It’s still a little hard to comprehend just how good Brian Hartline has been during his time at Ohio State. From zero coaching experience, to filling the job as an interim last season, to now full time gig, Hartline has had one of the most impressive starts to a coaching career that I’ve maybe ever seen.
Firstly, he had tons of success with actual coaching, helping Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon all breakthrough last season. Then, off the field, he held onto commitments from Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams in 2019, and has turned around and landed two blue chips in Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Gee Scott, as well as the best receiver in the country in Julian Fleming in 2020.
That’s one hell of a start. Ohio State has never had more receiver talent entering the program than they do right now, and much to the surprise of no one, Hartline is nowhere near slowing down. He flexed his recruiting muscles a little bit more earlier today, and moved into the 2021 class, landing a commitment from Massolin, Ohio, four-star Jayden Ballard. What does that mean for Ohio State?
On the field
Jayden Ballard looks, well, a whole lot like an Ohio State receiver recruit. I’ve said before that Hartline and Day have a type, and that type, broadly speaking, is receivers that give up a little bit of size and top level athleticism, in exchange for elite ball skills, route running ability and a general refinement that you rarely see from young receivers. He may not run a 4.3 40, but he’s already a good receiver. That’s what the Buckeyes want.
In fact, Ballard might be really good already. He sits at 125th on the 247Sports composite rankings, but we’re still about a year out from those being really solidified, and at this point next year I think Ballard will absolutely be in the top 100.
Well, firstly Ballard is already showing excellent ball skills at a super young age. He isn’t attacking the ball on a Julian Fleming level yet (few do), but he’s super aggressive in the air, and that aggressiveness creates more opportunities to make plays. He’s willing to high point the ball whenever he gets the chance, and he doesn’t really give defenders the opportunity to stop him, because he’s an extremely quick jumper. In other words, he has the timing of a catch down to a T already.
On top of that, as I mentioned, Ballard is already running very solid routes. He doesn’t have top level speed so he’s not really going to be a burner, but his quickness and explosiveness make him an awesome threat across the middle on basically anything he runs. He’s able to use his body to shield the ball from defenders, I think he could do extremely well in a Chris Olave style role where he makes a living across the middle, both down the field and underneath on drag routes and slants.
The only real setbacks with Ballard right now is that I think his athleticism limits his ceiling a bit. He’s a very good athlete, don’t get me wrong, but he’s a 4.5 or 4.6 40 time guy, and I don’t see that changing. Secondly, he’s still, as I said, very young. That means that he has plenty of growing as a player to do, and he could be a relatively different player by the time he gets to Ohio State, though I wouldn’t expect that.
Those concerns, however, are relatively minor. Ballard is a very good player, and a future starter at Ohio State.
In the class
Ballard is the third member of Ohio State’s 2021 class. He joins one of the best players in the country in defensive end Jack Sawyer, and his presumed future quarterback, Kyle McCord. Ohio State is likely looking for another four receivers in 2021, and I imagine that Ballard would be delighted to be joined at some point by Marvin Harrison Jr and Lorenzo Styles Jr.
Ballard picked Ohio State over offers from Michigan State, Notre Dame and Penn State, among others, but this was never really a huge battle of any sort. Ohio State offered on June 8 of last year, and now, after a few visits to campus — including one today — Ballard was sold. This was a great fit from both perspectives.