Power Ranking Ohio State's Positional Units for 2014

David Regimbal@davidreg412Featured ColumnistJune 25, 2014

Power Ranking Ohio State's Positional Units for 2014

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Ohio State has made a habit of stockpiling the most talent in the Big Ten, and that hasn't changed with Urban Meyer at the helm.

    The Buckeyes have signed the conference's top recruiting class in each of the last three years, giving Meyer a roster that's loaded at every level.

    Which positional unit has the most talent? 

    It's not just about the experience level or the ability of the starters. Depth, past production and potential are all factors in determining where the Buckeyes are the strongest.

8. Secondary

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Top Players: Dorant Grant

    Question Marks: Armani Reeves, Vonn Bell

    Why They're Ranked Here 

    Ohio State's worst unit in 2013 will again be its weakest this season.

    The Buckeyes' secondary allowed 268 yards per game through the air a season ago, which ranked No. 110 in the country, and three multiyear starters from that unit are gone. 

    The lone returning starter, Doran Grant, will lead an inexperienced (but promising) group. Armani Reeves, Gareon Conley and Eli Apple, all of whom were rated as 4-star prospects in high school, will see action at cornerback. Ohio State also has a lot of talented options at safety with Tyvis Powell and Cameron Burrows, as well as Vonn Bell, who was one of the few defensive bright spots in their loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

7. Linebacker

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Top Players: Joshua Perry

    Question Marks: Raekwon McMillan, Darron Lee

    Why They're Ranked Here 

    The linebacker position is still my biggest concern on our team. The depth is a major concern. When you think of the great linebackers here; arguably the last decade as good a linebackers as anywhere in the country played at Ohio State.

    Urban Meyer isn't bashful when calling out his players, and according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, he had no problem making these comments about his linebackers last November.

    Those complaints came with All-American Ryan Shazier in the rotation. Shazier's gone now—drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of this year's NFL draft. A bad unit just lost its most productive player.

    The Buckeyes addressed the depth issues by signing four outstanding linebacker prospects in their 2014 recruiting class, but those players will need to adapt quickly to have a positive impact on the field.

6. Offensive Line

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Top Players: Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein

    Question Marks: Darryl Baldwin, Kyle Dodson

    Why They're Ranked Here 

    Ohio State's offensive line must replace four senior starters, and heading into fall camp, only one of those vacancies has been filled.

    Pat Elflein secured the right guard position this spring—a near forgone conclusion after his admirable work filling in for the suspended Marcus Hall late last year. Taylor Decker, the only returning starter, made the switch from the right side of the line to left tackle to protect Braxton Miller's blind side.

    The left guard, center and right tackle slots need to be solidified, but the Buckeyes have strong candidates and an excellent position coach leading the way. Ed Warinner was named the FootballScoop Offensive Line Coach of the Year in 2012 after morphing Ohio State's weakest unit into one of its greatest strengths.

    Even though there's just one returning starter, there's plenty of reasons to have high hopes for this offensive line.

5. Wide Receiver

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Top Players: Dontre Wilson, Devin Smith

    Question Marks: Evan Spencer, Michael Thomas

    Why They're Ranked Here 

    Ohio State has a lot of depth at wide receiver, but the lack of a clear leader hurts the unit.

    Corey "Philly" Brown, who led the Buckeyes in receiving yards in each of the last two seasons, is gone. The coaching staff tabbed sophomore Dontre Wilson to fill Brown's vacated spot as the starting H-Back. Outside of that role, things are fuzzy for Urban Meyer.

    "I can't name one that would start today," Meyer said of his wide receivers this spring, according to The Lantern.

    Devin Smith has been in the starting rotation since 2012, and if he can overcome some inconsistency issues, he could be the leader the unit needs. Evan Spencer is hoping to bounce back after missing spring practice. Michael Thomas and Corey Smith want to show their impressive spring wasn't a fluke. Young guns such as Jalin Marshall, James Clark and Johnnie Dixon are on a mission to contribute early.

    The unit is stacked, and if it comes together the way Meyer wants it to, the Buckeyes won't miss Brown at all.

4. Tight End

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Top Players: Jeff Heuerman, Nick Vannett

    Question Marks: Marcus Baugh

    Why They're Ranked Here 

    Few teams in the country have depth at tight end like Ohio State.

    The Buckeyes go three deep at the position, but Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett highlight the group. 

    Heuerman, who had 466 receiving yards and four touchdowns as a starter last year, missed most of spring practice after spraining his foot. That gave Vannett an opportunity to shine in a featured role, and he was so good that Urban Meyer is exploring the possibility of two tight-end sets for the fall.

    According to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer, Vannett is a big fan of that idea.

    “I think having two big guys out there, it can cause problems for linebackers and safeties,” Vannett said. “I guess we’ll find this fall if they utilize it.”

    Marcus Baugh provides even more depth, and he's hoping to contribute to make up for some off-the-field incidents early in his career. With Heuerman and Vannett, though, the Buckeyes probably won't need to call Baugh's name much. 

3. Running Back

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Top Players: Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith

    Question Marks: Bri'onte Dunn, Curtis Samuel

    Why They're Ranked Here 

    Replacing Carlos Hyde's production will be no easy task—it may even be an impossible one—but Ohio State will lean on an insane amount of depth and talent to overcome his loss.

    Ezekiel Elliott, a prized 4-star recruit from Ohio State's 2013 class, is primed to breakout this season.

    Elliott saw limited action behind Hyde, Jordan Hall and Rod Smith last season, but he made the most of his opportunities. Playing in just half of Ohio State's 14 games, he piled up 267 rushing yards on just 30 carries (8.7 yards per rush) to go along with three total touchdowns. He surged past Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball this spring and emerged as the leader of the unit.

    All of those players are being pushed by true freshman Curtis Samuel. The 4-star blazer from Brooklyn, New York blew the coaches away with his speed and playmaking ability this spring, and as a result, he shot up the depth chart.

    The Buckeyes have five legitimate options at running back.

2. Quarterback

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Top Players: Braxton Miller

    Question Marks: Cardale Jones

    Why They're Ranked Here 

    Ohio State doesn't have a lot of depth at quarterback, and the No. 2 option is a legitimate concern.

    The unit is ranked so high because the No. 1 option is just that good.

    After pondering an early jump to the NFL, Braxton Miller announced last January that he was returning for his senior season. The news made Ohio State an instant title contender in 2014.

    Miller, the Big Ten's two-time MVP award winner, is on the verge of shattering every quarterback record at Ohio State. He needs 2,256 passing yards, 505 total yards and 10 victories to pass Art Schlichter as the all-time leader in all three categories.

    He's the trigger man for one of college football's most potent offenses, and his name is on the short list of early Heisman Trophy contenders.

    Urban Meyer will want to keep him healthy, though, because the safety net behind him has a lot of holes in it.

    Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones beat out redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett for the backup role this spring, but shaky spring game performances from both proved just how important Miller is to the Buckeyes.

1. Defensive Line

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Top Players: Michael Bennett, Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington

    Question Marks: Steve Miller

    Why They're Ranked Here 

    Ohio State's defensive line is loaded with NFL talent.

    Senior Michael Bennett, the run-stuffing defensive tackle, anchors the unit from the interior. His speed and pass-rushing ability sets him apart, though, and that's why he's projected by CBS Sports as a top-10 pick in next year's NFL draft. 

    Adolphus Washington will join Bennett on the inside, and Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter give the Buckeyes incredible depth.

    On the edges, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence will terrorize Big Ten quarterbacks this year, much like they did last year. The two combined for 28 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks last season—which are impressive numbers considering Bosa didn't start until midway through the year.

    The Buckeyes will have to play without Spence for the first two games of the year. The star junior is finishing up a three-game suspension handed down by the Big Ten last January for using an "unapproved dietary supplement." 

    Urban Meyer was hoping to lean on Jamal Marcus in Spence's absence, much like the Buckeyes did against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Marcus, however, was dismissed from Ohio State in May for a violation of team rules. Meyer will need Steve Miller to play big minutes for Ohio State until Spence returns.

    Fortunately for the Buckeyes, there's so much depth that Spence and Marcus' absence won't be a crushing blow.

    All recruiting information via 247Sports. Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.

    David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
    Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.