Welcome to a new series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. With the calendar turning over to March and spring on the horizon, the players will be working their way back to the practice fields to prepare for the 2021 campaign. That being the case, now is a great time to introduce you to Ohio State’s incredibly talented freshman class. Each edition of Freshman Focus will highlight one of the newest Buckeyes, and will hopefully provide a glimpse at what they will bring to the team in the coming years.
Today’s freshman: Jakailin Johnson.
A native of Saint Louis, MO, Jakailin Johnson comes to Ohio State as a very highly rated four-star corner, ranking as the No. 3 player at his position in the 2021 class and the No. 49 prospect in the country overall. Joining Jordan Hancock — who we profiled last week — Johnson is one of two top-100 nationally ranked corners that Kerry Coombs and the Buckeyes have added to the roster in this recruiting class.
As one of the top defensive backs in the cycle, it’s no surprise that JK racked up over 25 offers from most of the nation’s premier programs, including the likes of Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon and more. He dropped a top six back in February which was comprised of Clemson, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, USC and of course Ohio State, and the Buckeyes were able to come out on top in the end. Johnson committed to Ohio State on March 15, 2020, and from there it was history.
Playing his high school ball at DeSmet Jesuit, Johnson would quickly become the consensus top prospect in his home state of Missouri and was the No. 1 ranked player in the St. Louis Post Dispatch Super 30 preseason countdown. Registering 27 tackles and two interceptions as a sophomore, his breakout season came in his junior year. Helping the Spartans reach the Class 6 title game, Johnson totaled 42 tackles and seven picks as a junior, including a pair of interceptions in the championship game. In a COVID-shortened senior campaign, the star DB once again helped lead his team to the Class 6 title game with a 6-1 record.
A gifted athlete, Johnson also ran track at DeSmet, competing in the 200 meters, 4x100 relay, and 4x200 relay. That track speed really shows itself on the gridiron as well, as the 6-foot-1, 175-pound corner plays with tremendous quickness to go along with his impressive range and football IQ. Looking at the highlight tape from his standout junior campaign, it’s easy to see why Johnson was ranked as one of the nation’s top CBs:
Ohio State has done a great job recruiting the St. Louis area in recent years, as Johnson is another top-rated prospect the Buckeyes have landed as they continue to build a pipeline into Missouri’s second-largest city. In just the past few cycles, Ohio State has landed St. Louis area natives Kamryn Babb (four-star wide receiver), Cam Brown (four-star WR, switched to CB) and fellow four-star wideout Jameson Williams. They also hauled in top-100 receiver Mookie Cooper in 2020, but he would wind up transferring back to the in-state Tigers.
Johnson’s stellar play at DeSmet has drawn some high praise from the talent scouts. Allen Trieu, a national recruiting analyst at 247Sports, has Johnson already projected as a potential Day 2 NFL Draft pick, with a player comparison to the New York Giants’ Sam Beal. This is what Trieu had to say of Johnson’s abilities:
“Solid length, but still has to add weight and fill in. Has great twitch and change of direction. Shows good burst to the ball and ball skills. Despite still having room to fill in, he is a physical player who will support the run and play physically. Shows experience and comfort in both man and zone. Has seen some good competition in high school so as long as he adds the weight and strength necessary, he will have a chance to play early. Upside is great because of play speed and smarts. Projects as a multi-year starting cornerback at a Power 5 school and potential first half of the draft selection.”
Like Trieu said, Johnson clearly already has the skillset to contribute right away at the collegiate level, even at a program like Ohio State. Adding some weight should be no problem under the Buckeyes’ strength guru Mickey Marrotti, and the assistant coaches in the secondary like Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes should have no problem fitting a guy like Johnson into their system. This is all a pretty big deal, as with the way Ohio State’s secondary played a year ago, there is a good chance we will see more of Johnson in 2021 than we would your typical freshman corner.
Losing Shaun Wade to the NFL Draft, the only real proven commodity among the Buckeyes’ defensive backs already on the roster is Sevyn Banks, who will command one of the starting spots on the outside. Cam Brown is expected to claim a starting job, likely at slot corner, but only time will tell how he recovers from last year’s season-ending achilles injury. This leaves the other outside corner role wide open, and while it will likely go to someone who has been with the team for a few years now, like Lejond Cavazos, Ryan Watts or Marcus Williamson, I would not count out Johnson playing significant snaps at some point during the upcoming campaign.
Before Ohio State found itself with a trio of future NFL corners in Damon Arnette, Jeff Okudah and Wade back in 2019, the Buckeyes had usually rotated guys in and out at the position to keep everyone fresh. With no clear sure-fire future first-rounders on this year’s roster, there is a good chance we could see Coombs look to return to that strategy that made him so successful in his first stint in Columbus. This will open the door for the freshmen like Johnson and Jordan Hancock to see much more playing time than they otherwise would have.
It is no secret that Ohio State’s secondary must be better this season if they want to compete for a national title, and we could see a guy like Johnson be a key difference-maker in 2021. Even if they don't start right out of the gate, we are likely looking at the Buckeyes’ starting cornerback duo of the future in Hancock and Johnson.