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Looking back at the 2020 Ohio State recruiting class: The Starters

Some players have already departed for the NFL, but many quality players are on the roster for the 2023 season.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Every day from now until the start of the season, Land-Grant Holy Land is highlighting Ohio State football players that you should be watching this season. Check out all of our ”Player to Watch” articles to get ready for the season opener against Indiana.

Part one of this series focused on players who were a part of the 2020 Ohio State recruiting class who have since departed the program. Part two focused upon players who signed with Ohio State in 2020, and have been able to contribute over the past few seasons. This final edition is going to identify those players who signed with Ohio State in 2020, and have since emerged as starters.

As I did in parts one and two of the series, I will address each player in order of when that particular player verbally committed to the Buckeyes.

  1. Paris Johnson - Offensive Tackle

Talk about a recruitment that had Ohio State fans on pins and needles. Johnson verbally committed to Ohio State when Urban Meyer was the head coach, then understandably wanted to reassess his options after Ryan Day was named Ohio State’s head coach.

Fortunately for Ohio State, Ryan Day was able to convince Paris Johnson to stick with his original verbal commitment, and Johnson signed on the dotted line at Cincinnati Princeton High School to become a Buckeye. Named a consensus All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation, Football Writers Association of America, and American Football Coaches Association, Johnson graduated in three years with his degree in Journalism.

Johnson declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, and was selected in the first round by the Arizona Cardinals as the 6th player overall.

2. Luke Wypler - Center

It is difficult not to pine for Luke Wypler to be on this year’s team, as Wypler declared for the 2023 NFL Draft with two years of eligibility remaining. Signed out of St. Joseph Regional in New Jersey, Wypler emerged as the starting center in 2021 after redshirting in 2020, and helped to anchor an offensive line that was arguably the nation’s most dynamic offenses for the past two years.

In the 2023 NFL Draft, Wypler was picked in the sixth round by the Cleveland Browns as the 190th overall selection.

3. Jaxon Smith-Njigba - Wide Receiver

If Ohio State fans are going to be wondering about what kind of impact Wypler might have had on this year’s team, Ohio State fans only need to look back to the 2022 season to know what the absence of Jaxon Smith-Njigba had on that year’s team.

Coming off the 2021 season that saw Smith-Njigba catch 95 passes for 1,606 yards, including a spectacular 15 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the 2022 Rose Bowl, Ohio State fans were naturally excited about what kind of performance Smith-Njigba might have for the 2022 season.

Sadly, Ohio State fans were left to ponder what might have been, as “JSN” sustained a nagging hamstring injury in the 2022 season opener versus Notre Dame that essentially ended his career as a Buckeye. Fortunately, Smith-Njigba was able to rehab his injury throughout the offseason, and impressed the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks to pick him in the first round as the 20th selection overall.

4. Julian Fleming - Wide Receiver

Considered by recruiting analysts to be the best high school wide receiver in the nation when Ohio State signed him in 2020 out of Southern Columbia in Catawissa, Pennsylvania, Fleming has had an up and down career for the Buckeyes. Fleming played sparingly during the shortened 2020 season, and battled injuries that saw him catch 12 passes for 86 yards and 1 touchdown in 2021. In 2022, Fleming had a solid year that saw him catch 34 passes for 533 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Fleming has two years of eligibility remaining, and it will bear watching to see what decision he makes after the 2023 season.

5. Ty Hamilton - Defensive Line

Signed out of Pickerington Central High School, Hamilton is the younger brother of former Ohio State defensive lineman DaVon Hamilton. Hamilton emerged as a starter along the interior of Ohio State’s defensive line the last five games of the 2022 season, and will be projected to start for the Buckeyes in the 2023 season.

Hamilton will have two years of eligibility remaining after the 2023 season.

6. Cody Simon - Linebacker

Signed out of St. Peter’s Prep in New Jersey, Simon played in six games on special teams during the 2020 season, then started 10 games during the 2021 season. Injuries impacted the latter portion of Simon’s 2021 season, which opened the door for Tommy Eichenberg to emerge and claim the starting middle linebacker position.

While not expected to start in 2023, Simon will have opportunities to contribute this upcoming season in the linebacker rotation, and will have eligibility remaining for the 2024 season.

7. Josh Fryar - Offensive Tackle

Fryar has emerged as a probable starter for one of the vacant offensive tackle positions. Signed out of Beech Grove, Indiana, Fryar has been a valuable utility player along the offensive line over the past two seasons. Many had believed Fryar would be the starter at left tackle, but recent news coming out of fall camp has Fryar as the starter at the right tackle position. No matter which side of the line, Fryar started last year for Ohio State versus Indiana, and will be a starter for the Buckeyes in 2023.

After the 2023 season, Fryar will have two years of eligibility remaining.

8. Lathan Ransom - Safety

Ransom has emerged as one of the leaders of the Ohio State secondary over the past two seasons. Signed out of Salpointe Catholic in Tucson, Arizona, Ransom emerged as a starter during the latter portion of the 2021 season. Coming off a gruesome injury in the 2022 Rose Bowl, Ransom wound up starting nine games in the 2022 season, ranked third on the team with 74 tackles, and was a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award. Ransom was also an effective punt blocker, blocking two punts in 2022 (Indiana, at Maryland).

Ransom will have a year of eligibility remaining after the 2023 season.

9. Miyan Williams - Running Back

Williams was originally verbally committed to Iowa State, but Ohio State was able to get in on him late in the recruiting process, and Williams became a Buckeye instead of a Cyclone. Signed out of Cincinnati Winton Woods, Williams is a tough back between the tackles for the Buckeyes, yet capable of breaking long runs, as he demonstrated versus Rutgers in 2022. It is because of these considerable talents that I labeled Miyan Williams as a “Player To Watch”.

While Williams will have eligibility remaining after the 2023 season, it is considered likely that Williams will declare for the 2024 NFL Draft.

10. C.J. Stroud - Quarterback

The last player to sign during the early recruiting signing period out of Rancho Cucamonga in California, Stroud became one of the best quarterbacks in Ohio State football history in only two years of starting. Stroud was second in the nation in passing efficiency (186.6) in 2021, and first (177.7) in the 2022 season. It would take up nearly a page to see all of the records set by C.J. Stroud during the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Stroud was a Heisman Trophy finalist both in 2021 and 2022, and declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, where he was picked in the first round by the Houston Texans as the second selection overall.

11. Cameron Martinez - Safety

Technically the last player to sign with Ohio State in February of 2020, Martinez had actually been a verbal commitment to the Buckeyes since the summer of 2019. Martinez reopened his recruitment after Jeff Hafley left Ohio State to become the new head coach at Boston College, and Martinez decided to stick with his Ohio State commitment after meeting with the then-newly hired replacement, Kerry Coombs.

Martinez was a do-it-all offensive player for his high school team in Muskegon, Michigan, and transitioned to defense full time after signing with the Buckeyes. Martinez has started three games for Ohio State, and will be in the rotation for the secondary this upcoming season. Martinez will have two years of eligibility remaining after the 2023 season.

11 players emerged as starters out of 25 players signed, or 44%, so better than the “Rule Of Thirds” when contemplating starters for a given recruiting class. Factor in the number of players on this list who still have eligibility remaining, plus the number of players who are contributors who have eligibility remaining, and it would be fair to say that Ohio State did very well with their 2020 recruiting class.

The upcoming 2023 season will provide these players an opportunity to add to an already impressive legacy.