Welcome to the final installment of a 20-part series here at Land-Grant Holy Land — Freshman Focus. The summer months are here and we anxiously await the beginning of preseason camp, when this year’s crop of Buckeyes will be back hard at work preparing for the 2021 campaign. That being the case, we can now conclude introducing you to Ohio State’s incredibly talented freshman class. Each edition of Freshman Focus has highlighted one of the newest Buckeyes, and has hopefully provided a glimpse at what they will bring to the team in the coming years.
We have officially come to the end of previewing each and every one of Ohio State’s 2021 position player enrollees, and last but not least is Jaylen Johnson.
If you’ve missed any of the players in this series, be sure to check them out here.
There wasn’t a position that Ohio State brought in more players at than defensive backs, and there wasn't a state the Buckeyes drew more talent from than from obviously inside their our borders. Jaylen Johnson fits under both of these categories, as the Cincinnati, OH native comes to Columbus as the nation’s No. 29 safety and the No. 13 in-state player in the 2021 class. Posted at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, Johnson is listed as a defensive back — one of six for Ohio State in the class — but he could also play linebacker as a potential candidate for the bullet position at the next level.
Johnson committed to the Buckeyes back on Jan. 7, 2020, and stayed true to his roots for the long haul right through signing day this past December. A three-star talent, the La Salle product collected over a dozen offers during the recruiting process, mostly from programs around the area such as Cincinnati, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Penn State, West Virginia and more. While the Bearcats seemed to be a real threat to Ohio State even after Johnson had committed, it was clear right from the Buckeyes’ initial offer that they were a program that Johnson held in high regard, and in the end he proved that by signing on the dotted line.
Johnson was a big time standout at La Salle, and was recognized for his efforts after being name to the 2020 Ohio MaxPreps all-state football team as well as earning the GCL co-Defensive Back of the Year and becoming a first-team Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Division II All-Southwest District selection. Before a strong 55-tackle campaign for the Lancers in his senior campaign, Johnson helped lead La Salle to a state championship trophy in 2019 with his 61 tackles and one forced fumble. That season, his team allowed just 10.6 points per game while posting three shutouts.
While the accolades speak for themselves, Johnson’s talent at the back end of the defense really shows itself in his highlight tape as well:
The addition of Johnson gave Ohio State six of the top 13 in-state players in the 2021 class, including five of the top six Ohio prospects and each of the top four. Johnson was the second-highest rated defensive back from within state lines, with the only player ranked above him being former OSU commit Devonta Smith — no, not that Devonta Smith — who ended up committing to Alabama. The Buckeyes have had to go outside their own borders to find the real top-tier corners and safeties in these last few recruiting classes, but they will be hoping Johnson can develop into a productive home-grown talent.
As previously mentioned, Johnson added a bunch of size later in his high school career, which has opened the door for him to play at linebacker or potentially thrive in Ohio State’s new bullet position. Earning a comparison to Pittsburgh Steelers safety Marcus Allen, here is what 247Sports national recruiting analyst Allen Trieu had to say of Johnson’s abilities:
“Went from 175-pound safety as he started getting recruited to a 200-pound defender as a senior who could play a hybrid role. Still capable of playing in space and covering receivers, but could also play in the box and be like an extra linebacker. Also effective as a blitzer. Lined up like a MIKE at times also. Shows burst and short-area explosion. Hits with power as well. Was able to run plays down which showed he has the speed to play strong safety or as a hybrid in college. Long-term, growing into linebacker is not out of the question though.”
We have been promised the bullet for about two years now, but after a change to the base defense and a first look at defensive alignments in the Spring Game, it appears as though we will actually see the hybrid linebacker/safety position used regularly in 2021. To this point, we hadn’t seen Ohio State actively recruit players that would fit into this role, since it wasn’t a real big part of their defense just yet. Johnson appears to be one of the first true ‘bullet’ recruits, outside of Kourt Williams from the 2020 class.
Guys like Williams, alongside likely starting bullet Craig Young and other hybrid-type players like Ronnie Hickman or Lathan Ransom, will be Johnson’s biggest roadblock to playing time in his first year on campus. Young has been patiently waiting his turn to get on the field and had drawn a ton of praise during spring camp, while a healthy Williams could be an X factor for the Ohio State defense. Three-star recruits aren’t really expected to see the field that often in year one, but that doesn’t mean Johnson can't earn himself some reps late in games as one of the few players on the roster truly built for the position.