COLUMBUS, Ohio — Earlier this offseason, Urban Meyer offered an interesting analogy about Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class.
“We have a really strong lower class. Our [2017 early enrollees] are really impressive, the nine guys that are here. Our ’16 class [is too], and then we have really strong leadership,” Meyer said on his call-in show on National Signing Day. “We have a void in the middle here that we have to get more production out of that group. That’s the ’15 class.
“I think [strength coach Mickey] Marotti said it best. It’s like an Oreo cookie. You’ve got strength at the bottom, strength at the top and then there’s a squeeze from some of the guys who haven’t done enough around here to produce and be a part of it.”
The sixth-year Buckeyes coach later would double down on his criticism of his 2015 haul, referring to it as “not a good class.”
Ohio State’s 2015 class certainly lags behind its 2014 and 2013 counterparts in production, and the Buckeyes’ 2016 class has shown promising early returns.
But “not a good class”? That seems like an exaggeration — even by Meyer’s lofty expectations. After all, in his first mock draft for 2018, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller projects three Buckeyes to be taken in the first round — Jerome Baker, Dre’Mont Jones and Denzel Ward — all members of the “Elite 15,” as the class once was called.
With top-end talent such as that alone, it’s hard to imagine the class really being as disappointing as Meyer has made it out to be. With Ohio State’s 2015 haul two years into its eligibility, let’s take a look at where the 26-man class stands — and where it can still go — entering 2017.
Emerging stars: Jerome Baker, Denzel Ward, Dre’Mont Jones, Mike Weber (4)
Baker and Jones each served as key starters on Ohio State’s 2016 defense, with Baker emerging as one of the team’s top linebackers. Jones, meanwhile, still has room to grow after his promising redshirt freshman season, but he already has proven versatile enough as a defensive tackle to remain on the field when the Buckeyes use their “rushmen” package.
While not technically a starter, Ward played plenty alongside Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley. He is considered the next top-flight cornerback for a program that has produced four cornerbacks chosen in the first round of NFL drafts in the last four years. And while he might not project as a future first-round pick yet, Weber became just the third Ohio State running back to rush for 1,000 yards in his freshman season in 2016.
Established contributors: Isaiah Prince, K.J. Hill, Robert Landers, Damon Arnette, Liam McCullough (5)
Although these players saw regular playing time in 2016, each still has plenty to prove entering his third season in Columbus.
Perhaps the biggest question mark of the group is Isaiah Prince, who started at right tackle for the Buckeyes in 2016 but struggled throughout much of the season. To a degree, the same could be said of Damon Arnette, who started the season as the team’s top nickelback, but was benched by season’s end.
K.J. Hill has the potential to be one of Ohio State’s top playmakers at receiver, while Robert Landers can build on a strong season as a rotational defensive lineman. Liam McCullough, for his part, was solid in his first season as the team’s starting long snapper.
The best news for the Buckeyes, however, is that each seemed to take steps forward during the spring.
Promising potential: Justin Hilliard, Eric Glover-Williams, Matthew Burrell, Joe Burrow, A.J. Alexander, Branden Bowen, Joshua Alabi, Davon Hamilton (8)
Injuries have hampered the progress of Justin Hilliard, who arrived at Ohio State as a 5-star linebacker and as the highest-rated player in the Buckeyes’ 2015 class. He did, however, put together a strong showing in this year’s spring game, leading Ohio State with 7 tackles.
Eric Glover-Williams was similarly highly touted, but is hitting a restart on his career after a move from defensive back to wide receiver, just as Joshua Alabi is doing with a switch from the defensive line to offensive tackle. Matthew Burrell is the leading candidate to start at right guard, while A.J. Alexander stands as the team’s No. 2 tight end.
Although neither will be starters, both Branden Bowen and Davon Hamilton should provide depth to the Buckeyes offensive and defensive lines, respectively.
Perhaps the most intriguing player in this group is Joe Burrow, who served as Ohio State’s No. 2 quarterback in 2016 and now finds himself battling with Dwayne Haskins for the right to keep that job. Should he hold off the redshirt freshman and become J.T. Barrett’s long-term successor, many could view the 2015 class in a different light.
Need to see more: Jashon Cornell, Nick Conner, Kevin Feder, Rashod Berry (4)
These players are on the clock when it comes to their respective Ohio State careers. Unless they manage to make a surprise impact in 2017, it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of them finish their college careers elsewhere.
No longer at Ohio State: Torrance Gibson, Alex Stump, Jamel Dean, Grant Schmidt, Joshua Norwood (5)
While you’d like to see more top-end talent than this class has shown so far, there’s still plenty of hope.
Of the 22 players still with the program, nine already have earned significant playing time. Another eight have shown promise, which means it’s likely more than half of the class will have made a contribution before leaving Columbus.
The fact that only five players have left after two years is a promising sign. More attrition, however, remains possible between now and the start of the season. On Thursday, Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch reported Joshua Norwood would transfer to Georgia State.
Regardless of if you choose to view Ohio State’s 2015 class as a glass half-empty or as a glass half-full, this much is clear: It’s yet to live up to Meyer’s standards. And if that doesn’t change over the course of the next year, he probably will have a much tougher comparison ready for the class than an Oreo Cookie.