Yesterday was signing day, when Urban Meyer and the recruiting staff inked yet another Top 5 class. Meyer has signed a Top 10 class using the 247Sports Composite rankings in every season he's been in Columbus and a top-five class in three of his four years. This 2016 group includes notable reinforcements at skill positions and along the defensive line. And this talent is needed, given the historic departure of talent due to graduation and the NFL Draft.
The 2016 recruiting class finished with a 72% blue chip ratio -- which is certainly over the limit for national championship contention, and second-best of the Meyer tenure. There are dozens of factors that play in to whether a team makes the playoff, but if you want one hard-and-fast rule, blue chip percentage is about as good as they come.
So in the wake of signing this year's elite class, it's worthwhile to take a look at where the depth chart stands talent-wise for 2016. Matt already did a forecast for both offense and defense, so that's what we'll be using to assess the talent in the two-deep.
Below I ranked each position group (non-freshmen) by the average of their total 247Sports Composite ratings. I combined defensive ends and defensive tackles in to one group. That was partly because we had Dre'Mont Jones backing up several spots, and partly because it's difficult to project who will backup Tyquan Lewis between Jashon Cornell and Jalyn Holmes -- so I took them both. As you can tell, the overall team talent is absurdly high:
Center is the only position group that doesn't average blue-chippers
Pat Elflein and Brady Taylor fill out the projected two-deep at center, which is the only position group that doesn't average a blue chip level of talent. There are a couple of important reasons for this. First, it's likely that Ed Warinner values other traits that might not be as easy to project for high school offensive linemen. Second, it's also likely that Elflein at least was either undervalued by recruiting services or developed extraordinarily well by Warinner and the offensive line staff once he got on campus. A two-time All-Big Ten selection, Elflein passed up the NFL to start at center for the first time after backing up Jacoby Boren.
The defense is more talented than the offense
Even if Ohio State's centers were less-heralded coming out of high school, that doesn't seem to matter according to the long-term statistical trends. Elite defensive recruiting seems to make more of an impact on team performance than recruiting elite offensive players. A big reason for this seems to be offensive innovation -- since the pace of offensive innovation is faster than that of defensive strategy development, recruiting elite defenders seems to matter more than finding blue chippers on offense.
Ohio State follows this trend,with Ohio State's defensive two-deep averaging .943 and its offensive two-deep averaging .925. And even if you do manage to pull in an elite quarterback, evaluating quarterbacks at the high school level is notoriously difficult, and schematic fit seems to be the biggest factor in whether a hot-shot quarterback will live up to recruiting promise.
About Ohio State's H-backs
Ohio State's H-backs lead all position groups with an average recruiting rating of .969, but that is a little misleading. The reason is that Dontre Wilson is the only player currently in that two-deep. Matt's two-deep included an incoming freshman at H-back, so I took all incoming players off to just evaluate the talent currently on the roster.
That means a couple of things. First, losing Jalin Marshall and Braxton to the NFL certainly leaves a void of talent at the versatile H-back slot. Dontre Wilson is unproven despite his years on the Ohio State roster and high blue-chip status coming in. There's significant opportunity for a freshman like Demario McCall or another redshirt freshman to make an impact here. Alternatively, someone currently on Ohio State's roster, like Curtis Samuel, can claim the position. Samuel spent the majority of last season there, so he seems like a logical fit if Michael Weber is able to hold down running back duties on his own.
However, the Buckeyes haven't utilized the H-back like Urban Meyer's Florida teams did with Percy Harvin. Harvin was a transcendent talent, and the Buckeyes have distributed carries to fewer ball carriers than the Gators did.
The defense has a great deal of untested talent
The best encouragement Ohio State fans can have about next season is that there is a great deal of talent on the defense even with the stars Ohio State must replace. Raekwon McMillian and Jerome Baker -- two likely starters at linebacker -- were the highest and second-highest rated members of their respective recruiting classes. Projected backup linebacker (to fellow blue chipper Dante Booker) Justin Hilliard was the highest-rated member of last year's recruiting class with a .985 composite rating.
Who knows how position battles will actually shake out during spring practice and fall camp, but there is a wealth of talent at linebacker.
But there are also questions on the defensive line
The lowest-rated defensive position group is also the most vital. Defensive line averages .923, which is still a four-star average, but it has nowhere near the built-up talent of the linebackers or defensive backfield. The departures of Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, and of course Joey Bosa leave three former-five star holes on the front. Tracy Sprinkle is currently a projected starter and along with Donovan Munger, the only two former three-star recruits we've pegged for the defensive line two-deep.
All of that means that there's also opportunity for young players to step up. Some former linebackers might transition to the defensive line, like Sam Hubbard did. Elite incoming freshmen Nick Bosa and Jonathon Cooper (who is already enrolled) might be pressed in to service early. But it's also likely that the defensive might initially struggle in the middle, especially against the run. The ends seems to be stacked with talent -- the biggest concern will be stopping big running backs through the center of the defense.
The defensive backs will be green, but talented
Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, and Eli Apple all depart for NFL futures, leaving Gareon Conley as the only returning starter, though Damon Webb had plenty of experience following the end of his suspension last season. That leaves a talented but green secondary. Safety is actually the highest-rated defensive position group, with Damon Webb, Cam Burrows, and Erick Smith as all blue chip guys ready to fill in. Malik Hooker, a projected starter, is the lone former three-star recruit at safety. These guys will be tested early and often, and there's certainly space in the two-deep for incoming guys like new commit Jordan Fuller.
A little about the tight ends
Next year's starter at tight end is pretty clear -- it's likely to be former blue chip recruit Marcus Baugh. Baugh had a number of noteworthy plays despite little action in 2015. The former Meyer doghouse resident is the clear starter, and another true freshman was listed on Matt's two-deep behind Baugh, so I bumped up A.J. Alexander, to his backup. Alexander is a three-star and the staff seemed concerned about tight end depth to the point that they took commitments from three tight ends in 2016 -- blue chippers Jake Hausmann, Luke Farrell, and Kierre Hawkins. For a position that hasn't seen much love on the field despite two likely NFL draftees under Meyer, there's a lot of young promise and opportunity for the three incoming tight ends.
The team looks to be in good shape
Outside of Alabama, no team in the country likely returns as high a percentage of former blue-chip recruits in the projected two-deep as Ohio State. But there's certainly room for freshmen to make an impact -- like along the defensive line, at H-back, and tight end. There's also unproven talent elsewhere -- notably at wide receiver, the offensive line, and in the secondary -- where there could be depth chart surprises. This offseason, more than any other under Meyer, has the potential for exciting depth chart movement and places for the stellar incoming 2016 recruiting class. Here's a look at the talent coming in, again averaged by position group: