With the Super Bowl now in the rear-view mirror, it really is the doldrums for football fans. The Buckeyes will begin spring practice in about a month, with the spring game scheduled for April 16. Then another lull until we start getting reports from August practices. Notre Dame on September 3! So, yes, I’m looking forward to the season and will conclude my “looking forward” series by examining the new players coming in.
The Ohio State recruiting class for 2022 isn’t as highly touted as the marvelous class of 2021, but it’s still a great one. That 2021 class was ranked 2nd nationally and had seven 5-star players among its 23 commits. For 2022, there are only 19 players, and the group is ranked at number 4. The average player rating in 2021 was 94.98, the highest in the Ryan Day, Urban Meyer era. But the 2022 average rating of 94.05 isn’t too shabby and among the highest in that same era.
I’m going to focus on the top-100 recruits because they’re the ones most likely to see some meaningful snaps this season. But you never know who’s going to emerge. There are always surprises.
New Buckeye defensive coordinator Jim Knowles will get some great talent in this class, starting with the two five-stars in the class – C.J. Hicks and Sonny Styles. As soon as he committed to Ohio State, Hicks became the unofficial leader of the recruiting class and number one cheerleader for the program. The top linebacker in the 2022 class and the seventh overall player (according to 247 Sports Composite), Hicks stands 6-3 and checks in at 215 lbs.
Let’s admit it: linebacking has been a real problem for the Buckeyes for several years now. Even with most of last year’s backers returning, Hicks has a good shot to get playing time. Of his stats, I was most impressed by the number of tackles for losses that he registered as a senior. He plays the game in the opponents’ backfield, and that’s been missing from the Buckeye defense. I see Steele Chambers as the #1 linebacker for 2022. After that, who knows? Cade Stover is apparently moving to the defense from tight end (though he’s still a tight end on the current OSU roster for 2022), and Cody Simon, Tommy Eichenberg, Palaie Gaoteote, and Teradja Mitchell are all back. Red-shirt freshman Reid Carrico will also be vying for a place on the field. A full room now, for sure, but C.J. Hicks adds some quality.
Ranked #12 nationally, safety Sonny Styles was also the top-rated player at his position. At 6-4, 215, Styles has the size to play safety, linebacker, or the hybrid Bullet. As is the case with linebacker, the defensive backfield can also use some help. Denzel Burke and Cam Brown look to be the starting corners. At safety, Ronnie Hickman returns after a strong 2021 season, and Cameron Martinez, Bryson Shaw, and Josh Proctor are back too. I imagine, though, that we’ll see plenty of Mr. Styles. He’s got the right stuff.
A couple of top-100 edge rushers will join the Buckeyes for 2022, Kenyatta Jackson (5th DE, 60th overall) and Omar Abor (6th and 63rd). In terms of size, they mirror each other at about 6-5, 240. Long arms, quick feet, speed to the passer. I look forward to seeing them play since their size is reminiscent of Chase Young. If only their play can remind us of him.
Gabe Powers wasn’t a top-100 guy; he, in fact, ranked 101 overall at any position. But he’s a four-star linebacker from nearby Marysville, Ohio, and may just get onto the field this year. Knowles’ specialty is coaching linebackers, so Powers might develop quickly.
Much of the mighty Ohio State offense will be back in 2022. C.J. Stroud and TreVeyon Henderson (and Miyan Williams) will be there. And the receivers are pretty set, with Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, and Emeka Egbuka. Three of the starting offensive linemen return, so we’re really only looking at starting vacancies at tight end and on the interior line.
Nevertheless, the first name that must be mentioned on offense is quarterback Devin Brown, from Draper, Utah. Brown was the 6th-ranked quarterback in the class and the 43rd player overall. With the departures of Quinn Ewers and Jack Miller, Stroud and Kyle McCord are the only quarterbacks around. Assuming that Stroud declares for the NFL draft after the 2022 season, Brown will be in position to battle McCord for the starting position in 2023. While he’ll probably play only a learner’s role this year, his presence is still extremely important.
As usual there are several wide receivers in the class, and two of them rank in the top 100 overall: Kaleb Brown and Kyion Grayes. They don’t have great size, but they do have plenty of speed and reliable hands. With the coaching that they’ll receive at OSU, they’re in line to be among the next great Buckeye receivers.
And we can’t overlook Tegra Tshabola. At 6-5, 344, the offensive tackle is hard to overlook. Tshabola is the 10th-ranked interior offensive lineman in the class and the 104th overall player.
The tight end position seems, to me, to be up for grabs. With Jeremy Ruckert (26 receptions in 2021) moving on and Cade Stover (five receptions) likely moving out of the tight end room, who’s left? Assuming that Stover does move to the defense, Gee Scott, Jr. and Mitch Rossi are the two experienced tight ends likely to become a starter. Scott had five receptions in 2021, for 42 yards, and Rossi, who came on strong (especially as a run blocker) toward the end of the season, had four catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. In the 2022 class the only tight end is three-star Bennett Christian from Acworth, GA. He’s got good size – 6-6, 235 – and maybe he’s in line for more action than we might think.
In terms of numbers, the 2022 class is on the small side, but there are surely some impact players. Most of them are currently enrolled at OSU, so we’ll get a good look at them in April at the spring game. I’m particularly interested in the defense. That’s where help is needed, and it seems to be the strength of the class.
By the way, two more defensive players will join the Bucks via the transfer portal. Linebacker DeaMonte Trayanum joins the team from Arizona State, where he saw limited action in 2021, playing in nine games and making two tackles. Safety Tanner McCalister followed Knowles from Oklahoma State to Columbus, and, if you follow Buckeye football at all, you’ll know that McCalister has been quite outspoken about what players and fans can expect from a Knowles-led defense. Playing in all 13 of the Cowboys’ games last season, McCalister made 39 total tackles, intercepted a pass, and had six pass breakups. I’m sure that we’ll see a lot of him in the defensive backfield this year.
That’s it. Lots of impressive bios here but also lots of question marks as we see how players will adjust to the program and to big time, Big Ten football.