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Drawing up a perfect finish for Ohio State’s 2022 recruiting class on defense

Looking at who the Buckeyes would love to add towards the rest of the 2022 haul on the defensive side of the ball

NCAA Football: Big Ten Conference Media Days Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

In Friday’s column, the topic of discussion was on Ohio State’s 2022 recruiting class and the haul of players committed at this point on the offensive side of the ball. I discussed who the Buckeyes could end up with as a “perfect ending” to the class on that side of the ball, despite most position groups being filled. In today’s column, I will take the same concept, but with a focus on the defensive side of the ball, where things are much more open-ended as to what could happen the rest of the way before the class is full. Let’s dive right in.

As mentioned last week, the Buckeyes currently have 17 players committed in their 2022 class. Overall, it’s pretty balanced in terms of the number of offensive and defensive players, Ohio State at the moment has ten players on the offensive side of the ball — with only the offensive line still needing to be addressed — and seven players committed on the defensive side. Where this will get interesting is in estimating how many players in total the staff will take, and then figuring out how that works positionally.

In doing some rough math, say Ohio State adds another two offensive linemen in the class and caps that side of the ball there. That would give the Buckeyes 19 guys committed and without going too depth with scholarship number research on the current roster, the rough estimate will be that they take no more than 24 players total. Ryan Day and Ohio State in general aren’t the type to pull an SEC style move where they over-sign, but with only 22 commits taken last year in 2021’s cycle and for the sake of this study, the number to stick with is 24 overall. Sure, this could end up not being the case, but for now it works.

So, without further hesitation, let’s jump right in with the position statuses and who would be the players to help make a perfect finish for an already stellar 2022 recruiting class.


Defensive Secondary - Cornerback

Starting with the defensive secondary, this position group is really split into two categories; the cornerback and safety positions. Since Ohio State has four cornerbacks already in the fold, let’s start with that specific group and what the Buckeyes will be doing from here on until their guys are signed.

Simply put, with four true cornerbacks in the class right now, the position group is full. Any more than four guys really seems to be like a bit of overkill to be honest. After taking five defensive backs last year in 2021 and obviously addressing corners specifically, Ohio State really doesn’t need a fifth in this class and will stand pat unless one of the current commits rescinds on his commitment causing the Buckeyes to look elsewhere to fill their void.

Currently, the cornerback class is in an incredible spot. With the nation’s fifth best corner in the class Jaheim Singletary starting the list, you can’t really ask for much more from Kerry Coombs and Matt Barnes in terms of landing an elite top national player at a position of major importance.

However, the good fortunate for Ohio State continues when you add in the ninth best corner Terrance Brooks, the 16th best corner Jyaire Brown, and the 35th best corner Ryan Turner to the class overall as well.

Giving the staff four corners all within the top-35 at the position — and Turner being due for a boost in rankings — has to give the notion that this haul will set them up beautifully in the near future. Cornerback is set.


Defensive Secondary - Safety

Onto the other part of the secondary, the safety position is probably more interesting considering Ohio State is still heavily recruiting multiple candidates to fill their needs. With only Kye Stokes currently committed to play at safety, Barnes and Coombs have some work to do to close this group out. Stokes being ranked as the 30th best athlete in the class shows his versatility, but it’s the secondary that is his likely destination when he arrives in Columbus. Fortunately, Ohio State is in great position for their top targets to finish the safety class.

The Buckeyes will probably want to take two more safeties in the class and with their two highest targeted players still out there, the perfect finish for Ohio State is landing both of Xavier Nwankpa and Zion Branch.

Starting with Nwankpa, Xavier is the top player in Iowa for the 2022, but specifically is ranked as the fifth best safety in the class. On everyone’s radar, Ohio State has made it clear how much of a priority he is for their class and exactly what role he would play in their secondary.

Coming off of his visit in June, the Buckeyes are still in solid position for Xavier and have the only crystal ball prediction in their favor. Still though, they’ll need to fend off Notre Dame to receive his commitment. Thankfully, currently committed Buckeye like C.J. Hicks and Kyion Grayes have formed a great bond with Xavier and are doing some recruiting of their own to make sure that he is part of the class. Right now, it looks promising.

Moving on to Zion Branch, the Bishop Gorman product checks in as the fourth best safety in the class and for some time now has been linked to Ohio State in a way that certainly gives off the vibe that he is a very realistic possibility for this class. Down to likely USC and the Buckeyes, Branch has crystal ball predictions submitted for both schools, but it’s Ohio State that has the edge, and more importantly the submissions from the most respected analysts.

Taking into consideration what Ohio State has done with players from the Las Vegas prep program in the past and making a great impression on Zion’s younger brother Zachariah in the 2023 class, this recruitment is trending well, but of course the work is not over until the commitment is real.

What Ohio State wants more than anything is to land both Branch and Nwankpa. The staff has explained to each of them exactly how they fit into the team’s plans, and while other programs will certainly try and get into their heads with the ideas of there being too many guys already committed in this class for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have done their due diligence in stating how both will play different roles in addition to why they are major priorities.

The perfect finish in the secondary is to land these two blue-chippers and that’s a very possible outcome.


Defensive Line

Just calling it like it is, the defensive line is literally wide open in terms of being a position where work is yet to be done. As crazy as it sounds, the Buckeyes are without a single commit along the defensive line in the 2022 class and that’s pretty wild considering how much success this staff typically has led by the efforts Larry Johnson.

Should the staff be worried about their current status? Absolutely not.

By the time this class is signed, there will surely be multiple guys in the fold and thanks to Ohio State sitting comfortably for a couple of their top targets, here is a look at three candidates who would be both big time additions and also very realistic possibilities.

Chris McClellan. The name that has been the most prevalent as of late is Oklahoma native Chris McClellan. The player that is thought by most to be the first domino to fall for the defensive line, McClellan has made it no secret how much he likes Ohio State and how successful his visit in June was with the staff, specifically Johnson.

It’s a bit of a surprise that he’s not yet committed when you see how vocal he is about the Buckeyes, but Chris is still a very real possibility and as the 91st overall player in the nation in addition to being the 17th best defensive linemen, Ohio State will wait it out as they try to land another Owasso, Okla. product.

Caden Curry. Next on the list of big time players who are very realistic options for OSU is the 6-foot-5, 250 pound Indiana native Caden Curry. Recently dropping his top five schools list, Ohio State has long been in the thick of it for Curry. Ranked as the 69th best player nationally and the 11th best player on the defensive line, Caden would fill a need on the interior and also be another notch in the belt for Ohio State as the top program in the Midwest, pulling whomever they want out of another regional state.

Yet to have an announcement, Ohio State will have to continue their recruiting efforts, but at least they currently have the lead in the 247sports crystal ball.

Enai White. Wrapping up with the third candidate for a perfect finish for Ohio State and their 2022 defensive line haul is the 4-star Pennsylvania native Enai White. The third ranked edge rusher in the class, White is also considered to be the 36th best player in the country.

Once again, you can thank Larry Johnson and Enai’s June visit for why this is becoming more of an option. What started off as looking like a sure SEC candidate, the Buckeyes have gained serious traction in this recruitment where analysts in the know have given Ohio State the edge in some cases, and have said one time leaders such as Alabama and Georgia may now be trailing for his services.

This recruitment will be one of those good old fashioned slobber knockers, but the key in this one — like most elite defensive line recruitments goes — is having Larry Johnson. Ohio State will have to fend off the SEC powers, but White would be a perfect finishing touch and would make total sense as the lone edge rusher in the class following the 2021 haul that brought in both Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau.

Ohio State may be able to take more, but in sticking with the number 24 for this class, two guys on the interior and one on the outside makes sense for the defensive line.


Linebacker

Ironically, the linebacker position is the spot on defense that saw the most action early on in the 2022 cycle. Having two in-state stars already in the fold, the Buckeyes are in great shape thanks to both C.J. Hicks and Gabe Powers. Sure, the de-commitment of Dasan McCullough hurt, but losing him makes total sense when considering the reason was to play for his dad and with his brothers at Indiana.

Since that loss though, this position group has felt like it’s been set for sometime. In doing so, it allows the other defensive areas to have a bit more room in terms of numbers and flexibility, which is why two for the secondary and three for the defensive line just kind of fit to get to the theoretical total of 24 players committed in the class.

Hicks being ranked as the second best linebacker in the class and the 16th best player nationally is a huge feat, but having Powers committed as well just further proves Al Washington’s chops on the trail.

No slouch of his own, Gabe checks in as the fifth best backer in the country and the 48th best player nationally. With these two in, the Buckeyes look to be done, but they’ll really have to get after it in the 2023 class to help reload the depth of the room.


Summary

All in all, adding two safeties and three defensive linemen rounds the class out to 24 total potential signees. That is typically about as big of a class as Ohio State takes. There could absolutely be some fluctuation in how this plays out, but it seems like a pretty safe way to tally up how the rest of the class could unfold.

Considering the names, if Ohio State ends up with this hypothetical haul to go along with the already committed prospects, you’d almost have to think this is the cycle that finally gives the Buckeyes the illustrious recruiting national championship.