We continue our rankings of the top 10 offensive playmakers on this year’s Ohio State football team. The No. 7 player on this list owns the record for longest individual media session for a Buckeye ever (~45 minutes), and he also scored a touchdown against the national champs last year.
No. 7 – Xavier Johnson, Super Senior, WR
Xavier Johnson is listed as a wide receiver here, but that description falls well short of what he did for the Buckeyes last year, and what he could do again for them this year. Johnson — listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds — was invaluable last year as a versatile player who could be plugged in wherever the Buckeyes needed him. But he was more than just a stand-in, he was effective, productive, and dangerous. His 37-yard touchdown catch against Georgia came as a running back, for instance. As did his 71-yard touchdown run against Indiana.
Johnson has been at Ohio State since 2018 when he walked on, but he has been on scholarship since 2021. In his time with the Buckeyes, he has played cornerback, running back, and receiver, and would gladly play wherever he was needed. Last year due to injuries to slot receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and running backs TreVeyon Henderson, Miyan Williams, and Evan Pryor, he was needed everywhere. He caught key passes as a slot receiver against Notre Dame, and took hand-offs out of the backfield against Michigan and Georgia.
Some may point to Xavier Johnson’s 37-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter to give Ohio State a lead over Georgia in the College Football Playoffs as his biggest play. However, the Buckeyes lost that game, so why not point to a game that featured both a big play by Johnson and a victory for Ohio State. You don’t have to look far, because it happened in the first game of the season. Facing third-and-11, quarterback CJ Stroud stood in the face of a blitz and found Johnson on a post route for a 24-yard touchdown that gave Ohio State a 14-10 lead with 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter. It was a perfect display of Johnson’s ability to step up when his team needed him.
Xavier Johnson was one of 10 Big Ten players with a rush of 70 yards or more last season. His came against Indiana while he was playing tailback, and it featured him winding his way around the Hoosier defense like he was searching for clues in an escape room. The 71-yard run took nearly 15 seconds from start to finish because of all of the dodging, ducking, dipping, diving, and dodging he had to do.
What He Does Well
Everything. Xavier Johnson is the ultimate team player, but he’s also one of the team’s best playmakers because he can make plays at multiple positions. He’s comfortable everywhere on the field and has a great feel for his surroundings. Johnson can play any of the receiver positions, and he takes advantage of the attention a defense must give to OSU’s other receivers.
While other receivers will command more attention than Johnson, opposing defenses will be doing themselves a disservice if they aren’t attentive to where Johnson is lined up from play to play. As a receiver, he can turn into a running back after the catch. He will lower his head and pick up an extra two yards. As a running back, he will run routes like a receiver and leave linebackers and safeties two steps behind.
Expectations For This Season
Xavier Johnson will likely enter this season as the Buckeyes’ No. 2 slot receiver behind junior Emeka Egbuka, but he will see action throughout every game. He and Egbuka will be more than capable of playing at the same time. It will also be interesting to see how much they use Johnson out of the backfield, because it was effective when they did it a season ago. It was actually reminiscent of the way the H-back used to be used with Curtis Samuel in 2016, albeit in much smaller doses.
The versatility will be more limited by what Ohio State wants to do, and not what Johnson is actually capable of doing. The bottom line is that he gives the Buckeyes an advantage when he is on the field, and not just because of the many things he can do, but because of how effective he is when he does them. His ability to create mismatches should continue to lead to big plays, just as it did last year.