I think a pretty massive part of recruiting that sometimes goes undiscussed is the importance of class balance, and positional balance. Allow me to explain. Obviously, in recruiting, you’re going to focus on recruiting for need, and recruiting the most talented players you can find. The Ohio State Buckeyes have never struggled with either of those, and especially thrived under Urban Meyer, known for his excellent recruiting ability.
There is, however, a third tenant, and it’s that class balance, positional balance, or whatever you want to call it. Basically, you want the players in your class to make sense in how they fit your scheme, but you also want them to fit with each other. You don’t want to take four edge rushers, four tall, possession receivers, or three receiving backs. Too much similar talent will create a situation where, a few years down the road, you have a whole lot of the same skill set, while you may not have the other skill sets needed to compliment that player.
For example, Ohio State’s receivers in 2018 wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as they were had the Buckeyes started Bin Victor, Jaylen Harris, Austin Mack and someone like Elijah Gardiner. That’s not because those players aren’t talented, they are, but rather because having four tall, possession receivers makes you one dimensional. Good offenses need KJ Hill, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon types, just like they need Bin Victor and Austin Mack types.
For a little while, that was my concern with Brian Hartline. He’s proven himself to be a capable recruiter, and maybe even an elite recruiter, but he, well, has a type. Gee Scott, Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming are each refined receivers with good but not great size, who play aggressively and catch everything at its highest point. They’re each great players, but they’re all similar enough that if they play at the same time, there could be some of that “one dimensional” feeling.
Enter Mookie Cooper, and exit those doubts. If you designed a perfect fit for the fourth and final receiver spot in this class, they’d look a whole lot like Mookie Cooper. What does the newest Buckeye bring, and how does he fit?
On the field
I’ll start by saying that Mookie Cooper has done a pretty tremendous job of branding himself as the premier slot receiver in the 2020 class, because he’s absolutely gone all in on speed, quickness, and being a perfect fit on the inside of an offense. For good reason, too, because as I alluded to earlier, it’s hard to look much more like a slot receiver than Mookie does.
At 5-foot-9 (generously), 190 pounds, Mookie runs a sub 4.5 40, and looks even faster on the field, where he serves in exactly the role you would expect. He catches drag routes, quick hitters underneath, and hits the corner off of jet sweeps, and on each play he flashes the speed and potential to send the entire defense to hell on his way to the endzone. He’s lethal in essentially every spot that Ohio State wants their slot receivers to be lethal.
It’s easy to wax poetic about Mookie’s speed, elusiveness, and big play ability. It’s easy to say that he looks a whole lot like a cross between Parris Campbell and KJ Hill, because, well, he does. He looks like a perfect fit for an offense that’s just a few months removed from gashing Michigan with Chris Olave, who has similar measurables and athletic ability.
The first thing that shows up on Mookie’s film, however, isn’t his game breaking speed. It’s not a house call on a screen, or a breakaway jet sweep. For the first minute or so of Mookie’s tape, the very obvious focus is on Mookie as not just a speedster. He shows off monster blocks, and a willingness to hit that you just don’t see very often from guys with his measurements.
It’s cliche to say that that’s the kind of thing that can sell a team on a player, but the willingness to hit is a must for Day receivers, as we saw against teams like Penn State and Michigan last season, and I think Mookie’s willingness to block could get him on the field right away in Columbus. It’s obviously not his most marketable skill, but that’s the kind of thing that separates a year two starter from a year three starter, especially because Cooper will be a freshman when Chris Olave is a junior, which means that spot could be open in Cooper’s sophomore year.
In the class
Cooper is the 20th member of Ohio State’s 2020 class, and, as mentioned, the fourth and final receiver. Barring any major rankings changes (wouldn’t expect this), Cooper’s commitment means that Brian Hartline will finish his first receiver class with four top 100 players. That’s, uh, not too shabby for a first time coach with no prior recruiting experience.
This really came down to an Ohio State-Illinois battle, and ultimately, the chance to compete for titles and go to the NFL was more attractive than the chance to play a little closer to home and start in year one. Illinois did make this an actual fight, but Ohio State pulled away late and will secure Cooper’s signature in December.
This pledge brings Ohio State within just about a point of LSU and the third spot in the 2020 team rankings. With Bijan Robinson, Lathan Ransom, Kourt Williams, Jacolbe Cowan, and Jaylan Knighton all on commitment watch at this time, we could see that jump happen at pretty much any time.