Rob Oller: Who are Ohio State's top wide receivers in Buckeyes football history?

These five Ohio State wide receivers left Woodyball in the dust

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra
Cris Carter, here running with the ball against Minnesota in 1986, is No. 3 all-time at Ohio State with 168 receptions and 27 touchdowns catches and No. 4 in total yards with 2,725.

Many moons ago, when Woody Hayes harrumphed and harangued along the Ohio State sideline, a completed pass was the Buckeyes’ version of a lunar eclipse — rare and too often obscured by a running back’s cloud of dust.

In 1973, OSU quarterback Cornelius Green attempted 46 passes the entire season. In 2019, Justin Fields attempted that many in one game.

Rob Oller

Ohio State didn’t even call them wide receivers. They were ends, presumably because they were at the end of the line where play-calling options were concerned.

All that is to say when ranking the best wide receivers in Ohio State history, the timeline begins where Woody ends, after 1978. Not that the Buckeyes lacked talent before then — ends Dante Lavelli (1942) and Paul Warfield (1961-63) are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — but the passing game emerged under Earle Bruce, then continued to evolve through the 1980s and ’90s until it has become the thing by which national championships are won.

With that criteria in mind, what follows is my ranking of the five best wide receivers in Ohio State history, based on statistics, the eyeball test and comments from former players. 

Chris Olave gains yardage against Rutgers on Nov. 7.

A few caveats: length of career matters, but mostly as a tie-breaker. A player with two seasons of production gets the nod over a one-season phenom. Also, how a player performed in the NFL has little bearing on this list. And no tight ends, although my pick there would be John Frank, with current TE Jeremy Ruckert in the running.

Ohio State receiver Garrett Wilson signals a first down during the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson on Dec. 28, 2019.

Along those lines, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson may turn out to be the best wide receiver duo in school history, but individually neither is yet top five. Oh, and off-the-field issues don’t factor into my decision-making. I’m ranking receivers, not inducting hall of famers.

Finally, I lean toward those who played in more of a pro-style offense, before the spread allowed for jet sweeps featuring 10-inch completions.

Ready, set, let’s argue. 

Kirk Herbstreit says Cris  Carter, here gaining yardage against Wisconsin in 1986, "revolutionized" the receiver position at Ohio State.

1. Cris Carter, 1984-86

No surprise here. It’s not just the stats — No. 3 all-time with 168 receptions; No. 3 with 27 touchdowns catches; No. 4 in total yards with 2,725 — but, my goodness, those hands. None better. 

Carter previewed what the modern wide receiver would become. He had the size (6 feet 3, 200 pounds) to go up and over defensive backs, and his route-running made up for lack of sprinter speed.

“Cris Carter revolutionized the position at Ohio State in the mid-80s,” Kirk Herbstreit said this week. “He had the uncanny ability to make plays at critical moments.”

Ohio State's David Boston scores against Michigan's Andre Weathers in 1998. Boston holds Ohio State records for catches in a game (14), touchdown catches in a career (34) and receptions per game (5.2).

2. David Boston,  1996-98

A tough choice between Boston and Terry Glenn (see below), but Boston gets the nod based on higher career production. The Texan holds records for catches in a game (14), touchdown catches in a career (34) and receptions per game over a career (5.2). He also ranks second in career yardage (2,855) and receptions (191) and catches in a season (85). 

“Boston was a freak,” said former Ohio State wide receiver Dee Miller, who played in the same offense.

Terry Glenn scores a touchdown against Notre Dame in 1995.

3. Terry Glenn, 1993-95

Maybe all you need to know: Miller, Herbstreit, former Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman and former OSU wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher all ranked Glenn in their top two. 

“Terry just moved different than other people,” Sanzenbacher said. “He was so great off the line.”

Michael Jenkins runs with the ball against Michigan in 2003.

4. Michael Jenkins, 2000-2003

If being on the receiving end of Holy Buckeye is all he accomplished, MJ might only make honorable mention. But the three-year starter came up just as big in the BCS championship game against Miami when he gained 17 yards on a 4th-and-14 in overtime. He fails to get open or drops either of those balls, and Ohio State doesn’t win the 2002 national title. But there’s more. Jenkins is the career leader in reception yards (2,898) and second behind Boston with 10 career 100-yard games. 

Ohio State receiver Gary Williams gets big yardage against USC in the 1980 Rose Bowl. Williams ranks third in OSU career yardage with 2,792.

5. Gary Williams, 1979-82

This one is personal. Williams and Doug “White Lightning” Donley (1977-80) gave this teen wannabe receiver hope that the days of Woodyball were over. Bruce deserves credit for loosening the offense in 1979, but Williams had the glue hands to make it work. And his numbers remain impressive, ranking third in career yardage (2,792). 

Who gets left out? A lot of talent, including Donley, Joey Galloway, Santonio Holmes, Terry McLaurin and Brian Hartline. Or maybe you prefer Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez or K.J. Hill? Chris Gamble? Devin Smith? Parris Campbell? Cedric Anderson? Michael Thomas? Can’t go wrong with any of them, but I’ll stick with my five and sleep well.

Now, who do I want throwing to my guys? Hmm. Stay tuned.