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Ohio State’s forgotten fours and fives

A handful of former top-50 recruits are still searching for playing time with the Buckeyes

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 30 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. However, just because you are a five-star recruit out of high school does not mean you are guaranteed to start at the collegiate level — especially at a school that recruits as well as Ohio State.

Now, for the most part, a good chunk of the five-star recruits who become Buckeyes do make a huge impact right out of the gate. Guys like Garrett Wilson, Chase Young and Jeff Okudah have all been five-star players in recent years that all quickly became some of the premier performers in the nation at their positions.

However, those are obviously not the only highly-touted recruits OSU has reeled in among the past few classes. There are a number of players on Ohio State’s roster that were ranked in the top-50 nationally out of high school that are still looking for playing time heading into their third, fourth or even fifth year with the Buckeyes.

Who are some of these such players, and what is their outlook for the 2020 season?

Taron Vincent (Five-star; No. 1 DT, No. 20 Overall in 2018)

Ohio State will be tasked with replacing a ton of size upfront with the exhausted eligibility of a trio of fifth-year senior defensive tackles in Jashon Cornell, DaVon Hamilton and Robert Landers. Luckily for the Bucks, there are a handful of capable bodies to replace those productive big men up the middle, including a former five-star recruit in Taron Vincent.

Vincent was the No. 1 defensive tackle in the 2018 class, and as a result was able to see some playing time as a freshman even despite an incredibly deep and talented group in front of him. Appearing in 10 games in his first season in Columbus, Vincent totaled just three tackles with one for a loss. He was also able to record a sack in the team’s Big Ten Championship victory over Northwestern. Unfortunately, Vincent’s career hit a bit of a speed bump as he was forced to miss the entirety of this past season with a torn labrum.

Vincent told Lettermen Row earlier this year that he expects to be back at 100 percent by the time spring ball rolls around. While it is an intriguing group of players set to fight for reps at defensive tackle this season, perhaps none have a higher ceiling than Vincent. Tommy Togiai rotated in frequently in 2019, and will likely enter camp as the likely starter at one of the two DT spots. If Vincent can remain healthy and channel the talent that made him one of the nation’s top recruits in 2018, you will see his name at the top of the depth chart in August.

Tyreke Johnson (Five-star; No. 2 S, No. 21 Overall in 2018)

One of the most talked about position battles this offseason will be at cornerback. Gone are the pair of starting outside corners in Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette, with the duo prepared to move on to what should be successful NFL careers. The return of Shaun Wade is a massive boost for the Buckeyes’ secondary in 2020, but they will still need to find another two starting corners. There are a bunch of defensive backs who will enter camp in that competition, but one under the radar guy is former five-star recruit Tyreke Johnson.

Ranked one spot behind Vincent in the 2018 class, Johnson was listed as a safety coming out of high school. Ohio State, however, has listed the 6-foot-1 athlete as a corner, and that is the position group in which he has spent his time in Columbus. After redshirting his freshman year, Johnson was next to invisible in 2019. The DB played just 57 total snaps over six games played, while also appearing on special teams in two other games. With the level of talent the Buckeyes had among its top three corners, not many other guys really got much of a chance to see the field.

That is going to change in 2020, as new defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs has already discussed returning to a rotation at cornerback. That is good news for Johnson, who will certainly have a hefty bit of competition around him. Obviously, much of the talk surrounding Ohio State’s corners next season has focused on guys like Cameron Brown, Amir Riep and Sevyn Banks. However, especially with more than three or four guys likely to see playing time, Johnson could certainly cut out a role for himself in his third year with the program.

Teradja Mitchell (Four-star; No. 2 ILB, No. 44 Overall in 2018)

Ohio State will be returning two of its three starting linebackers in 2020, but will be losing the best player in the unit with the departure of Malik Harrison to the NFL Draft. The Buckeyes may not truly need to find a new starter, as technically Tuf Borland and Baron Browning split time at middle linebacker. Ryan Day and his defensive staff could easily decide to move the athletic Browning to Harrison’s unoccupied spot, but if they still want to feature a rotation at the Mike, Teradja Mitchell might be their man.

A third member of that No. 2-ranked 2018 recruiting class on this list, Mitchell came to Ohio State as a top-50 national recruit. He has always been touted as a hard-hitting, aggressive linebacker, but has had a tough time getting onto the field thus far. Expected to have a bigger role in 2019, Mitchell was limited throughout the year with a hamstring injury, and would wind up appearing in just nine games while recording a total of 12 tackles. While he was able to make a few highlight plays given the rare opportunity, his sophomore campaign would become nothing more than a development year.

There will be fierce competition for playing time at linebacker in 2020. Browning and Pete Werner have obviously earned their spots, and while Borland has been a polarizing player among the Ohio State fanbase, the coaches have lauded his abilities as a leader. Add in Dallas Gant, Justin Hillard and K’Vaughan Pope, and you have a rather crowded room. Mitchell profiles as an interior linebacker, and so it is unlikely he would takeover outside in place of Harrison. However, it would not be at all surprising for the junior to play in a rotation role similar to that of Browning last season.

Demario McCall (Four-star; No. 2 APB, No. 44 Overall in 2016)

I know, I know. You’ve heard this every year, but just bear with me.

The Buckeyes are tasked with replacing their all-time single-season rushing record holder with the departure of J.K. Dobbins to the NFL. While Master Teague is likely the next man up as he was No. 2 on the depth chart this past season, there is really no guaranteed starter heading into camp. Can Demario McCall finally make the impact everyone has been waiting for in his final year at Ohio State.

McCall was the No. 2 all-purpose back in that 2016 class, and was a top-50 national recruit. It seems as though he has all of the tools to be an absolute weapon in Ryan Day’s offense, but for one reason or another he just hasn’t been able to get onto the field. Whether it be a result of injuries or scheme fit, McCall has played a total of 24 games in his four years at OSU, compiling 553 rushing yards and 273 receiving yards with eight total touchdowns. The running back/wide receiver hybrid features tremendous speed and play-making ability, but has not been able to put it all together to result in consistent playing time.

2020 will be McCall’s last chance to become an impact player at Ohio State. He will certainly have his share of opportunities. The 5-foot-9 athlete could be an option as a pure-speed back to spell whichever running back winds up winning the starting job, but the Buckeyes have seemed hesitant to do that in recent years. He could also earn touches at H-back, where OSU has to find a replacement for K.J. Hill. With a large influx of talent at wide receiver and a crowded RB room, it will take an impressive camp for McCall to actually see the field. It seems as though the entire fanbase has been rooting for him to succeed throughout his Ohio State career, but it will be up to McCall to ultimately get it done.