From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about players to watch this upcoming season. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”Player to Watch” articles here.
Kenyatta Jackson committed to Ohio State as a top-5 true edge rusher (in the 2022 class) but did not enroll until June of last year. This put him slightly behind the 8-ball, similar to what we saw with J.T. Tuimoloau prior to his freshman season.
Also working against Jackson was his own body. He weighed 235 pounds coming out of high school, and on his legit 6-foot-5 frame, there was literally not enough meat on the bone. He needed to bulk up, which is something he clearly prioritized as he sat, learned, and developed behind Zach Harrison, Tuimoloau, and others.
Now weighing in at 250+ pounds, Jackson looks the part of a fearsome pass rusher, as well as an integral part of the Buckeyes’ 2023 defensive line rotation.
Without putting too much on the guy, Jackson now resembles Chase Young: tall, broad shoulders, big ol’ biceps on his long arms, you get the picture. And he played/practiced a lot like Young throughout the entire spring.
First, Jackson was credited with two sacks and drew a holding penalty on March 25, during OSU’s first open practice. Then, during the team’s student appreciation day scrimmage, he was credited with a strip sack and made frequent visits to the backfield. Finally, on April 15, he was one of five Buckeyes credited with a sack in the Buckeyes’ annual spring game. That sack total alone (four) would have put him in a tie for third on last year’s team!
Now, we should probably acknowledge a few things here: Jackson was going against a new offensive line, in a controlled setting, and got to the quarterback four times — out of 100+ reps, I’m sure. So I don’t want to overreact, but I also can’t help myself. Which is why I would be shocked and disappointed if we do not see Jackson on the field consistently this season. Especially for a team that lacked edge pressure(s) in 2022.
Because Jackson committed to Ohio State as a top-60 overall recruit, he seemed like a player who could make early contributions as a situational pass rusher. And with (at least) adequate size, long arms, and plenty of bend, I honestly expected him to see the field before Caden Curry. Then, as the season went along and OSU struggled to get pressure, I said to myself: “Please, for the love of Vernon Gholston, give me somebody in this rotation with a little juice.” But it just never happened for Jackson, and he failed to see game action post-Rutgers (10/1).
Then came offseason transfer rumors, which were admittedly never given legs by Jackson or Ohio State. But they did exist, and some fans became worried. Fortunately, all appears to be going quite well on the Jackson front, as he has been making serious noise for Larry Johnson, Jim Knowles, and the Buckeyes’ defense in general.
Ohio State defensive end Kenyatta Jackson sacks quarterback Devin Brown, who is chased to the endzone by defensive tackle Tyleik Williams. pic.twitter.com/jgupAcIzBO— Lantern Sports (@LanternSports) April 1, 2023
Now this super sophomore appears poised to (finally) play a major role. And the timing could not be better. Because not only does OSU need a boost in the pass rush, but the team also needs bodies at defensive end. Gone are Harrison and Javontae Jean-Baptise, both of whom played a ton of snaps in 2022 yet failed to produce much in the sack department. Jack Sawyer will presumably take over Harrison’s (DE) starting spot opposite Tuimolau, but depth, consistency, and production are still very sorely needed.
That is where Jackson comes in.
He (Jackson), along with Curry and Omari Abor, should give the Buckeyes a bunch of talented options to send at opposing quarterbacks. And Jackson seems to be the most dangerous of the bunch, even when taking into consideration Curry’s occasional flashes of brilliance last year.
Curry has the heart of a lion and might lead Ohio State in sacks in the future, but he still seems like a bit of a tweener to me. Jackson, on the other hand, was built in a football lab. If all three “backups” end up eating into the upperclassmen’s snaps, then so be it. Because OSU needs to put pressure on opposing QBs, and nobody should care where or who it comes from.
Keep an eye on Kenyatta Jackson in 2023, and do not be surprised if he begins to challenge Tuimolou or Sawyer for a starting role. That might sound blasphemous, but the two presumed starters – who I do fully expect to terrorize opponents – have only combined for 14 career sacks in Columbus.
So unless Chase Young himself walks back into The Woody, no current defensive lineman should be guaranteed a season-long gig, Tuimoloau and Sawyer included. But if Jackson is nipping at their heels, it likely means that Ohio State has a fearsome front four and not enough snaps to go around, which is ultimately a good problem to have.