One of the program’s best ever, the 2021 Ohio State football recruiting class finished up ranked No. 2 in the nation. When Quinn Ewers changed his classification from 2022 to 2021, that move gave the Buckeyes their seventh five-star recruit in the class. A crazy number, 14 of the players were ranked in the top 100 overall (regardless of position) by 247Sports. With those credentials coming into the program, these players bring along high expectations.
Ewers is gone, of course, and several of the members of the class became stars during their freshman year and now are household names among Buckeye fans. Perhaps the biggest surprise, Denzel Burke was rated as the 8th-best cornerback in the class, and he ended up as the Bucks’ top defensive back, playing 731 defensive snaps (according to Eleven Warriors). On the other side of the ball, five-star TreVeyon Henderson quickly won the starting running back position and set Buckeye records for freshman runners.
I’ve spoken elsewhere about the wide receivers in the class, about their contributions in 2021 and their enormous promise for 2022 and beyond. There’s no doubt that Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka are headed for Buckeye stardom. We’ll see about Jayden Ballard; he played too little, really, to get a handle on him. We saw plenty, too, of five-star quarterback Kyle McCord, playing both in a backup role to C.J. Stroud and as a starter against Akron. McCord’s got the right stuff, and it’s comforting to have him in the wings.
As happens every year, a large number of Ohio State starters are headed off to the NFL with the 2022 draft at the end of April. Their departure, of course, will create some position openings and opportunities for members of that stellar 2021 class to demonstrate that their lofty reputations were well-deserved. I’ll start with the defense because (obviously) that’s where help is most immediately needed.
Defensive end Zach Harrison says that he’ll return for another year, but Haskell Garrett, Antwuan Jackson and Tyreke Smith will depart. These players were in on a lot of plays for the Buckeyes this past year. Smith played 443 defensive snaps, Garrett 392, and Jackson 310. Three members of the 2021 class should be able to step in and just maybe have breakout seasons in 2022.
Interior defensive lineman Tyleik Williams was one of my favorite OSU players in 2021. A large man, Williams is also quick and mobile. He played only 183 defensive snaps, but registered 16 total tackles, six and a half of which were for losses, five of which were sacks. Williams proved tough to block and looks to fill the space vacated by Garrett and Jackson.
On the outside, we have two genuine blue-chippers from the class: J.T. Tuimoloau, who was the fourth-ranked overall player in 2021, and Jack Sawyer, who was fifth. Both saw a fair amount of playing time in 2021, and they played when game outcomes were still in doubt, not just in mop-up roles. I must say, however, that neither of them struck me as the next Chase Young. At the same time, neither did Young himself in his first year in scarlet and gray.
Tuimoloau was in on 285 defensive plays and made 17 total tackles. He had four and a half tackles for loss and two and half sacks. Not bad numbers, but he never seemed like a “presence” on the defense. He was a late arrival, not practicing in the spring, and maybe there was too much expected of him in year one, but I'm looking for more. 2022 will be his year. He’ll have to share playing time with Sawyer and Harrison, but I see him disrupting opponents’ passing games the way that Young and the Bosas did. Clearly, the Buckeye pass rush hasn’t been its usually fierce self lately.
I thought that Sawyer actually looked better when he was in the game. I know that the thing that sticks out from the past season is probably his getting ejected from the Rose Bowl for targeting, but his play was pretty solid throughout the year. For his 173 snaps, Sawyer was credited with 13 total tackles and three sacks. He, too, has an opportunity this coming year to live up to his reputation.
Moving Steele Chambers and Cade Stover from their offensive positions to linebacker suggests strongly that help is needed there. Teradja Mitchell will be returning for yet another season, and the other linebackers that saw significant time in 2021 will be back for 2022.
The only linebacker in the 2021 recruiting class was four-star Reid Carrico. Carrico was a top-100 player and the 9th-ranked linebacker. He played in only four Ohio State games in 2021, maintaining his red-shirt status, but he made three tackles during his 19 plays. With the position still in a kind of disarray, I would think that the opportunity is there for Carrico to make a run for a big increase in playing time.
Burke will be back next year, of course, as will Cameron Brown. Ryan Day has announced that Sevyn Banks is moving on the from the program, so there will likely be at least one starting position up for grabs. Jakailin Johnson and Jordan Hancock were two highly-touted cornerbacks in the 2021 class. They were ranked third and fifth, respectively, at their position. They didn’t play much in 2021, so I’m hoping to see them in coverage during the spring game and in the fall.
On offense? Clearly, we’ve already seen what the 2021 offensive five-stars can do, except for Donovan Jackson. Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere will be moving on to the NFL. Among last year’s starting linemen, center Luke Wypler will be back and so will Paris Johnson. Dawand Jones has announced he will return as well. Even so, there’s room for Donovan Jackson
Jackson was the top-rated interior offensive lineman nationally in the 2021 class. He’s 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, and I think that he’s mobile enough to be just what the Buckeyes need on the line. If you noticed, there wasn’t much substitution on the offensive line during the season. The five starters played – at least until the Bucks were up by 40, or so. Jackson played on 103 snaps, and I admit that I never really focused on his play. As one of the stars of his recruiting class, however, he needs to step up. There’s a new line coach, and Jackson needs to impress him right away and get into the starting lineup.
So, that’s it. It’s time for these guys with the big reputations, the big promise, to get into the games and dominate. Their time is now.