Ranking OSU Football’s Top 10 Impact Players in 2021

Last season there was Tylan Wallace, Trace Ford, Tre Sterling and Spencer Sanders who all played, by my estimation, the most pivotal roles in determining OSU’s outcome during the 2020-21 season. This season the cast of characters will change a bit, but the impact the top 10 (or so) players on the team will not. Ultimately, how good (or bad) the season will be for OSU will largely rest on the stars’ shoulders.

That’s why identifying those players is so important. It’s an exercise that could foreshadow what the season will look like, for better or for worse. (Although, at this time last year, the offensive line would’ve been viewed as a huge strength.)

So yeah, this is somewhat fluid and subject to change. But I’ve laid out my own list below with the goal to get a feel for how this season might turn out for OSU. I came away rather optimistic after hashing this out with myself, and I think you might feel the same. So here we go — starting with No. 1.

1. QB Spencer Sanders: The most important position on the field makes Spencer Sanders, by default, the most important player to OSU’s success in 2021. He’s been stunningly consistent his first two seasons as OSU’s starter — in consecutive seasons he completed 155 passes on 247 attempts! — but it’s time he take a step forward as a passer and decision-maker and eliminate some of the silly mistakes. If he can do that, the Pokes might be a real Big 12 title threat.

2. RBs LD Brown, Dezmon Jackson + Jaylen Warren: OK, a cop-out. Sorry. I promise to make the rest of this list a single player and not nearly an entire position group. It’s just that OSU’s running backs are incredibly important to OSU’s run game, and, if I’m being honest, I’m not 100% sure which one is going to be the most important. LD is the starter by default and Dezmon Jackson is the battering ram, but Jaylen Warren turned heads this spring and could play a huge role, too. (I didn’t even mention my personal favorite RB, Dominic Richardson, who is a 1,000-yard rusher when he gets the opportunity.)

3. S Tre Sterling: After being snubbed from the All-Big 12 list last season after a breakout junior season in which he led the team in tackles for loss and led all non-linebackers in tackles, Sterling this season might be the key that unlocks greatness again in OSU’s secondary. If he plays this season like he did last, he’ll be an all-conference honoree and firmly on the draft radar because of his ball skills, speed and smarts. I’m very much in on his prospects to be a star in 2021. He was one of the best-kept secrets in college football last season.

4. WR Brennan Presley: He caught one pass all of last season before a six-reception, 118-yard and three-score bowl game. Now, Presley is planted as a WR1 and the leader of OSU’s receiving corps. If he can match his bowl game production or come close to it, he’ll be well on his way to becoming OSU’s next great wideout.

5. OL Josh Sills: Sills is a ready-made NFL player roaming OSU’s roster. Oh yes, of course he makes the list. Sills is one of the nastiest, toughest linemen on OSU’s squad, and he was the heart and soul of last season’s injury-riddled unit. Big season on deck for him.

6. DE Trace Ford: An ACL tear in December means my expectations for Ford are reasonably tempered. I’m not totally sure it’s fair to assume he’ll be back at 100%. But he’s still easily a top-10 player on this roster with bonafide NFL talent as a pass-rusher. If he is close to healthy by the time the season rolls around, he’ll be a difference-maker. If he is given the all-clear, I’ll have to adjust my rankings here with Ford inside the top-three. Yes, he is that good.

7. CB Jarrick Bernard-Converse: Losing Rodarius Williams means the cornerback spot needs a new name to step up, and I like Bernard-Converse to do exactly that. It’s also unclear who slots in as a starter opposite him among Jabbar Muhammad, Christian Holmes and Korie Black, making Bernard-Converse’s role all the more important. The safety-turned-corner has made 33 consecutive starts, the longest streak among all players on OSU’s roster.

8. OL Danny Godlevske: Miami (Oh.) center transfer Danny Godlevske will presumably start right away this season, replacing Ry Schneider. Godlevske is a multi-time All-MAC contributor whose quick acclimation will be key to OSU’s success on the interior of the offensive line. A good center stabilizes the whole offensive line unit, and a bad one can be a chaotic force. Here’s to hoping — and expecting — Godlevske to be more of the former.

9. S Kolby Harvell-Peel: First-team All-Big 12 as a sophomore, second team as a junior …. back to first team in 2021? It’s certainly in the realm of possibilities. He’s a ball-hawking safety who, when healthy, might be OSU’s best NFL prospect among all defensive backs.

10: WR Tay Martin: We saw at the end of last season that when Tay Martin got touches, Tay Martin made plays. Expect more of that this season now that Tylan Wallace is off to the NFL. He slots in as a starter who could be one of Spencer Sanders’ primary downfield targets. That’s a critical role in OSU’s offense and might make him the team leader in receiving yards in 2021.

Just missed the cut: DE Tyler Lacy, K Alex Hale, LBs Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper, DTs Israel Antwine and Jayden Jernigan, OL Taylor Miterko, CWB Logan Carter, WR Rashod Owens, OL Cole Birmingham

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