Buckeyes' Defensive Back Haul Still on Track to be the Nation's Top Unit for the 2017 Class and Potentially the Best of All Time

By Andrew Ellis on December 15, 2016 at 2:15 pm
The Buckeyes may now be the team to beat for five-star cornerback Darnay Holmes.
Darnay Holmes

It has been known for some time that Ohio State's 2017 group of defensive back signees could be one of the more special units in recent memory. We are now less than two months away from February's national signing day and somehow the defensive back outlook is even better than it was six months, one month, or even just two weeks ago.

On Monday, five-star cornerback Shaun Wade reaffirmed his commitment to Ohio State. If you can honestly say that you never had an ounce of doubt regarding his pledge to the Buckeyes, then props to you. Personally, I had been a bit worried for the past few months and it wasn't until the week or so leading up to the decision that those worries began to fade.

For some time now, it's just felt like something has to give in the Ohio State secondary. It's just not normal to sign that many four and five-star defensive backs. Wade seemed like the most likely option to bolt, and yet here we are. 

Secondary Snapshot
Prospect Measurables Rating Ranking Status
Jeffrey Okudah 6-foot-2, 190 pounds ★★★★★ No. 7 (#1 CB) Announcing on Jan. 7
Darnay Holmes 5-foot-10, 190 pounds ★★★★★ No. 12 (#2 CB) Announcing on Jan. 7
Shaun Wade 6-foot-1, 177 pounds ★★★★★ No. 22 (#4 CB) COMMITTED (1/12/15)
Isaiah pryor 6-foot-2, 195 pounds ★★★★ No. 48 (#5 S) COMMITTED (7/27/15)
Bubba Bolden 6-foot-3, 190 pounds ★★★★ No. 55 (#6 S) Announcing on Jan. 7
Amir Riep 5-foot-11, 185 pounds ★★★★ No. 125 (#14 CB) COMMITTED (7/23/16)
Marcus Williamson 5-foot-9, 180 pounds ★★★★ No. 141 (#16 CB) COMMITTED (4/18/15)
Kendall Sheffield 6-foot, 185 pounds ★★★★ No. 5 JUCO (#1 CB) No Announcement Set

The skepticism surrounding the Buckeyes' chances of signing six or perhaps even seven of the above defenders is likely for a number of reasons.

First of all, as we already pointed out, it's just not very common to sign that many high-caliber defensive backs. Alabama's 2014 and 2015 defensive back hauls were two of the better units we've seen lately. The 2014 class featured three signees – a pair of five-stars in Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey and four-star safety Hootie Jones. A year later, 2015 saw the Crimson Tide sign four defensive backs that were ranked as four-stars or higher. The class was led by five-stars Minkah Fitzpatrick and – ironically – Kendall Sheffield who has since moved on to Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. 

The Buckeyes are also expected to sign a bit of smaller class. Last year's haul ended up with 25 new signees, but this cycle is expected to be more in the 20-22 range. The good news for Greg Schiano and Kerry Coombs is that while the class is already sitting at 17 commitments, the majority of the position groups are already right where they need to be.

Ohio State's 2017 class doesn't need another quarterback, running back, or linebacker. Defensive back and defensive tackle are really the remaining priority units, and with 3-5 spots still available, that's where the focus is going to be for the next two months.

The argument in favor of this being a distinct possibility revolves around the recent success in the NFL Draft and the chance for early playing time in 2017. Bradley Roby and Eli Apple were both recent first-round picks at corner while safety Vonn Bell was selected in the second round by the New Orleans Saints. 

Draft experts are once again high on Ohio State's defensive backfield as Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley, and Malik Hooker will all three have decisions to make in the coming month. With the likelihood of early departures, there's a chance that Damon Webb could be the lone returning starter in the secondary. Denzel Ward has almost certainly done enough to secure one of the potentially vacant corner spots for 2017, but the chance for early playing time should be there for the taking.

So where do things stand right now?

Ohio State holds 96% of the crystal ball picks for Jeffrey Okudah and the two non-Buckeye selections are in favor of Stanford and Oklahoma. Both picks were submitted some time ago and likely just haven't been updated, though the Sooners were a contender at one point. 

There's not a whole lot left to say about the five-star from Grand Prairie, Texas. Maybe it is a little surprising that he hasn't made things official by now, but it never hurts to get some exposure during the Army All-American Bowl. Okudah is listed as a corner but really could play anywhere in the secondary. He will be a welcome addition when he enrolls in January. 

All eyes will be on San Antonio on Jan. 7th. Five-star Darnay Holmes and four-star Bubba Bolden are also expected to announce their decisions then. Holmes is a name we've been talking about ever since he was arguably the top player in attendance at the 2015 version of Friday Night Lights. It never really felt like Ohio State was the leader in the clubhouse, but the Buckeyes have always been mentioned as a top contender. 

Most pundits have had Holmes leaning toward the Bruins for some time now, but that all seems to have changed after a recent trip to Columbus and visit from Urban Meyer. Admittedly, this one seems a little bit like a reverse Baron Browning situation. If you recall, Alabama made a late push for Browning but the long-time favorite Buckeyes won out in the end. 

Is this one going to end up in a similar fashion, which would be bad news for Ohio State? It's possible, but there are some major differences with this one. Alabama wasn't even being mentioned in the Browning sweepstakes until about two weeks before his announcement. The Buckeyes have been a consistent contender for Holmes dating back to the spring of 2014 when they first offered. He's been to Columbus three or four times on his own dime and was in town on an official visit for the Michigan game.

The Cornhuskers are another team that has been mentioned, and their insiders seem to think the nation's No. 2 cornerback stays in sunny California. The recent crystal balls definitely disagree as the Buckeyes are surging with nine of the ten most recent picks for the early enrollee. 

Bubba Bolden's recruitment seems up in the air right now. The Buckeyes may have jumped out in front following his official visit for the Nebraska game, but lately USC – where he was once committed – has been trending. Wednesday night the four-star announced that he too will make the call in San Antonio, which is rather interesting since his USC official visit has yet to happen and wasn't scheduled to take place until after the dead period ends on Jan. 11.

It has been mostly quiet on the Kendall Sheffield front following last weekend's official visit to Texas A&M. The nation's top JUCO corner looks to be down to the Aggies and Buckeyes and a commitment could come any day now. Tom Herman is trying to make a late push for the Longhorns, but that seems unlikely at the moment.

He will have three years of eligibility remaining but very well could be a one-and-done type of player. The possible vacancies in the Ohio State secondary have to be appealing, but most seem to think he will stay closer to home and end up in College Station. 

It looks like a distinct possibility that Ohio State could sign three of the top-four cornerbacks in the country and three or four other players all ranked nationally in the Top 150. The best thing about the potential group is that at least three of them – Okudah, Wade, and Riep – have the ability to play corner or safety, and that's surely something the staff is using to their advantage on the recruiting trail. 

Jan. 7 should be a momentous day for what is already the best group of defensive backs we've seen in a single Ohio State recruiting class.

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