Welcome to an ongoing series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. Spring practice has now come to an end with the conclusion of the spring football game, and this year’s crop of Buckeyes have been hard at work preparing 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: Jayden Ballard.
With the way Ohio State has been recruiting the wide receiver position these past few years, even some of the program’s high four-star prospects can get lost in the shuffle. As a result, really talented players like Jayden Ballard may fall off some peoples’ radar. Ballard makes the two-hour trip south from Massillon to Columbus as the nation’s No. 15 wideout and the No. 99 overall player in 2021. As the No. 4 in-state recruit in the class, Ballard’s commitment solidified Ryan Day and his staff locking up the top four players in Ohio in the cycle.
As a top-100 national prospect, Ballard only collected around seven scholarship offers during the recruiting process due to his early commitment to Ohio State. While his intentions were clear from the jump, the 6-foot-2, 175-pound pass-catcher still got interest from Maryland, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Washington State. Ballard left no room for anyone to question his affinity for the hometown team, and he committed to the Buckeyes all the way back in June of 2019 before finally signing his official letter of intent this past December.
Ballard put together a historic career for head coach Nate Moore at Washington High School, hauling in a total of 146 receptions for over 2,600 yards and 37 touchdowns — the latter two stats of which make him the all-time career leader for the Tigers. Ballard really came into his own in his final two prep seasons, posting 68 catches for over 1,200 yards and 18 TDs as a junior (averaging 80.1 yards per game) and following it up with 36 catches for 573 yards and seven TDs as as senior in a COVID-19-adjusted schedule. In his final season at Washington, he helped his team win 10-straight games to advance to the Division II state championship game.
A member of the Ohio MaxPreps All-State team, Ballard was a big part of the Tigers’ three-straight appearances in Division II state title games, including a 150-yard, three-touchdown performance against Perry in the regional finals. You can get a small glimpse of everything Ballard brings to the table in his junior highlight film:
As previously mentioned, Ballard gives Ohio State each of the top four in-state players in the 2021 cycle, with only Jack Sawyer, Mike Hall and Reid Carrico ranking ahead of him. In fact, the Buckeyes actually managed to haul in five of the top six players in Ohio in the class, as offensive tackle Ben Christman comes in at No. 6. In-state recruiting has always been a huge point of emphasis for Ohio State, and that has not changed under Ryan Day. Especially when you play in such a talent-rich region, hauling in the local guys is of large importance.
Even though he may not be as highly touted in this class as fellow 2021 wide receiver Emeka Egbuka, Ballard is no slouch by any means. Drawing a comparison to star NFL wide receiver Chris Godwin and getting early projections as a potential future Day 2 NFL Draft pick, here is what 247Sports national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu had to say of Ballard’s abilities:
“Has good height. Still needs to builk up, but is well developed in his lower body. Good athlete who also excels on the basketball court. Very natural pass catcher who can adjust to passes and make difficult grabs. Tracks the ball well in the air and wins in contested situations. Gets off the ground quickly and attacks passes at their highest point. Long-strider with solid timed speed. Can get down the field and take the top off a defense. Shows fluidity in his route running. Currently more of a deep ball threat than one who will make a ton of plays after the catch. Has to get stronger and keep working through the route tree, but a very talented athlete who can be a No. 1 receiver in college. Has the potential to develop into and NFL prospect.”
Unfortunately for Ballard, despite his clear talent, it will be incredibly tough for him to ever become a No. 1 receiver at a place as loaded at the position group like Ohio State is. The Buckeyes have the luxury of returning both of last year’s starting wide receivers in Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, who come into the 2021 season as likely the best duo in the country. They also have a ton of big names returning around them, including last year’s No. 3 guy in Jameson Williams as well as a pair of former five-star prospects in Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Julian Fleming who are both expected to play big roles in the new campaign.
In addition to the guys ahead of him, Ballard will also have to battle against fellow freshmen wide receivers in Egbuka and Marvin Harrison Jr. While he may never become the top guy in Columbus, he will certainly have a chance to become an integral part of Ohio State’s wide receiver rotation moving forward. You likely won't see Ballard on the field much this upcoming season outside of a few potential garbage time snaps, but his time will come if he is as good as his scouting report says. The Buckeyes basically have a wide receiver room made up entirely of guys who would be the best player on most other teams around the country, and Ballard is another one that fits that bill.