When Cody Simon committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes, I mentioned his speed, his versatility, and his size, and how they all reflect a shifting desire at Ohio State for faster, smaller, sleeker linebackers. Simon fits that role, Kourt Williams fits that role, and the Buckeyes have several current players who fit that role.
That, however, doesn’t mean that Ohio State is entirely abandoning the larger, run stuffing linebacker. There’s still a place in Jeff Hafley’s defense for an enforcer. Today, the Buckeyes added their enforcer, when Olney, MD product Mitchell Melton committed to Ohio State. What does this pledge mean for the Buckeyes? How does Melton fit in the new system?
On the field
I should mention off the top here that to categorize Melton as a bigger linebacker isn’t necessarily as much a reflection of him as it is of Ohio State’s changing desires for their linebackers. In years past, 6-foot-3.5, 230 pounds is not by any means a “big” linebacker for the Buckeyes. Look no further than Justin Hilliard, Malik Harrison, and Tuf Borland to see how the position is shifting before our eyes, to the point where Melton is guaranteed to be the biggest linebacker in this class.
I say that also, because Melton isn’t a statue. He’s not a hulking, slow, old fashioned linebacker. He’s not as fast as Cody Simon (one of the best athletes in the country) or Kourt Williams (essentially a safety), but his 4.87 40 time is serviceable for a high school senior, and it’s going to get better once he’s in Ohio State’s weight program. On top of that, the biggest physical test of importance for linebackers is agility, and Melton’s agility numbers are very good for someone at his size.
More importantly, his ability to move well shows up on film. He’s never going to be an elite rover, but his quick, smart, and can get the job once he gets going, which doesn’t take too long. He honestly looks more like an edge rusher than a linebacker at times, which makes me think that Ohio State may give him the Javontae Jean-Baptiste treatment, given that he would be the lone edge rusher in the class.
While that’s certainly a possibility, I’ll evaluate Melton based on his linebacker play for now, until we know more about his position. And what we know, to this point, is that Melton is an instinctual player, that arrives at his target with bad intentions every single time he gets to him. He’s quick to read plays, and makes up for his lack of breakneck speed with good angles and smart defending.
Once he arrives, he squares up, and drives through the ball carrier. He’s not sloppy, he’s not fancy, he just relies on his power, and his resilience to make the play. That has a ton of value for Ohio State in the rushing game, because Melton is likely going to serve as the primary run stuffer, given that the Buckeyes are shifting to a five defensive back set starting this year.
It has less value in the passing game. I think Melton will be capable in zone, which means he can at least block off passing lanes across the middle, but I wouldn’t use him for a whole lot else with regards to coverage. Melton’s value in the passing game is mostly as a blitzer, because he’s very good at getting to the quarterback, and as long as the Buckeyes are still dropping their other linebacker, bullet, and four defensive backs into coverage, Melton should be able to add value even without being great in coverage.
In the class
Melton is the 17th member of Ohio State’s 2020 class, and the second commitment in as many days, following up Joe Royer’s pledge yesterday evening. He’s the Buckeyes’ seventh commitment that came as a direct result of the June visit extravaganza (though Melton was a week before the huge weekend), along with Jayden Ballard (2021), Clark Phillips, Ben Christman (2021), Darrion Henry, Cody Simon and Royer. Not too shabby, and it’s not the last one.
Melton is the second linebacker in the class, along with the aforementioned Simon. I expect Simon to serve as an outside linebacker that moves around quite a bit more, while Melton will fill the roles traditionally reserved for inside linebackers (if he doesn’t move onto the line).
The Buckeyes won this battle over one school: Michigan. The Wolverines wanted Melton bad, had the visit for him, and have heavy ties to his school, and the DMV/New Jersey on the whole. For the Buckeyes to win this recruitment shows me two things: firstly, it shows me that the Buckeyes are still king in Big Ten, regardless of the head coach.
Secondly, it tells me that Jeff Hafley, Al Washington, and Larry Johnson might be ready to end Michigan’s streak of landing top prospects out of that DMV/Jersey area. This is the second top linebacker from that area to spurn the Wolverines for Ohio State now. Hafley’s connections, Johnson’s connections, and Washington’s connections out east are going to make Ohio State a very real competitor on the East Coast for just about every defensive star as they continue to get their footing.