Though hardly a surprise, the rich got richer on Tuesday when for the second time in as many weeks, Urban Meyer, Mark Pantoni, and the Ohio State recruiting think tank flipped one of the best and brightest from the state of Ohio from an SEC school to the home state Buckeyes.
When Jerome Baker first announced his pledge to the Florida Gators, the momentum that week spurned a year plus of Ohio State being the presumptuous favorites to land the athletic running back/linebacker. Projected to play outside linebacker for Meyer, Chris Ash, and Luke Fickell, the conventional wisdom at the time was that Baker had a bit of wanderlust and wanted to join some of the high profile recruits around the country that went away from home to play their college ball. Despite the ceremony at his high school in July, Baker had always planned to take official visits and many at the time felt that if Florida's season went as it has, he was very much still in play.
After adding four-star wide receiver Alex Stump, a one time Kentucky commit, last weekend, Baker joins a loaded 2015 linebacker corp that includes Justin Hilliard, who many consider Baker's only real competition to be considered the most talented player coming out of the state of Ohio this year. Along with Hilliard and Dublin Scioto product Nick Conner, the Buckeyes are widely considered set at the linebacker position for this cycle.
Land-Grant Holy Land football analyst Christopher Jason had the following to say after checking out the newest Ohio State commit:
Jerome Baker has the size (6'2, 210 pounds) and athleticism (4.50 40-yard dash) to play outside linebacker at Ohio State. As a high school running back, he shows good explosion and loves physicality, initiating contact rather than taking it. He has a solid frame, but needs to gain muscle mass in order to be a candidate to play early. With his elite athleticism, I see him as a prototypical nickel linebacker in Columbus, one who excels in pass coverage as well as being implemented on blitz packages.
Baker's football instincts standout as he reads his keys very well to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. He also does a good job at dropping back in coverage and reading the quarterback's front shoulder to make plays in the passing game. He is a solid tackler and is very rangy, making plays from sideline-to-sideline. He wraps up the ball carrier and drives his legs, limiting broken tackles.
I see Baker making an early impact on special teams with his speed and tenacity. He also has a chance to play early on defense if he shows improvement in the weight room by adding more mass. Overall, this was an excellent get for the Buckeyes and they arguably have the best linebacker recruiting class in the country with Justin Hilliard, Nick Conner and now Baker.
247Sports' Steve Wiltfong reports ($) that Urban Meyer and the family environment present at Ohio State were two of the biggest reasons Baker decided to make the decision just weeks after visiting OSU for the Cincinnati game.
In a class that includes a number of project types (think lineman Grant Schmidt, tight end Josh Moore, H-back A.J. Alexander, and defensive back Carlton Davis), Baker is the genuine article. Given the depth OSU has at linebacker (Darron Lee, Chris Worley, Raekwon McMillan, and Dante Booker amongst the first or second year names currently occupying the depth chart), there's a chance Baker won't need to see the field right away, but given his athleticism could very conceivably make an impact on kick or punt coverage from day one.