To maintain its place among the nation’s elite college football programs, Ohio State cannot rest on the success of its 2017 recruiting class. The Buckeyes are looking to secure top targets for 2018, and they currently have three commits in the class. Each is ranked among the top 61 prospects in the country.
We’re going to go position-by-position and review the names you need to know in advance of the next signing day. Names will be added and removed, but it’s a place to start the adventure to 2018.
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Today we’re flipping to the defensive side of the ball for the first time in this series. We’ll start with the defensive line – defensive ends first – and try to showcase the names Larry Johnson and the Buckeyes may be most interested in. Ohio State signed two defensive ends in 2016 and just one in 2017 but all three were ranked as 5-star prospects (Jonathon Cooper and Nick Bosa in 2016, Chase Young in 2017).
In 2018, as the Buckeyes look to replace players like Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes and likely Sam Hubbard, you should expect two to three pure defensive ends in the class.
Who may be the next wave of Rushmen?
Ohio State, as it has the last two recruiting cycles, will aim high. We’ve taken one key name off the list already, though: South Carolina native Xavier Thomas, the country’s top-ranked defensive player in 2018, has narrowed his list to Clemson and South Carolina, so the Buckeyes are out of that race.
Who are they still in the race for?
Micah Parsons | Harrisburg (Pa.) | ★★★★★
He may be committed to Penn State, but there’s definite interest in Ohio State from the country’s top-ranked weak-side defensive end.
Parsons has visited the Buckeyes multiple times in the last few months, including once for their late-January junior day, and continues to explore every avenue in his recruitment. A 6-foot-3, 235-pound athlete from Harrisburg, Parsons’ career has bounced him around a bit – he transferred schools in the middle of the 2016 football season amid some off-the-field issues – and some have questions about his maturity.
On the field, it’s impossible to deny the talent. Since he has already verballed to the Nittany Lions, the Buckeyes and every other school can take their time and thoroughly get to know the young man without pressure.
KJ Henry | Clemmons (N.C.) West Forsyth |★★★★★
Another 5-star prospect with an Ohio State offer, Henry’s recruitment could be a battle among the Buckeyes, Alabama and Clemson. You may as well get used to hearing about those three schools going head-to-head for the country’s best players.
Henry, 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, holds offers from everyone who’s anyone and he visited Ohio State in November for the first time. Clemson kind of owns the Carolina coast right now, but the Buckeyes found Tyquan Lewis in 2013 in North Carolina and maybe that can help here.
The key in recruiting a player from this far away? Get him back on campus this spring or summer, with his family, and then let the chips fall where they may.
Greg Emerson | Jackson (Tenn.) North Side | ★★★★
Emerson is a very interesting prospect from Tennessee who has a former four-year Buckeyes starter as his head coach at North Side High School.
Emerson is a 6-foot-4, 275-pound strong-side defensive end who has the ability to slide inside and end up as a three-technique defensive tackle. The Buckeyes have a slight built-in advantage here – former Ohio State safety Donnie Nickey is Emerson’s head coach – but it’s never easy to persuade a player from the South to leave SEC country, and the Volunteers, along with Alabama, are the biggest competition here.
Ohio State would like to get Emerson on campus again soon. He visited the school last summer for the Buckeyes’ Friday Night Lights camp.
Brenton Cox | Stockbridge (Ga.) | ★★★★
There are few players more naturally gifted as a pass-rushing defensive end than the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Cox.
The country’s fourth-ranked strong-side defensive end holds almost 25 offers but the Buckeyes are right in the mix with Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Clemson. Larry Johnson has been working hard on the Stockbridge star and will get his next chance to see him in person soon: He’s expected to visit Columbus for the second time since October the first weekend of March.
Tyreke Smith | Cleveland Heights (Ohio) | ★★★★
The best defensive line prospect in Ohio in the class of 2018 picked up his long-awaited Buckeyes offer just about three weeks ago.
Because of that, Ohio State is expected to eventually land Tyreke Smith, but Penn State, Michigan State and a few other regional schools have done a great job building a bit of a lead in his recruitment. Still, the Buckeyes didn’t fail to recruit him prior to the offer, so they’re not far behind.
I’m not sure when Smith ends his recruitment, but whenever that happens, it would be a shock if he didn’t select Ohio State.
Dorian Hardy | Montvale (N.J.) St. Joseph Regional | ★★★★
The country’s sixth-ranked strong-side defensive end is from New Jersey, but right now Alabama has the lead in his recruitment. If there’s an opening for any other schools here it is because Mario Cristobal, who was in charge of Hardy’s recruitment with the Tide, has moved on from Tuscaloosa.
Can Ohio State’s strong relationships in New Jersey help level the field here?
Nik Bonitto | Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas | ★★★★
Ohio State has done very well at St. Thomas Aquinas over the years and that is why it is in the hunt here despite Florida being the favorite.
Bonitto is light – just about 210 pounds – but he’s explosive and has a frame made to hold 250 to 260 pounds without losing a step. He has all the tools to be a big-time player at the college level. Will the impact of Joey and Nick Bosa, both recruited from St. Thomas Aquinas by the Buckeyes, be felt here? Only if Bonitto can make a visit to Ohio State sometime soon.
Daniel Carson| Independence (Mo.) William Chrisman | ★★★
Ohio State is seeing a lot of potential in this 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive lineman, a recent offer out of Missouri.
Carson has 13 offers, including Oklahoma and Georgia, and will see a major rankings boost as the spring turns to summer. Right now he’s the 18th-ranked strong-side defensive end and the 10th-ranked player in Missouri. He has not yet visited Ohio State but has plenty of time to do so: He doesn’t want to announce a college decision until January 2018.
Malik Vann | Fairfield (Ohio) | ★★★★
Vann is a top-15 player in Ohio who doesn’t have an Ohio State offer at this time but does have almost 25 offers from across the country.
Vann played linebacker his first two seasons of high school at Fairfield but has worked hard to turn himself into a top-tier defensive lineman at the request of college coaches. He’s a big fan of Notre Dame and Michigan State among the teams that have offered him, but a Buckeyes offer would change things considerably.