After years of dominance on the recruiting trail in defensive backfield, Ohio State fell off a cliff in the class of 2019. With Kerry Coombs gone, Taver Johnson flailed and Alex Grinch flopped attempting to replace his production on the field or in recruiting. The Buckeyes were only able to land two true defensive backs (Ronnie Hickman and Bryson Shaw) in the 2019 class, and because of those failures, Grinch and Johnson are no longer in Columbus.
Because of the down year last cycle, Jeff Hafley and Matt Barnes had their work cut out for them taking over in the backfield for the 2020 class. Anytime you have a class with almost nothing at a position, the next class has to compensate, and in the case of the 2020 class, that means taking as many as six defensive backs to fill the depth holes left by a nearly empty 2019 group.
After a slow start while Hafley and Barnes worked to develop relationships, it appears that the new hires have found some traction. Just a few days after securing a commitment from four-star cornerback Clark Phillips III, Ohio State has landed one of the nation’s top safety prospects: Arizona product Lathan Ransom. What does that mean for Ohio State?
On the field
Ohio State has gotten into a bit of a habit of taking hybrid defensive backs and figuring out where they actually play once they get to college. Jahsen Wint, Brendon White, Amir Riep, Shaun Wade, Isaiah Pryor and most recently, Craig Young all seem to fit into this archetype. While that isn’t the worst thing in the world (and has worked pretty well in the past at times), it seems that the new staff would like a little more proven production at a singular position for their defensive backs.
Lejond Cavazos is a bit of a hybrid, but Clark Phillips III is a true cornerback, and will play cornerback in college. Ransom, on the other hand, is a true safety, and will play as a true, deep field safety in college. He has the skills of a safety, the athletic profile of a safety, and one of the most underappriciated safety traits: the instincts of a true safety.
That’s to say, he’s got a nose for the ball. He lines up generally as a free safety, because he’s a slightly better tackler than he is coverage expert, though he can do both pretty comfortably. With the flexibility that comes with playing free safety, Ransom shifts around quite a bit pre-play, and will do the same at Ohio State. He has the speed and pursuit angles to serve as a run stopper when Ohio State needs it, which means Ohio State can shift him closer to the line, but he also has the coverage skills and range to allow the Buckeyes to drop him into deep zone coverage.
That’s what the Buckeyes want from their free safeties. That’s the kind of skill set that Jordan Fuller has, and while I think Ransom has a slightly higher coverage ceiling than Fuller, they’re very similar players overall. Both can thump when they get to the ball carrier, both can wrap up in open space, and both can make plays when dropping into a zone.
The comparisons don’t end there, but it might be nice if they did, because like Fuller, I don’t think Ransom is a particularly good man coverage safety. That’s fine, it’s just going to make Ohio State run a little more zone than they might like, but after last season, more zone is exactly what the Buckeyes need.
Regardless of man coverage skills, Ransom is a hyper-talented, hyper-athletic, high-ceiling, low floor safety, and Ohio State is delighted to pull him away from the west coast. He has the talent to be a year two starter with ease, and I think Ohio State may need him to be, depending on how the current depth develops.
In the class
Ransom is the 21st member of Ohio State’s 2020 class, and yet another commitment to come as a direct result of Ohio State’s massive recruiting weekend back in June. Ransom is the fourth defensive back in the class, along with Lejond Cavazos, Cameron Martinez, and Clark Phillips. I would expect Ransom to line up at safety with Martinez, while Phillips and Cavazos play corner.
Landing Ransom feels like quite the upset for Hafley, Barnes, and the Buckeyes. He was long considered to be a Texas lean, but his official visit to Columbus in June completely changed his recruitment. He was sold on the family environment and the depth chart, and apparently, that was exactly what he needed to hear. Additionally, Ransom and Buckeye target Bijan Robinson are teammates, so this could pay off in more than one way.
Ransom’s pledge is a big one for the Buckeyes, because it moves them from fourth to second in the 247Sports team rankings, just ahead of Alabama by about a point. The Buckeyes won’t catch Clemson, but if the class finishes as expected, they could very very easily finish second in the country. Not bad for a brand new head coach.