Welcome back, Ohio State fans.
Last Friday, we examined some of the top offensive targets the Buckeyes would be chasing down in the 2018 recruiting class and, as promised, today we’ll be looking at the top players to watch on the other side of the ball.
Let’s dispatch with the pleasantries and dive in right now.
- Target Number: 3
- Top Targets: Xavier Thomas, Micah Parsons, Nik Bonitto, Tyreke Smith, Max Wright, Greg Emerson
If you examine the current state of the Ohio State roster, you’ll see a big need emerging for defensive ends in the 2018 recruiting class. Sam Hubbard, Jalyn Holmes and Tyquan Lewis will certainly move on to the NFL. Redshirt freshman Rashod Berry will be in his fourth year in Columbus, and current freshmen Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper will be in their junior seasons with three years of playing time under their belts, meaning they could be candidates for early entry to the big leagues.
Florence (S.C.) defensive lineman Xavier Thomas is the top defensive prospect in the country and at the very top of Ohio State’s overall wish list in 2018. The 6-foot-3, 255-pound star has offers from everyone nd has become a top priority for Larry Johnson Sr. and Urban Meyer. Micah Parsons, another top-five overall prospect from Harrisburg (Pa.), was offered just this week, but as a Penn State commitment he’ll be a challenging “pull” for the Buckeyes despite appearing less than committed to the Nittany Lions after summertime visits to USC and Michigan.
In Ohio, Cleveland Heights Tyreke Smith is one of the country’s most intriguing prospects after not playing football since the seventh grade. He’s got double-digit offers already and is being closely watched by the Buckeyes. Another Ohio prospect, Springfield’s Leonard Taylor – a former Michigan commitment – could find his way to Ohio State as a tight end, defensive end or defensive tackle, but for now we’ll include him in this list.
- Target Number: 2
- Top Targets: Taron Vincent, Tyler Friday, Matthew Jones, Aeneas Hawkins, PJ Mustipher, Trevor Trout, Malik Vann
For this exercise we’re operating under the assumption that Ohio State will sign three defensive tackles in the 2017 class and if they do that then the number will remain at two. There are three redshirt freshmen defensive tackles in the rotation right now for Larry Johnson’s Rushmen, and each of those three will be fourth-year juniors in 2018, so the (presumed) trio of 2017 signees – combined with Malik Barrow — will be playing key parts in that year’s defense.
For Ohio State in 2018, the top of the list is set on IMG Academy 5-star Taron Vincent. Vincent has the Buckeyes at the top of his list as well, but whether his relationship with Larry Johnson Sr. is strong enough to hold off schools like Florida State and Michigan – where his former high school coach is now employed – will be the biggest question. St. Louis 4-star Trevor Trout, if he gets an Ohio State offer sometime soon, is another player who could end up in Columbus.
Inside the Buckeye state, the top defensive tackle prospect (outside, perhaps, of Leonard Taylor) is Cincinnati’s Aeneas Hawkins. The Archbishop Moeller lineman was offered by Ohio State earlier this week and I expect him to be one of the players in the Buckeyes’ 2018 class. Fairfield’s Malik Vann is a defensive end in high school but is a potential interior lineman at the next level, and though he’s not yet in possession of an Ohio State offer, he’s another in-state guy worth continuing to watch.
- Target Number: 4
- Top Targets: Dallas Gant, Palaie Gaoteote, Adrian Jackson, Christopher Oats, Teradja Mitchell, Antwuan Johnson
If there’s one group that could be an absolute home run for the Buckeyes in the 2018 class, it could be linebacker.
In 2017, only Antjuan Simmons (and potentially Brendon White, if he moves to outside linebacker a la Darron Lee) is committed at linebacker, and although the Buckeyes are working hard to land either 5-star Baron Browning or 4-star Anthony Hines III (or both), it’s probably wise to take “the field” over Ohio State in each of those pursuits if you’re a betting man. If that ends up being the case, there will be a serious lack of numbers at the position in 2018 as Raekwon McMillan, Joe Burger, Chris Worley, Dante Booker and heck, even potentially Jerome Baker, could all be gone. That leaves only Justin Hilliard, who would be his fourth year, on the team from the current depth chart.
That’s a big need.
The good news is that the Buckeyes are in really good shape with their top four outside linebacker prospects, though none is a surefire lock at this point and some questions – positionally – exist for two of them. Toledo (Ohio) St. John’s Dallas Gant and Cincinnati (Winton Woods) Christopher Oats each has an early offer from Ohio State and things are where you’d want them to be if you’re rooting for them to end up in Columbus. Gant, according to his high school coach, could end up at middle linebacker, and Oats’ frame and game could translate to defensive end. Colorado’s Adrian Jackson plans to visit Ohio for the second time in four months next month and he’s on record stating the Buckeyes are his favorite, but he’s a guy that could end up being a defensive back. He plays safety now at Denver’s Mullen High School.
Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) 4-star Palaie Gaoteote could be the best outside linebacker in the country and he’s only getting better. He’s the cousin of Ohio State 2017 commitment Haskell Garrett and has been a priority for Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes and there’s no reason to expect that to stop.
As positive as the reviews are at outside linebacker, things are a touch less clear in the middle. Virginia’s Teradja Mitchell is the country’s top-ranked mike linebacker but he’s not yet visited Ohio State despite regularly professing an affinity for the school and the coaching staff. Springfield’s Antwuan Johnson, who decommitted from Michigan early on Friday morning, could be a player to watch as Ohio State heads into next year’s spring evaluation period.
- Target Number: 5
- Top Targets: Patrick Surtain, Derrik Allen, Anthony Cook, Houston Griffith, Asante Samuel, Tre Douglas, Jaiden Woodbey, Isheem Young, Josh Proctor, Amari Burney
Let’s stop pretending that Ohio State is recruiting cornerbacks or safeties. The Buckeyes are recruiting defensive backs, period. If you’re good enough to play cornerback for Kerry Coombs and Greg Schiano, then you’re going to be versatile enough to play safety. So, with that line of thinking leading the way, let’s examine the defensive backs.
In 2017, Ohio State is hoping to sign five or maybe even six defensive backs and I expect them to replicate that in 2018 because there are no players currently playing – including true freshmen like Jordan Fuller and Rodjay Burns – who you can say for a certainty will be on campus come 2019. The reality is that if you’re good enough to play as a freshman at Ohio State then the chance of an early departure for the NFL is better than average.
The state of Ohio isn’t particularly well-represented in 2018 but the state’s best defensive back – Pickerington Central’s Xavier Henderson – committed to Michigan State just hours ago. His teammate at Central, Buckeyes legacy Jeremiah Wood (his brother, Jamie, played under Jim Tressel) is worth watching a little bit but right now the out-of-state focus is real at defensive back. If there’s a dark horse to watch in the secondary inside of Ohio’s borders it may be St. Edward (Lakewood) star Michael Dowell, the younger brother of Michigan State sophomores Andrew and David Dowell.
Ohio State is a favorite for 5-star Houston cornerback Anthony Cook and IMG’s Houston Griffith is a teammate and roommate of 2017 commitments Isaiah Pryor and Marcus Williamson. The Buckeyes are right at the top of the list for California’s Jaiden Woodbey, a USC legacy and a 5-star safety at St. John Bosco, where he plays alongside 5-star 2017 commitment Wyatt Davis. Derrik Allen out of Marietta (Ga.) continues to get a lot of attention from Ohio State as well.