College football recruiting is an inexact science. If you take away the monsters of college football — such as Ohio State — the challenges of talent evaluation become even more obvious.
For those cream-of-the-crop programs, the pool of worthwhile talent shrinks but the odds of that player being a collegiate success rise.
That’s why coaches from all over the country spend hours analyzing every play of a prospect’s career, and recruiting analysts spend countless traveling to games, practices and scrimmages. It’s a 24/7/365 job, dead periods be damned.
At Land of 10, as we continue to evolve our recruiting coverage, we’re taking our turn at evaluating the players we’ve seen throughout the states that we cover. Factoring in -person evaluation, Power 5 scholarship offers, conversations with college coaches and chats with peers, we’re crafting our first ranking of Ohio’ 20 best prospects in the Class of 2018.
No. 20 • 3-star DE Alex Williams (6-foot-7, 250 pounds), Pickerington North — committed to West Virginia
The rising in-state star was once committed to Iowa State but flipped to West Virginia in May. Alex Williams is a long, quick defensive end who has added almost 35 pounds since his junior season, setting him up as a dominant player this season for the Panthers.
No. 19 • 3-star OL Austin Beier (6-4, 280), Toledo St. John’s — committed to Minnesota
A talented offensive lineman athletic enough to be a MAC-level defensive lineman, Austin Beier is one part of a bruising offensive line for the Titans and new head coach Larry McDonald.
Beier committed to Minnesota in March and will be a favorite of former Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner in Minneapolis.
No. 18 • 3-star WR Jornell Manns (5-11, 187), Mansfield — committed to Minnesota
Jornell Manns is the second Minnesota commitment on the list and the speedy wideout continues to turn heads at every opportunity. A talented defensive back, as well, Manns’ versatility and physicality — somewhat unexpected from a slot type receiver — has him in our initial Top 20. He should be an early contributor for new Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck.
No. 17 • 3-star LB Brian Asamoah (6-1, 210), Columbus St. Francis De Sales — uncommitted
With 32 offers, Brian Asamoah is one of Ohio’s most offered 2018 prospects. The speedy linebacker from Columbus holds an offer from Michigan, Penn State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and two dozen of the Midwest’s best schools. If there’s a knock on Asamoah, it’s that he may not have the “freak” athleticism you’d want in exchange for him being a “smaller” linebacker. Still, he can really play and could be a safety prospect in college.
No. 16 • 3-star LB Chase Kline (6-3, 225), Chardon — committed to Michigan State
Chase Kline is another big-time linebacker in Ohio, though unlike Asamoah, he’s got prototype linebacker size.
The Michigan State commitment runs well and has excellent instincts in the run game, capably serving as a physical run-stuffing linebacker. He’s better sideline-to-sideline than people expect, too. He’s got star potential in East Lansing.
No. 15 • 3-star RB Tavion Thomas (6-2, 225), Dayton Dunbar — committed to Oklahoma
A two-way player at linebacker and tailback most of his career, Tavion Thomas has all the tools to be a major college star. He runs tough and physical, but questions about his competition and some off-field questions have dogged him with respect to rankings.
If all that mattered was putting on the pads and making noise, Thomas could be a bit higher on this list because he’s got a high ceiling and a lot of talent. The Oklahoma offense does an excellent job of developing running backs and he’s found a great fit for his style in Norman.
No. 14 • 4-star LB Xavier Peters (6-4, 225), Lakota West — committed to Kentucky
If Xavier Peters is on your squad, he’s going to be the first guy off the bus, period. He looks like a college junior already and now he’s crafting his game to catch up to his frame. An offseason injury to his foot slowed down his summer camp season, but this Kentucky commitment — who began his high school career at Middletown High School — could be in a big senior season.
Invited to The Opening Final in Oregon, Peters runs well and arrives with bad intentions. He’s learning the game still, and we’ve likely not seen what he’s really capable of yet.
No. 13 • 3-star TE Josh Whyle (6-6, 215), Cincinnati LaSalle — committed to Cincinnati
One of the state’s least-talked about prospects with some of the highest upside is Cincinnati commitment Josh Whyle. If Ohio State had not been so dialed in on the country’s No. 1-ranked tight end (Jeremy Ruckert), there’s a very good chance this Cincinnati Bearcats commitment would have found his way into Urban Meyer’s sights. A tall, rangy tight end, Whyle both catches and runs well — he was a wide receiver until last season — and is a capable run blocker already. He holds 28 scholarship offers.
No. 12 • 3-star S Michael Dowell (6-0, 195), Lakewood St. Edward — committed to Michigan State
The third Dowell (joining twin brothers Andrew and David in the 2016 class) to pledge his commitment to Mark Dantonio and Michigan State may have the highest upside of all. Michael Dowell runs the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds and is an explosive athlete in the secondary for the Eagles of Lakewood St. Edward. Coachable with a high football IQ and uber athletic, Dowell checks all the boxes.
No. 11 • 4-star LB Christopher Oats (6-4, 215), Cincinnati Winton Woods —uncommitted
Christopher Oats holds 15 scholarship offers — including an early offer from Ohio State — but remains uncommitted. His recruitment has slowed a bit as teams try to assess the long, athletic linebacker. He could play outside linebacker and some believe he could end up growing into a defensive end. Big, fast and versatile: What’s not to like? Oklahoma, Cincinnati, Ole Miss and a host of others are still very much in the mix, though it appears there will be no room at the Buckeyes Inn.
No. 10 • 4-star DT Aeneas Hawkins (6-3, 265), Cincinnati Moeller — committed to Penn State
Another big-time talent from Cincinnati, Aeneas Hawkins has an NFL pedigree and a serious first step off the snap. The Buckeyes were one of the earliest programs to offer, but as their recruiting class filled up, Hawkins looked elsewhere. He landed in a great situation, committing to Penn State in early August.
Hawkins’ strength right now is his technician-like approach to the game. As he gets into a college weight program, his physical tools are going to catch up to his football acumen. He’s a good athlete and a program-leading type of kid. He’s a potential future captain in Happy Valley.
No. 9 • 4-star OL Darian Kinnard (6-7, 336), Cleveland St. Ignatius — committed to Kentucky
If you were building an offensive tackle, there’s a good chance he’d look somewhat like Darian Kinnard. Big and athletic, Kinnard has excellent feet — when he puts that athleticism together with major Division-1 weight program, watch out. He’s probably more of a right tackle prospect in college, but he plays with anger and has just started to show off what he’s capable of on the field.
Kentucky landed his commitment early and this Tennessee native has stayed off the recruiting radar since.
No. 8 • 4-star TE Trenton Gillison (6-5, 220), Pickerington Central — committed to Michigan State
Pickerington has become a hotbed for talent in recent years and Trenton Gillison is one more major star emerging from the area. Ohio’s top tight end prospect in 2018, those measurables above are legitimate. Gillison is a well-rounded talent, capable of being a force in the run game or as a receiver. Right now, he needs to get stronger, but that will come with time and work in college. Gillison has all the tools to be a top-tier Big Ten tight end.
No. 7 • 4-star ATH Xavier Henderson (6-0, 189), Pickerington Central — committed to Michigan State
Another future Spartan and another Pickerington Central star, Xavier Henderson is Ohio’s top defensive back in the Class of 2018. Henderson has the speed and range to play cornerback as well as the physicality to be a safety. He’s a big-hitting, Big Ten prototype who will mix it up with anyone.
Off the field, Henderson is an excellent student and leader for his teammates. He’s got the whole package and, similar to Hawkins, has future captain written all over him. This kid is a winner.
No. 6 • 4-star WR Joseph Scates (6-3, 175), Dayton Dunbar — uncommitted
Joseph “JoJo” Scates may be the most physical talented wide receiver in the Midwest in the Class of 2018, but like Thomas, his teammate at Dunbar, Scates’ off-the-field issues impact his recruitment more than do his abilities. A former Michigan State verbal, Scates has every tool in the toolbox to be a major college receiver.
That, of course, is if he can stay out of his own way. Alabama remains near the top of his list, but West Virginia holds the majority of his 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions. When he pulls it all together, Scates has the natural instincts to be a big-time player at the next level. He runs, he jumps, he catches nearly everything and he does it all with a smooth, almost easy knack for it. He’s this high in our rankings because his ceiling, in the right system — one that develops him on and off the field — is very, very high.
No. 5 • 4-star LB Dallas Gant (6-3, 225), Toledo St. John’s — committed to Ohio State
Ohio State took its time in the last year evaluating both Dallas Gant and Christopher Oats and it was the Toledo prospect who became the priority. Gant’s a cerebral, athletic linebacker in the mold of former Buckeyes star Joshua Perry. Gant holds 22 offers and turned down Notre Dame, Michigan and Penn State among others to commit to Ohio State.
Since the end of his junior season, Gant has added 25 pounds to his frame and turned himself into a bigger, more explosive physical threat. He’s still not going to outrun many wide receivers, but his high football IQ and versatility — he can play all three linebacker spots — makes him a valuable talent for any program.
Off the field, Gant is a leader in his school and an honor student. There are few knocks on him, but if you choose one, it’s that you’d like to see him be more physical on every play. His changing frame will go a long way toward making that happen.
No. 4 • 4-star WR L’Christian Smith (6-6, 210), Huber Heights Wayne — uncommitted
Whether he’s a wide receiver in a tight end’s body or a tight end in a wide receiver’s body, L’Christian “Blue” Smith may be Ohio’s top overall athlete in the Class of 2018.
Smith’s 6-6 frame makes him a nightmare matchup for cornerbacks and linebackers alike, and as he’s dedicated himself to football (he had considered a two-sport career in college, as a former basketball star). He’s seen his game grow leaps and bounds in the last year.
With strong hands and a big frame, Smith is a welcomed sight for any quarterback looking for a big window to throw into. He’s an above-average route runner for a high school prospect and as he gets stronger — no matter what position he plays — he’s only going to get better … and he’s going to catch a lot of passes.
Ohio State and Kentucky are the top two schools fighting for his commitment, which will come next Sunday, Aug. 27.
No. 3 • 4-star DL Tyreke Smith (6-3, 265), Cleveland Heights — uncommitted
A former basketball player from California, Tyreke Smith has erupted onto the national recruiting scene in the last two years. He’s got a remarkable burst off the line of scrimmage and a quick, devastating punch of upper-body strength.
What makes Smith so coveted — Ohio State, USC, Penn State, Alabama and almost 35 others schools have offered him — is that right now, as good as he is, he’s incredibly raw. He’s played the game just the last two years and has made significant strides even from last fall.
Smith is strong, agile and has the body to add another 15-20 pounds without much of an issue. It makes him a picture-perfect strongside defensive end candidate or, in some cases, a potential 3-tech defensive tackle.
There’s no limit to how good Smith, who is currently the country’s 68th-ranked prospect in the class according to the 247Sports composite rankings, can be. He’s just getting started.
No. 2 • 4-star ATH Jaelen Gill (6-1, 182), Westerville South — committed to Ohio State
Ohio State commitment Jaelen Gill would be at No. 1 on this list most years, but he finds himself at No. 2 in our inaugural rankings. But though that’s hardly an indictment of his talents.
Gill grew up just minutes from Ohio Stadium and became a national name following his freshman year of high school. Few players in the country have Gill’s effortless speed, acceleration and suddenness with the football in his hands. He’s as dangerous out of the backfield as he is at wide receiver and a game-breaking threat every time he touches the ball.
After a broken leg cost him his junior season, Gill worked overtime to get healthy and did just that. He won the Under Armour “Ill Speed” event at the Rivals.com 5-star challenge. He was named to the first team offense at The Opening Final in Oregon after dominating 7-on-7 games out of the backfield in Beaverton, Ore., in the summer.
If he’s healthy, Gill will thrill Ohio State fans. He’s as hard working as he is talented, which is as rare these days as his talent is. The only issue I can see with Gill at this point is pure physical strength, but that will not be a concern when Mick Marotti and the Buckeyes strength staff gets him on campus for good.
No. 1 • 5-star OL Jackson Carman (6-6, 340), Fairfield — uncommitted
The top-ranked offensive tackle in the country according to the previously mentioned composite rankings checks in at No. 1 today.
Jackson Carman is huge, he’s talented and — perhaps his best trait — he plays every single snap like a kid who has something to prove. He’s a bully between the lines and he goes full speed ahead whistle-t0-whistle. His footwork is next-level ready and his upper body strength matches. Carman holds 41 offers and every school in the country would add him to their class tomorrow if they could. Ohio State offered Carman in the summer of 2016 and has made him a priority in its class from that moment forward.
There aren’t really any knocks on Carman’s game. There were some concerns in the spring when he showed up to The Opening regional camp in Cleveland at almost 350 pounds, but he quickly shook off what little offseason rust he had and was as dominant as he usually is.
This summer, at The Opening Final in Oregon, Carman was a Top-5 offensive lineman, and in my opinion, the second-best lineman in attendance. As he continues to grow his game — be it at Ohio State, Clemson, USC, Florida State or Wisconsin — Carman will have to work on balancing his aggression with technique. At his current level, he’s able to physically crush anyone he plays, but against the best of the best in college, he’ll have to fine tune his game against physically comparable talents.
He may be Ohio’s best offensive line prospect in 25 years.