Ohio State, with top recruits and draft picks, becoming wide receiver factory

By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer

Over three consecutive days in the dog days of late June, Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline managed to make one of the best receiving corps in the nation even rowdier.

On Monday, Hartline landed five-star wide receiver Carnell Tate. On Tuesday, he landed five-star receiver Brandon Inniss, and on Wednesday, he landed four-star receiver Noah Rogers.

Those three are ranked No. 2, No. 3 and No. 9 among receivers in the 2023 recruiting cycle, and all of them are ranked among the top 50 overall recruits in this class. This is quite a run, even by Buckeye standards, and it’s the latest indication that Ohio State’s offense is looking to drop 50 on every team it plays.

It’s like Hartline has Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet, and he just keeps snapping his fingers.

It’s not just that prior to Hartline joining the Buckeyes’ staff and being elevated to his current position, Ohio State had landed just one five-star receiver in the previous five years (Jalin Marshall in 2013). It’s also that the Buckeyes have earned commitments or signings from six five-star receivers since 2019.

This is quite a turn for a program that built its historic offensive reputation largely on being able to run the ball. Ohio State running backs decorate the sport, from two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin to Heisman winner Eddie George to Maurice Clarett to Ezekiel Elliott to TreVeyon Henderson‘s dynamic true freshman season in 2021.

It’s also a place that has often struggled to convince the NFL that great quarterbacks and wide receivers have been developed in Columbus, Ohio. Prior to Dwayne Haskins’ selection in the first round in 2019, Art Schlichter was the last OSU quarterback picked in the first round — in 1982.

Since 2018, though, with the emergence of Ryan Day as offensive coordinator and his elevation to head coach, the Buckeyes have begun to feature their passing attack like never before. With Haskins, Day showed what the Buckeyes are capable of, and the coach has kept recruiting and developing great quarterbacks at break-neck speed.

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If C.J. Stroud continues his form from 2021, there’s little doubt that, following Haskins and Justin Fields, every quarterback who has started at least two games for Day will have been drafted in the first round.

Every quarterback and playcaller will tell you, though, that the offense is only as good as the offensive line, the backs and the receiving corps. It’s the latter where the Buckeyes have always been good enough but never recognized as great — short of players such as David Boston and Cris Carter.

It’s also why the recruitment and development of Hartline’s receiving corps is even more impressive than what receivers coach Dennis Simmons was able to do at Oklahoma, Nebraska receivers coach Mickey Joseph was able to do at LSU, Brennan Marion is attempting to do at Texas and Holmon Wiggins has continued to do at Alabama.

Selling receivers on the potential for them to not just enjoy lots of targets but also develop into the kind of players who can make first-round money in the NFL is not easy at Ohio State. In fact, until this year’s draft, the Buckeyes had not seen a wide receiver selected in the first round in 15 years.

Now, they’re looking to flood the zone with Buckeyes product. The supply chain is up and running, with the promise of more to come.

The 15-year wide receiver famine ended with Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave — and I’m not even counting Jameson Williams, who spent time in Columbus — looks like it’s about to be followed by a bounty heretofore unseen at Ohio State.

Ahead of Tate, Inniss and Rogers are the men already in Hartline’s receiver room whose credentials are just as gaudy. The depth chart boasts Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who has shown enough potential to win the Heisman at the position, Julian Fleming, the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2020 class, and Emeka Egbuka, the No. 1 wide receiver in the 2021 class.

Smith-Njigba holds Ohio State’s single-season receiving record (1,606 yards), ahead of Boston (1,435 yards) and Terry Glenn (1,411 yards).

I’m sure not all the receivers at Ohio State will finish their careers with the program — Williams transferred to Alabama after two seasons — but an accumulation of talent such as this also means more opportunities for Hartline to realize it. After all, Olave was a three-star recruit when he arrived on campus, and he was drafted higher than Michael Thomas or Terry McLaurin.

If the Ohio State offense is an aircraft carrier, then Brian Hartline is a Top Gun instructor with a room full of Top Gun students. Forgive him, as a former Buckeye receiver himself, if he channels his inner Hangman (Glen Powell) when you tell him he’s good.

“I am good, Rooster. I’m very good.”

But “very good” means teaching those students how to fly a mission that is as difficult as flying through a crooked valley floor, flipping the jet into an inverted dive, painting target, missile darting the dot, climbing a mountain while taking 9Gs to the face and then having to dogfight all the way home.

In college football, we call that mission winning the national championship, and it’s anything but easy, even with an aerial attack such as Ohio State’s. 

Lock up your chinstrap, and drop your visor.

Fight’s on.

RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast “The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young.” Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.

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