With all of the offensive commitments scouted and analyzed, we are now moving on to the defense. The side of the ball subject to lots of criticism the past few years. However that is changing fast as the Buckeyes seem to have found an adequate play caller in Matt Barnes. Between that and the youth movement the Buckeyes have committed to, finally playing young stars J.T Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer among Denzel Burke who was already getting significant snaps. An infusion of defensive talent is needed once again for the 2022 Recruiting Class and so far this class is shaping up to have a ton of potential future All-Americans.
Current Defensive Commitments
C.J. Hicks | Linebacker
Archbishop Alter HS, Dayton (Ohio)
6-foot-3, 215 pounds
Hicks is ranked as the seventh overall prospect nationally, the No. 1 linebacker in the country and the No. 1 player in the state of Ohio per the 247Sports Composite Ratings. Many of the fans have come to know Hicks as “Captain Buckeye,” a nickname that comes from him being one of the very first 2022 prospect to commit to Ohio State and then becoming one of the hardest working peer-recruiters in the country.
Hicks has been such a spectacular ambassador for the Ohio State brand that there is no denying his impact on the class. Having a charismatic leader in he fold early always helps perception and appeal to being teammates with them.
Where to start with a player like C.J. Hicks? He is one of the most talented linebackers I have ever had the pleasure of watching on tape; his athletic ability is off the charts, his leadership on the field is in full display, and this kid just has a nose for the football. He is an absolute chore for opposing offensive coaches to scheme around. Whether it’s dropping back in pass coverage or tackling opposing running backs in the backfield, Hicks is always around the football.
Let’s start with his athletic ability first, Hicks is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and moves extremely well in space. 247Sports’ Allen Trieu compares Hicks to current Arizona Cardinal Isaiah Simmons, a player that the Buckeyes in 2019 when they played Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
This is a great comparison simply because they both are athletic nightmares on the field who have a nose for the football. Simmons played a hybrid linebacker/safety role at Clemson, which I can see Hicks being utilized for in passing downs, thanks to his ability to cover ground quickly and intercept passes.
There are some plays on Hicks’ high school tape in which he even lines up at either outside or slot corner and yet you will still see him up at the line of scrimmage making tackles 10 yards away from where he started on the play. Hicks is the definition of a rangy linebacker who can cover from sideline to sideline. The split-second reaction time you can see when the offense runs play-action shows just how fast Hicks analyzes the game and diagnoses that he should be in coverage rather than falling for the fakes.
Hicks also returns punts and even plays running back at times as well for Archbishop Alter, showcasing that he is not just elite on the defensive side of the ball, but just an overall elite athlete.
In today’s age of spread offenses, run-pass options, and more speed than ever before in college football, it is so important to have linebackers who can also drop back in coverage and defend the pass. Hicks has outstanding instincts, which you can see when he makes a split-second decision on the field; he trusts himself and flies to the football, no matter where it is on the field. He has the speed to keep up with running backs out of the backfield and even slot receivers if need be.
With all the complaining that Ohio State fans have done about slow linebackers in recent years, Hicks will definitely quiet that trend in Columbus. He has good-to-great ball skills when the pass is in the air, and shows good positioning and instincts in reading a QB’s eyes.
Hicks never has to come off of the field, which is something that you cannot say for a lot of linebackers. He can be out there on early rushing downs to run-stuff, yet also has the range and skill set to be out there in obvious passing situations, where he will be in coverage or blitzing the QB.
Please do yourself a favor and watch his junior highlight tape below to see yourself the star that is coming to Columbus.
Speaking of blitzing the QB, this is also a strong suit for the Dayton native. Hicks shows outstanding intelligence when rushing the QB and finding the right gaps to hunt down the opponent. He has such a great burst of speed that he can often hit the gaps before lineman can even get a hand on him. Hicks’ film also shows that he is no slouch at edge rushing, showing some pretty moves when rushing around the edge.
All too often in today’s game, form tackling seems to be somewhat of a lost art. However, Hicks seems to have gotten that memo and perfected the form tackle, as he shows great discipline when trying to bring ball carriers to the ground. He wraps up, keeps his head up, and drives his legs through the football and makes sure that the opponent falls backward for a loss, instead of running over him and falling forward for a gain.
The next phase of development for Hicks will be to bulk up and add more muscle to his frame, while still trying to maintain the explosiveness that he shows when breaking towards the ball or cutting in to pick off passes.
For someone with the discipline and drive to be great that Hicks has, I do not see any of that being an issue. I believe that he will be a great leader in the locker room and a great example of what a future Buckeye captain is. I think we can all easily envision Hicks taking up that captain mantle for the Buckeyes in perhaps as early as his second year on campus.
I have no doubt that Hick’s Captain Buckeye moniker will translate from the recruiting world to the gridiron, and I cannot wait to see what ends up happening with this young star’s career here.
What player would you like to see scouted next?
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