2018.
Senior DE Jonathon Cooper
In Jonathon Cooper’s tenure at Ohio State, he has seen four teammates playing his position get drafted in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft. Fighting for playing time behind fellow defensive ends Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes was no easy task, but it has limited the one-time five-star high school prospect to just 5.5 sacks in three seasons with the Buckeyes. Cooper’s senior season will be his second as a starter, but with potential All-American and first round draft lock Chase Young playing on the other end, Cooper runs the risk of being overlooked once again if he doesn’t produce a stellar season rushing the passer. the attention given to Young may benefit Cooper on the field this season, however, as offenses key in on him and send double teams that may free up opportunities for Cooper. the Gahanna, Ohio native may also benefit from the realigned defensive schemes that have been teased by first-year Ohio State co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley, though defensive line coach Larry Johnson remains in place for the Buckeyes. If Cooper does have a breakout year, he would not be the first Buckeye to rise from relative obscurity to end up in the NFL. Jalyn Holmes had only 5 career sacks in four seasons before being selected in the fourth round. Michael Thomas was redshirted in his sophomore year before going on to become the highest paid wideout in the NFL. Cooper’s opportunity has arrived, and his final year will be his best crack at becoming a standout star on the Buckeye defense.