Replacing Garrett Wilson: X Marv’s The Spot?

Garrett Wilson was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes in his three years in Columbus. As a true freshman in 2019, he split reps with Binjimen Victor at the X receiver spot but still posted 30 catches for 432 yards and five touchdowns. As a sophomore in 2020, the Ohio State coaches decided to move him into the slot to replace the departed KJ Hill.

Expectations were that Wilson would have a huge season as the Buckeyes’ top receiving target, but the pandemic-shortened season changed that. Still, in eight games he caught 43 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns. This past season was Wilson’s best as a Buckeye. He moved back out to the X position and posted 70 catches for 1,058 yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games. He also ran the ball four times for 76 yards and another touchdown.

Wilson leaves as one of the greatest Ohio State wide receivers of all time, which also means he leaves a gigantic void. The Buckeyes have talent waiting in the wings, but Wilson is too good not to be missed in 2022.

The Candidates

Garrett Wilson missed two games this season, so everybody got a glimpse of the future without him. However, it was a different guy starting in place of him each time. Julian Fleming stepped in for him at Nebraska as a true sophomore and caught a couple of passes for 22 yards. Then in the Rose Bowl, it was true freshman Marvin Harrison, Jr. who got the call and came away with six receptions for 71 yards and three touchdowns. Fleming has also started in place of Chris Olave twice over the previous two seasons, so he could very much factor in at the Z receiver position as well.

In fact, given how well Harrison played against the Utah Utes in the postseason, it might be best for Fleming to stay at Z. Both have the size that the X position generally requires, but considering the last two receivers to play X for the Buckeyes were Jameson Williams and Garrett Wilson, there really is no need for the bigger bodies provided the job still gets done.

That realization is good news considering Ohio State signed four receivers in the 2022 class and they’re all around 6-feet tall. Of the two, the most likely candidates at this position would seem to be Kojo Antwi and Caleb Burton. Antwi is a sturdy receiver with strong hands, while Burton is reminiscent of recent Buckeye Texans in Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who could both play anywhere.

While receivers coach Brian Hartline will need everybody to be able to play everywhere, a guy like Jayden Ballard probably projects to Z as a redshirt freshman in 2022. The same could be said for incoming freshman Kyion Grayes, who reminds many of former Buckeye Chris Olave.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Emeka Egbuka also likely project elsewhere, especially because one of them will still likely be in the slot. There could also be an opportunity for Kamryn Babb if he is healthy by the time next season rolls around.

Spring Outlook

It will be interesting to see where guys are slotted by Brian Hartline on day one of practice and if that holds true on the last day as well. Will the guys he put at X stay there or will there be movement as players struggle or thrive? Marvin Harrison is expected to be part of the mix, and may be at the head of the class. It’s not easy to forget what he did to the Utah secondary, whether facing an experienced starter or backup running back.

The question that will need to be answered is which of the three positions gets doubled up first. There are four experienced receivers returning in 2022 in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Julian Fleming, Emeka Egbuka, and Harrison. Two of those receivers will be playing the same position, but it’s probably too early to tell which two. All of this depends on where Smith-Njigba is lining up next year, and at this point it’s safest to assume he stays in the slot. Which means Hartline probably won’t want to have somebody as talented as Egbuka playing behind him. That then sends Egbuka possibly to Z with Fleming. Unless Fleming is at X with Harrison. You can see how this gets messy quickly.

The only freshmen enrolling early and taking part in spring ball are Caleb Burton and Kyion Grayes, so maybe Burton gets some snaps here as well.

Best Bet

The best bet to be starting at X when the Buckeyes host Notre Dame in September is Marvin Harrison, Jr. The better question is probably whether or not he’s going to get 80% of the snaps or 60% of the snaps? Harrison showed in the Rose Bowl just a bit of what his potential is. All he needs are snaps and he’s poised to get all that he can handle in 2022.

While Brian Hartline doesn’t necessarily look for body types, it’s hard to ignore the 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame that Harrison possesses. He won’t be the only X taking the field for the Buckeyes next season, but he should be the most productive.