We already knew that Ohio State’s 2013 recruiting class was beyond loaded, but in case you were wondering, the NFL Draft gave even more proof.
Joey Bosa. Eli Apple. Ezekiel Elliott. Vonn Bell. Gareon Conley. Daron Lee. All of those dudes were drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. Throw in J.T. Barrett, who will leave Ohio State holding nearly every passing record of consequence, and other dudes who have had strong college careers, like Jalin Marshall, Marcus Baugh, Michael Hill and Billy Price, and you have the nucleus of a squad that would win a national title, make another College Football Playoff, and play at a truly elite level.
That 2013 recruiting class was ranked second in the country, only behind Alabama. And going by the metrics and rankings, Ohio State’s 2017 class could be even better. It includes more five star players, after all the 2013 recruiting class only had one, Vonn Bell. And even though it’s very early, the 2018 recruiting class may end up being in that same conversation.
Recruiting rankings matter, and if any coach deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to player development and recruiting, it’s Urban Meyer. But it’s also worth a reminder that nothing in recruiting is guaranteed, and even Urban Meyer can make mistakes sometimes.
Let’s take a closer look at that 2015 recruiting class.
Last month, Meyer raised a few eyebrows when he called out the group. Via Cleveland.com:
"The 2015 class, they've received a lot of heat, and it's very justified," he said. "That was not a good class. The good thing is they're allowed to change and they're starting to change. We're seeing much better production from them ... That class was a misfit class that's starting to buy in, and they better."
Let’s quickly unpack this.
Based on the metrics, 2015 was actually a good class, just like every Ohio State class under Urban Meyer, although it was ranked lower than stalwart years like 2013, 2016 and 2017. The Buckeyes finished 7th in the 247 Sports Composite, and had a per-player average of .9019, which is still excellent. They signed 15 blue-chip players. You can count the number of fanbases who would not be excited about those metrics on one hand.
But there were obvious misses. For one, the Buckeyes reached on a few players that based on their offer sheets, high school performances and rankings, would not be “takes” for Ohio State in most other years. Ten three-star players were in the class, way more than Ohio State typically takes (last year’s class had two, and one was a kicker). Some of those players have shown signs of contributing, like A.J. Alexander at tight end, Robert Landers at defensive tackle, and Branden Bowen at guard and tackle.
But others, like Grant Schmidt and Joshua Norwood, transferred. Others have struggled with injuries, positional definition, or just plain ol’ have already been recruited over on the depth chart.
The top of the class has struggled to perform as well. Five-star linebacker Justin Hilliard hasn’t been healthy. Jashon Cornell has struggled with injuries too, along with a change to defensive tackle. Eric Glover-Williams changed to the offensive side of the ball, where he faces another crowded depth chart. Torrance Gibson had off the field troubles, changed positions, and transferred. The list goes on.
To be fair, there are plenty of members of this class who have contributed. Mike Weber ran for 1,000 yards last season and could be a breakout star this year. Jerome Baker looked awesome last season. Isaiah Prince struggled at times last year, but should be a mainstay on the line. Dre’Mont Jones was awesome at defensive tackle. And heck, Joe Burrow just might end up as the next starting QB at Ohio State.
But it’s clear there were misses. Perhaps they were most glaring on the offensive line, where Feder, Schmidt and Burrell failed to make a difference. Those misses, along with a few in other classes, robbed the offensive line of needed depth, especially after injuries, which forced a true freshman (Michael Jordan) to start, and for Isaiah Prince to stay out maybe a little longer than needed.
Plus, every player signed means one less scholarship spot is open for a future player. Ohio State’s big 2015 class, including a few players that might be classified as reaches, meant that the Buckeyes had to take fewer players in 2016 or 2017, two excellent years. Maybe the Buckeyes could have taken an extra Ohio kid or two in those years to help keep relationships with local coaches strong. Maybe there could have been another lineman, another defensive tackle, another wideout (Ohio had several strong ones in 2017) that might have helped out.
Of course, it’s 2017, not 2021, and as Urban Meyer said, “they’re allowed to change.” Maybe players get healthy or have breakthroughs, and maybe the conversation around this class looks very different in the future. The immediate returns aren’t totally positive, but there’s plenty of time for that to change.
Hindsight is 20/20, and everybody, from Alabama on down, has recruiting misses. But 2015 is a good case study in how everybody, even Ohio State, is mortal. You can’t predict who might get hurt, who might transfer, who just might not work out. Sometimes those are the lower ranked kids in a class, but sometimes those kids end up being Darron Lee and the blue-chippers get hurt or wash out.
The more blue-chip kids you sign, typically, the better off you’ll be. It’s why everybody tries to sign those players, and why the programs that sign the most, like Ohio State, are in contention for playoff bids and conference titles. But you also need development, and good ol’ fashioned luck.
We’ll see what happens with Ohio State’s next few classes. The metrics are all outstanding. But hey, everybody can make mistakes.