Over the last decade, it has been hard to find many better defensive lines around the country than what Ohio State has produced. Since 2010, Ohio State has seen 16 defensive lineman picked in the NFL Draft, with half of those drafted coming in the past three seasons.
The Buckeyes have dominated the second pick in the NFL Draft the last two years, with Nick Bosa being taken by the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, and Chase Young taken by the Washington Football Team in 2020. Prior to those two getting taken with the second pick, Joey Bosa was taken with the third pick in 2016.
With Chase Young having moved on to the professional level, there isn’t much question about who is looking like the next star of the defensive line. Zach Harrison is only heading into his sophomore season, but the sky looks like the limit for the central Ohio product. Along with Harrison, Ohio State will lean on veteran Jonathon Cooper, who returns as a fifth-year season after taking a redshirt last season because of injury.
Defensive end Tyreke Smith and defensive tackle Haskell Garrett figure to play huge roles in 2020 for Ohio State, but who are some sleepers who could make a name for themselves? There are a few guys who got their feet wet last year, along with one promising defensive tackle who missed last season due to injury.
Friday appeared in 11 games for Ohio State last year as a sophomore, recording 11 tackles and two sacks. His best game came early in the year when he was credited with two tackles for loss, with one of those being a sack against Indiana. The other sack that Friday recorded came in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Clemson.
Coming out of high school in New Jersey, Friday was a four-star defensive end and a top-100 prospect. Friday played his high school football at Don Bosco Prep, which is one of the most prestigious high school football programs in the country, so the edge rusher was already used to playing for a marquee football team.
Even though Harrison, Cooper, and Smith figure to see the majority of snaps at defensive end, expect Friday to see time on the field because of the frequency the Buckeyes rotate defensive ends. This will likely benefit Friday, as he’ll be fresher than the offensive linemen he’ll be going up against. While Friday’s playing time won’t likely be at the level of a starter, he’ll make sure he makes the snaps he is on the field for count.
Another Buckeye defensive end to keep an eye on is also from New Jersey. After redshirting in 2018, Javontae Jean-Baptiste played in 14 games in 2019. Like Friday, Jean-Baptiste also was a four-star prospect coming out of high school. The similarities don’t stop there, as he too recorded two sacks in 2019.
Jean-Baptiste came to Ohio State as a 215-pound linebacker, but now is a 250-pound defensive end. The scary thing is that he is still learning and becoming more comfortable at his new position. This year we should see even more out of Jean-Baptiste at defensive end, and he could set up a fun final couple years as an upperclassman in Columbus.
It’s probably hard to be much of a “sleeper” when you are the size of a defensive tackle, but the Buckeyes have a few who could explode in 2020. The first DT to keep an eye on is Tommy Togiai. The junior made history before even stepping on the field for the Buckeyes, becoming the first player from Idaho to sign with Ohio State. Togiai was the third-ranked defensive tackle and the 55th overall player in the class of 2017.
Entering his junior season, Togiai has played in 26 games in Ohio State, so he’ll be leaned on heavily this year to fill the void left by the graduation of two fifth-year seniors. Last year, Togiai recorded 16 tackles, with two of those tackles being for loss. In combination with Haskell Garrett, Togiai is a prime candidate to break out this season, as the two should form a strong interior of the Ohio State defensive line.
The defensive lineman who could be the biggest sleeper this year is Taron Vincent. The son of former NFL defensive back Troy Vincent came to Ohio State as a five-star recruit and the top-ranked defensive tackle in the country according to 247Sports. Vincent won the Maxwell Club’s first-ever defensive player of the year award in 2017 as a senior in high school.
After appearing in 10 games as a true freshman in 2018, Vincent missed the 2019 season because of a shoulder injury. While the defensive tackle was ready to play through the pain as a sophomore, the training staff thought it was best that Vincent not play until he was fully recovered from the injury.
With guys like Garrett and Togiai also at defensive tackle, the coaching staff can ease Vincent back into the fold, but once Vincent gets out onto the field, expect to see why he was one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. He has all the tools to become one of the best defensive tackles in college football, the redshirt sophomore just needs to see some snaps and stay healthy.
Much like Vincent, Jackson was one of the most sought-after defensive tackles coming out of high school. Jackson was the 49th overall prospect in the class of 2016, originally committing to Auburn, redshirting with the Tigers before eventually transferring to Blinn Junior College.
In 10 games at Blinn, Jackson recorded 70 tackles, nine sacks, and three forced fumbles. What he showed on the field earned him the Southwest Junior College Football Conference Most Valuable Player Award, as well as the attention of Ohio State, who were able to bring Jackson in as a transfer in 2018.
After appearing in four games with the Buckeyes in 2018, Jackson earned himself a spot in the defensive tackle rotation, playing in all 14 games last season. His best performance came against Rutgers, when he was credited with four tackles. For the season, Jackson finished with 13 stops, 3.5 of which were for a loss.
Since he already was being used in the defensive tackle rotation last season, expect to see even more of the senior this year. Jackson could team with Haskell Garrett to provide some veteran leadership to a group that just lost two seniors.