With Ohio State’s 2018 recruiting class — the top class in the Big Ten, No. 2 in the country and the best for the Buckeyes in the internet era — in the books, coach Urban Meyer’s never-ending march for recruiting perfection has turned to the 2019 class.
Ohio State has secured the nation’s top recruiting class in terms of player-rankings average in each of the last two seasons, and they’ll look to continue that momentum in 2019 and beyond with the goal of gaining the No. 1 class in the country. Their recruiting success has been hard to match over the last several seasons, and there’s a reason for that. The Buckeyes are willing to go anywhere in the nation and battle any program for top talent at every position in every class. That pattern undoubtedly will hold true again in the 2019 recruiting cycle, where the Buckeyes already are gaining traction with some of the best players in the country.
Here, we examine Ohio State’s top targets in the 2019 class on the defensive side of the football. Check out the break down of the Buckeyes’ top 2019 targets on offense as well.
Ohio State’s defensive end depth was depleted after the 2017 season. Three of the Buckeyes’ top four defensive ends — Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard, and Tyquan Lewis — left for either graduation or the NFL draft following the season. This fall, the Buckeyes return only three ends — juniors Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper and sophomore Chase Young. Ohio State also brought in four potential defensive ends in the 2018 recruiting class — Tyreke Smith, Javontae Jean-Baptiste, Tyler Friday and Alex Williams. Jean-Baptiste seems like a probable redshirt candidate and Williams could play any number of positions — defensive end, defensive tackle, offensive line or tight end. Similarly, Friday has been regarded as a defensive tackle or even interior offensive lineman by many.
All of that, plus Bosa’s almost-guaranteed departure for the NFL, means Ohio State will need to take multiple defensive ends in 2018 again to replenish the depth chart. I would expect Ohio State to take two to three defensive ends in this class.
- Zach Harrison – Lewis Center (Ohio) Olentangy Orange — Harrison is Ohio State’s single most important target in this recruiting class. The country’s No. 4 player in composite rankings, Harrison will challenge for the top overall spot in the class. It’s critical for Ohio State to beat Penn State and other contenders to keep the 5-star end at home.
- Noah Potter – Mentor (Ohio) — Potter is the other in-state defensive end to hold an offer from the Buckeyes and Ohio State appears to be in great shape with him. His older brother, Micah, is a standout basketball player at Ohio State and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Potter join him in Columbus and commit sooner rather than later. Potter recently made the trip to Ohio State yet again for another unofficial visit on Feb. 10.
- Ani Izuchukwu – Nashville (Tenn.) Davidson Academy — Izuchukwu has been on recruiting radars since early in his high school career. The country’s No. 12 weakside defensive end, Izuchukwu will have a loaded offer list to choose from. Ohio State and Alabama have been at the top of his list for some time and the two powerhouse programs will duke it out for this Tennessee native.
- Bill Norton – Memphis (Tenn.) Christian Brothers
- Marcus Hicks – Wichita (Kan.) Northwest
- Stephen Herron (Michigan commit) – Louisville (Ky.) Trinity — Kentucky defensive end Stephen Herron has been committed to Michigan since July, but that likely won’t be much of a dissuading factor for Ohio State or other top programs who want to pursue. He’s ranked as the No. 5 weakside defensive end in the class, the No. 1 player in Kentucky, and the No. 68 player in the country.
- Lloyd Summerall – Auburndale (Fla.)
- Steven Faucheux (no offer) – West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West — Facheux, a 4-star prospect and the country’s No. 16 strongside defensive end, has an impressive offer list, but it doesn’t yet include his home state school. Penn State, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee are a few of his largest offers. Ohio State has already offered two in-state defensive ends and Facheux is in competition with several others for a potential Buckeyes offer down the road.
Unlike defensive end, where Ohio State is struggling to prepare to have enough depth for the season, the Buckeyes are flush with talent at defensive tackle. Although the Buckeyes lost seniors Tracy Sprinkle and Michael Hill to graduation and Dylan Thompson to transfer, Ohio State brings back many contributors. Redshirt juniors Dre’mont Jones, Davon Hamilton and Jashon Cornell are all back. Junior pass-rushing specialist Robert Landers will return, as well.
The Buckeyes also have a youth movement on their hands at the position. Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage, both 2017 signees, will matriculate to sophomore and redshirt freshman eligibility, respectively. The Buckeyes also brought in a loaded defensive tackle recruiting class in 2018. The Buckeyes signed the No. 1 and No. 3 high school defensive tackles (Taron Vincent and Tommy Togiai) and the No. 1 JUCO defensive tackle (Antwuan Jackson). The aforementioned Friday and Williams may also eventually move inside to defensive tackle.
I would be surprised if Ohio State took more than one defensive tackle in the class given its impressive depth from top to bottom. Although Jones will leave for the NFL after this year, most of Ohio State’s depth should otherwise return.
- Jowon Briggs – Cincinnati (Ohio) Walnut Hills — Ohio State’s lone in-state offer at defensive tackle, despite an impressive class at the position in Ohio, Briggs is among the elite defensive linemen in the country. He’s ranked as the No. 5 defensive tackle and No. 73 player overall in the class. The Buckeyes haven’t committed many resources to landing a defensive tackle yet, but Briggs seems the most likely option if and when they do. They may trail Notre Dame at this juncture.
- Mazi Smith – Grand Rapids (Mich.) East Kentwood
- Antonio Alfano – Rahway (N.J.) — Although listed as a defensive end, I’m told that Alfano is viewed more as a defensive tackle by the Ohio State staff. There are some off-field concerns related to Alfano, who left Bergen Catholic (N.J.) in controversial fashion before arriving at Rahway. Alfano is a tremendous talent, the No. 57 player in the class overall, but there are non-football questions here.
- Tyler Davis – Apopka (Fla.) Wekiva
- Rodas Johnson (no offer) – Columbus (Ohio) St. Francis DeSales — Since converting to defensive tackle from guard, Johnson’s recruitment has exploded. Johnson has 20 offers in total, including Notre Dame, Michigan, Penn State, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and other elite programs. Johnson will likely be asked to compete for an Ohio State offer at summer prospect camp.
- Dewayne Carter (no offer) – Pickerington (Ohio) Central — Carter, another local prospect, already has a dozen Power-5 offers and counting, including major programs like Notre Dame and Tennessee. Ohio State has not offered, but they’re keeping a close eye on Carter.
Linebacker poses an interesting quandary for the Buckeyes. Ohio State is expected to have 11 scholarship linebackers in the 2018 season, including three highly regarded incoming freshmen from the 2018 recruiting class. Only one (redshirt senior Dante Booker) of those 11 linebackers will run out of eligibility after the 2018 season, but five others will be draft-eligible. Players such as Tuf Borland and Malik Harrison received frequent first-team reps and starts in 2017. Upperclassmen like Justin Hilliard and Nick Conner (both redshirt juniors) have battled with injuries and been passed up on the depth chart by younger players.
While it’s difficult to project transfer decisions, players like Booker, Hilliard and Conner who face both injury concerns and competition to stay in the two-deep could decide to take a look around at other options. Because of the high variability at the position, I could see Ohio State taking anywhere from two to four linebackers in the 2019 class. It’s helpful it has many of the country’s best prospects knocking down the door for visits and Ohio State interest and a strong crop of Ohio linebackers to fall back on to boot.
- Cade Stover – Mansfield (Ohio) Lexington — Stover is the only Ohio linebacker in a loaded position group in the state to land an offer from the Buckeyes. It’s possible that Stover (6-4, 215 pounds) could play defensive end, but the Buckeyes want him in this class no matter where he plays. He’s a gifted athlete and versatile prospect with plenty of upside. The Buckeyes are the runaway favorite for Stover.
- Brandon Smith – Mineral (Va.) Louisa County — Brandon Smith is the No. 4 weakside defensive end and No. 35 overall recruit in the country, but the Buckeyes view the Virginia prospect as an outside linebacker. Smith’s early list of contenders is long, but includes Ohio State, Alabama, Penn State, Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
- Bru McCoy – Santa Ana (Cali.) Mater Dei — McCoy is a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 athlete in the class, who could play any number of positions. I expect McCoy to ultimately fit at outside linebacker in the future.
- Shane Lee – Baltimore (Md.) St. Frances Academy — Lee is another elite linebacker interested in the Ohio State program, the No. 2 inside linebacker and No. 58 prospect overall in the 2019 class. He’s fresh off of a Feb. 10 unofficial visit to Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ primary competition for Lee appears to be Penn State, but many of the top programs nationwide have offered Lee — Florida State, Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Notre Dame and Michigan, to name a few.
- Marcel Brooks – Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus — It will be a difficult battle for Ohio State to land Brooks out of Texas, but the Buckeyes have made the top 6 for Brooks alongside Oklahoma, Alabama, LSU, TCU and Penn State. Ohio State will need to get Brooks on campus soon to remain a contender.
- Kalen Deloach – Savannah (Ga.) Islands —Deloach is one of the hottest prospects in the country as of late, landing offers from Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Alabama, Auburn, Michigan, Miami and other programs over the last month. Deloach is expected to visit Ohio State on Friday, where he’ll take in the university as a recruit and spend time with his sister, who runs track for the Buckeyes.
- Shammond Cooper – Saint Louis (Mo.) Trinity Catholic
- Kane Patterson – Nashville (Tenn.) C.P.A.
- Owen Pappoe – Loganville (Ga.) Grayson — If this list were based on talent, Pappoe would be near the top of the list at any position. He’s the No. 7 player in the class and the No. 1 outside linebacker. Pappoe will be a very difficult pull out of the South.
- Jamir Thomas (no offer) – Massillon (Ohio) Washington — Perhaps the top Ohio linebacker not named Stover, Thomas is among the best prospects at a loaded position group in the Midwest’s top football talent-producing state. He is ranked as the No. 12 inside linebacker in the country and his offer list includes Michigan, Michigan State, Kentucky, West Virginia and several other Power-5 programs.
Ohio State has four projected scholarship safeties on the roster for the 2019 class after losing Erick Smith and Damon Webb to graduation. Junior Jordan Fuller is projected to be a second-year starter in the 2018 season and his position group is rounded out by redshirt sophomore Jahsen Wint, sophomore Isaiah Pryor, and incoming freshman Josh Proctor. Proctor’s fellow 2018 signee Marcus Hooker could play corner or safety at the next level. Additionally, sophomore Brendon White has floated between wide receiver, safety, and possibly even linebacker.
Fuller seems likely to leave for the NFL Draft if he can put together a strong junior campaign, but the rest of Ohio State’s safety depth chart is expected to hang around after the 2018 season. Ohio State seems likely to add one to two safeties in the 2019 recruiting class to supplement the depth.
- Daxton Hill – Tulsa (Okla.) Booker T. Washington – In the 2018 class, Ohio State stole one of the top prospects in Oklahoma away from the Big 12, elite safety Josh Proctor. The Buckeyes would love to follow that up in 2019 by landing Hill, a 5-star and the No. 2 safety in the class. His older brother, Justice Hill, plays at Oklahoma State and the Cowboys are also a top contender. It’s early, but it would be huge for the Buckeyes to land Hill.
- Ronnie Hickman – Wayne (N.J.) DePaul Catholic – Hickman has taken multiple unofficial visits to Ohio State early on in the process and the New Jersey standout is very high on the Buckeyes. The No. 11 athlete and the No. 2 player in the state of New Jersey, Hickman measures in at 6-1 and 200 pounds. Sources close to the recruitment told me that the Buckeyes can get him if they want him, but Ohio State hasn’t necessarily settled the board.
- Lewis Cine – Everett (Mass.) – Ohio State sent offensive coordinator Ryan Day to visit Cine in Massachusetts on Jan. 25. The Buckeyes will compete with Penn State, Michigan, Clemson, USC, and other top programs for Cine’s signature.
- Jaylen McCullough – Powder Springs (Ga.) Hillgrove – McCullough, the No. 4 safety in the class, last visited Ohio State on Oct. 28 for Ohio State’s victory over Penn State. His offer list is a who’s who of top programs.
- Josh Sanguinetti – Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) University School – Sanguinetti, the No. 4 athlete in the class, is being recruited by Ohio State as a safety. His teammate, running back Kenny McIntosh, is also a Buckeye target. Ohio State will look to get Sanguinneti on campus soon.
- Jalen Catalon – Mansfield (Texas) Legacy
- Jalani Williams – St. Louis (Mo.) Parkway North
- Nick Cross – Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha Catholic
- Bryson Shaw (Wisconsin commit) – Potomac (Md.) The Bullis School – Shaw committed to Wisconsin on Jan. 27, but Ohio State offered the Maryland safety shortly thereafter. Shaw hails from the same high school as expected Ohio State starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
- Moses Douglass (no offer) – Springfield (Ohio) – Douglass is among the very best prospects in the state of Ohio and perhaps the top Ohio recruit who doesn’t yet hold an Ohio State offer. The Buckeyes have been keeping close tabs on Douglass, who has major offers from programs like Alabama, Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Kentucky, Iowa, and other schools. He could have as many as 30 offers by time he visits Ohio State for a prospect camp in June.
Denzel Ward left the Buckeyes for the NFL draft after the 2017 season, as expected, but the Buckeyes return the remainder of their cornerback depth for 2018. Redshirt junior Damon Arnette and junior Kendall Sheffield, who both started at times for Ohio State during the 2017 season, will be back for at least one more year. Sophomore Jeffrey Okudah started to come on strong at the end of 2017 and will almost certainly heavily contribute or start in 2018. Joining that trio are redshirt sophomore Wayne Davis, sophomores Marcus Williamson and Amir Riep, redshirt freshman Shaun Wade, and highly regarded early enrollee freshmen Tyreke Johnson and Sevyn Banks. Additionally, the aforementioned Hooker could end up at corner.
It seems possible that Arnette or Sheffield could leave the program for the NFL draft after the upcoming season. Arnette will be a three-year contributor and Sheffield has emerged as a legitimate track star with elite speed who’s expected to take major strides in the upcoming season. I expect Ohio State to take two to three cornerbacks in the 2019 recruiting class.
- Sheridan Jones – Virginia Beach (Va.) Bishop Sullivan — Jones is one of the youngest prospects in the country after reclassifying from the 2020 graduating class. A teammate of 2018 Ohio State signee Teradja Mitchell, Jones already has most of the top offers in the country — Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Penn State and so on. Expect Jones to make multiple visits to campus over the next several months.
- Woodi Washington – Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Oakland
- Jaden Davis – Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas — Davis is a little on the short side for Ohio State’s typical corner mold, but there’s no denying the talent of the St. Thomas Aquinas product. He’s expected to take an official visit to Ohio State on April 6, one of the first 2019 prospects to utilize a spring official visit to make a trip to Columbus.
- MJ Devonshire – Aliquippa (Pa.) — Devonshire has not received the attention or publicity of some of the other top prospects in the class, but he’s received plenty of interest from the Buckeyes. Ohio State coach Billy Davis recently visited Devonshire at his school and Devonshire traveled to Columbus for an unofficial visit in December. He’s a long-armed technician at corner with elite ball skills.
- John Dixon – Tampa (Fla.) Chamberlain
- Kaiir Elam – North Palm Beach (Fla.) The Benjamin School
- Marquez Beason – Dallas (Tex.) Bishop Dunne — Although Beason has held an Ohio State offer for nearly a year, the Buckeyes recently “re-offered” the Texas standout after his full-time switch to defensive back. He tabbed Ohio State as one program that could possibly receive a spring official visit in the coming months and discussed his interest in the Buckeyes’ program.
- Julian Barnett (Michigan State commit) – Belleville (Mich.) — Barnett committed to Michigan State shortly after Ohio State offered him, but the Buckeyes don’t want to give up on the talented corner. He’s been on Ohio State’s radar since his freshman season, but his switch to defensive back from wide receiver elevated his profile as a prospect. Barnett is a gifted player.
Unlike other positions, “athlete” does not have a strict scholarship count or even real projection. Most of these players could contribute at a number of different positions, but will eventually be slotted into one once they commit or arrive on campus. Consider them to be potential targets at any number of positions, based on the individual prospect.
- Cam’Ron Kelly – Chesapeake (Va.) Oscar Smith — Kelly has emerged as a prospect of note for Ohio State lately, making an unofficial visit to campus on Feb. 2 and looking like a prime contender to return for more visits throughout the spring and summer. Kelly has many of the country’s top offers and the Buckeyes will be in competition with Clemson, Alabama, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Virginia and other programs.
- Isaiah Williams – Saint Louis (Mo.) Trinity Catholic — Williams is a 5-star athlete and the Buckeyes have a proven track record at this point to compete for any prospect out of St. Louis. Oklahoma, Michigan, Alabama and other elite programs will be in competition for Williams, who’s ranked as the No. 2 athlete and the No. 1 prospect in Missouri.
- Milton Wright – Louisville (Ky.) Christian Academy of Louisville — Louisville native Milton Wright hasn’t been back to Columbus for several months, but the talented and versatile 6-3 athlete is worth remembering for Ohio State fans. He is the No. 14 athlete in 2019.
- Marquis Wilson – Avon (Conn.) Old Farms
- Jaylin Simpson – Saint Simons Island (Ga.) Frederica Academy
- Mershawn Rice (no offer) – Reynoldsburg (Ohio) — Rice is one of Ohio’s top prospects, regardless of position. The 6-2, 193-pound athlete has potential at wide receiver, linebacker, or safety and his versatility and athleticism are appealing. Keep an eye on the Columbus-area standout in the future.