Ohio State is closing in on another excellent recruiting class, and one that projects to finish in the Top 10 of the 247 Composite board. That's no surprise, Ohio State has recruited better than almost anybody in the country over the last few seasons under Urban Meyer, and given Ohio State's geography, brand, resources, and coaching staff, classes of that caliber should be expected.
But in some corners of Ohio State internet, there are rumblings that this recruiting class isn't as good as the last few. If we go by star ratings, there may be some truth to that, as this class has signed more composite three stars than the past three classes. We know that recruiting stars matter, and correlate strongly with team performance and draft stock, but player development is an important part of the equation, and being a three star recruit doesn't mean that you can't be a superior college football player.
Urban Meyer has signed several three star kids over the last few seasons. How did they do? Let's take a look, using the 247 Composite Rankings as a guide (players that were composite three stars but four stars under 247, like Cardale Jones, have not been included).
Tyvis Powell (2012)
You're familiar with the exploits of Powell, an early enrollee in the 2012 class. His interception at the goal line saved Ohio State against Michigan in 2013, and he locked down a starting safety spot on a national championship winning team, next to Vonn Bell. Powell had four interceptions last season for the Buckeyes, including a huge one against Alabama, and established himself as a strong tackler in the secondary. It's hard to ask for much more out of a guy.
Jacoby Boren (2012)
Center was one of the big question marks on Ohio State's offensive line coming into the season, but Boren grabbed hold of the job and never let go. The Pickerington native was part of the offensive line that piloted a record-setting championship offense, all while dealing with three different quarterbacks over the course of camp and the season. Boren is another major three star success story.
Michael Thomas (2012)
Lots of Ohio State fans knew who Thomas was thanks to his excellent spring game performances, but prior to this season, it wasn't clear if he would ever turn his prodigious talents into on the field performance, especially after a surprise redshirt season in 2013. All Thomas did last season was emerge as the leading receiver on Ohio State's championship team. Thomas projects to be a major weapon in Ohio State's offense next season as well.
Frank Epitropoulos (2012)
Well, not everybody could start for a championship team. The Upper Arlington native only caught a single pass over his Ohio State career, and left the team in August to focus on getting into medical school.
Ricquan Southward (2012)
The three star wideout from Florida left the team for personal reasons in the fall of 2012. He then left to play at Arizona Western, a JUCO.
Blake Thomas (2012)
The big tight end had a promising career cut short due to injury. Thomas retired in August 2013.
Luke Roberts (2012)
Another promising prospect, Thomas decided to transfer to Harvard, a decision that nobody could possibly blame, ever.
Pat Elflein (2012)
Elfein was a huge success story, filling in along the offensive line after Marcus Hall was ejected and de facto suspended to close the 2013 season, and then held down a starting spot on the offensive line the entire season. He'll be another starter again for what should be an excellent Ohio State offensive line.
Darron Lee (2013)
What more is there to say about Lee? The lowest rated prospect of 2013, and a high school quarterback at that, rose to become a starting linebacker, and perhaps the single biggest playmaker on a championship defense. Lee was the defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl, and should be locking down running backs and causing havoc for years to come for the Buckeyes. Lee was an absolute home run.
Tracy Sprinkle (2013)
Sprinkle is probably still best remembered for his unfortunate incident at the Grown and Sexy Lounge. He redshirted his first year and did not play in 2014, but that doesn't mean that he won't play in the future. The depth chart at the defensive line, after all, is quite crowded.
Dylan Thompson (2014)
The defensive lineman was unlikely to play last year anyway, but a fractured kneecap removed any doubt. Thompson should be healthy for next season though.
Brady Taylor (2014)
The Columbus native offensive lineman was a late addition to the recruiting class, having flipped from Virginia Tech. Like most members of the 2014 recruiting class, he redshirted.
Stephen Collier (2014)
Despite Ohio State's quarterback depth chart becoming a MASH unit later in the season, Collier never burned his redshirt, and was even passed by a non-quarterback, Jalin Marshall, at the end of the season. It's very early, but given the depth coming to Ohio State at quarterback in the near future, it seems unlikely that Collier will ever play meaningful snaps at Ohio State, but you never know!
Darius Slade (2014)
Slade, a former Nebraska commit, flipped and signed with the Buckeyes over Michigan State late in the recruiting cycle last season. A defensive end, Slade also redshirted, but could be in the rotation later along in his career.
Sean Nuernberger (2014)
Nuernberger was ranked even lower than the rest of the group, as 247 Sports only listed him as a two star. The kicker started for Ohio State last year, hitting all 89 of his extra points, and going 13-20 on field goals, including five from beyond 40 yards. He was rough at times, but has plenty of potential, and again, was a starter on a national championship team.
So that's 15 three star prospects over the last three recruiting classes. A whopping six of them ending up starting for a team that won a national championship, and it's too early to rule out contributions from five. That leaves four individuals who ended up leaving the program, due to either injury or transfer, which ultimately frees up a scholarship. That's a small sample size of course, but a promising one, especially if any of the 2014 kids contribute next season.
If we go back to 2011, the trend is even more clear. Three star recruits in that class include Devin Smith (devastating deep ball weapon this year and a likely high round NFL draft pick), and Jeff Heuerman (starting tight end). That group also included Jeremy Cash, who became an exceptional defensive back at Duke, Chris Carter, who saw time at defensive tackle, and Tommy Brown, who saw snaps along the offensive line.
The Buckeyes are currently slated to bring on seven three-star prospects in the next class, and the odds of them all staying healthy, staying with the program and becoming regular contributors aren't great. But the chances of some of them becoming solid contributors are strong. In particular, I am optimistic about Kevin Feder, an offensive lineman with a huge physical upside who needs refinement, or Grant Schmidt, an early enrollee offensive lineman who didn't face great competition in high school, but also has a high upside. But who knows?
There is plenty of blue chip talent to go around this roster, this class, and in future classes. Not every prospect, even the four and five stars, will be a hit, but this coaching staff has a good record of turning players into contributors, as long as they can stay healthy.