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Buckeyes Crootin’ 2022 Class-In-Review: Defensive Athlete Sonny Styles

An in-depth look at one of Ohio State’s five-star freshmen.

Photo and Edit Credit: Ohio State Football

Sonny Styles, the player the Buckeyes went all-in on in a dog fight with the Notre Dame Fighting (and losing) Irish. It was a recruiting win many Buckeye fans were nervous would never occur — one that left many fans in Columbus crossing their fingers he would follow in his fathers legacy instead of heading to South Bend with his brother. When the dust settled, and early signing day had passed, Styles was committed and signed to be a Buckeye.

His father is Buckeye legacy Lorenzo Styles, who played linebacker for the Buckeyes from 1991-1994 and also went along to win a Super Bowl with the Rams. Sonny Styles was given his nickname from the famous Godfather character Santino “Sonny” Corleone for his fiery attitude as a kid. Lets hope that fiery attitude leads to some bone-crunching hits in his time in the Scarlet and Gray.

The positional flexibility on defense becomes exponentially more valuable with the Ohio State staff bringing in new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to run the defense. Nobody knows quite how that will look just yet in Columbus and who will be lining up where in his defense. This gives Coach Knowles some flexibility about where he will play Styles. He is an elite safety prospect, but with his length and size its also very possible he could be moved down to a linebacker position.

Wherever he ends up playing on that side of the ball, I have little doubts he will be an impact player who makes his presence felt — and felt rather quickly — when arriving to the practice facilities. He is a true chameleon in this regard, in the sense he can be disguised into any coverage or blitz without tipping the defenses hand too much because he can fulfill so many different roles to keep the offense guessing.

One of the things that pops on tape more than most is his pure physicality. He is the type of player you want to be that enforcer on defense. He lets the offense know he is there and he is going to be there all day long. If he plays safety at the next level, he will be a huge enforcer in the defensive backfield, with similar size to that of Notre Dame safety and projected first round pick Kyle Hamilton, who is 6-foot-4, 220 lbs. Styles comes in at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs, per his 247Sports profile, so they have nearly identical size profiles.

He can play as that jumbo sized safety or move down to linebacker and join CJ Hicks and Gabe Powers in creating an unbelievable linebacker class. He has absolutely vicious hit power when he is coming downhill at the ball carrier, and has caused more than a few forced fumbles on film from some bone-jarring hits delivered.

Ok now lets talk about his range, or in other words his ability to cover halves or in some cases the entire football field in coverage or defending against the run. He can cover ground in a hurry, and when he does so he does it under control and not recklessly. Its all very calculated and with a purpose. He is a hyper-intelligent defender who knows exactly where he is supposed to be on the field at all times. That is something the Buckeyes sorely need after all the confusion in coverages and linebackers looking lost this season. He is a coach out on the field, which is invaluable.

There are multiple examples on tape of him playing in that safety role where he is responsible for the hash mark to the boundary on his side of the field. After covering his zone perfectly, he breaks for the football with incredible speed and breaks up passes in areas he is not even supposed to be able to get to in his coverage responsibilities. Now that is not to say he just goes rogue and breaks away from his job on the field, it’s just he has that much speed and range to break away from his zone while the ball is in the air and still get to it to make a ridiculous pass break up or interception. He has those Malik Hooker instincts, just in a much much larger body.

His change of direction for a player of his size is elite, and he showcases the ability to cover even in man to man situations at his size. This will give Jim Knowles the luxury of showing simulated pressures and backing off into exotic coverages, or even sending Styles on blitzes that normally you wouldn't see from a player of his size. He is one of those truly special players that plays much faster than his size would lead you to believe.

His player comparison on 247Sports is that of Isaiah Simmons from Clemson and now of the Arizona Cardinals. That seems to be the go-to for players of his size that are also athletic freaks, but one that still in fact does his justice. He has the same athletic ability Simmons showed, and even more of a knack for laying big hits on his opponents. I think Styles is just a more physical version of Simmons who can project into even greater heights. As I stated earlier in this article, his positional flexibility is an absolute dream for a defensive coordinator.

His ball skills are also very impressive for someone who is not a primarily offensive player. In his tape, you can see he really does a great job at high-pointing the football in his catches and he has good technique catching the football as well, as I am sure he perhaps learned from his brother, Notre Dame wide receiver Lorenzo Styles. He also has great run after the catch ability on the turnovers he does force, becoming a chore to bring down when trying to return the turnovers for six the other direction.

I am not certain how early Styles will get on the field at Ohio State, but I know from day one he can be a contributor on special teams and perhaps even grab a larger role for himself if he shows out there. I do not think we will have to wait very long to see just how bright this young mans future is in Columbus, and I think we have a future top-10 NFL draft pick on our hands here in Styles. The key now is finding out where he will be playing on this defense, but wherever that may be at, with his athleticism, elite football IQ, and instincts that are bred from years of football study and experience, I have zero doubts he will be successful.

He is going to thrive in Columbus and get his own tree in Buckeye Grove one day.