Heat Check: Our Final 2017 Buckeye Recruiting Board Following a Busy Month of December

By Andrew Ellis on December 29, 2016 at 2:15 pm
The Buckeyes are trending in the right direction for five-star cornerback Darnay Holmes.
Darnay Holmes

Recruiting is all about momentum. Sometimes you're gaining it, sometimes you're losing it. What prospects are trending up with Ohio State? Let's take a look.

December was a big month for Ohio State on the recruiting trail, but brace yourselves: the stretch run is here and the next 4-5 weeks are bound to be filled with intrigue. 

The Buckeyes added a pair of linebackers as five-star Texan Baron Browning became commitment No. 16 and four-star Pete Werner hopped on board shortly thereafter. Ohio State also got some great news when five-star defensive back Shaun Wade reaffirmed his commitment. Browning and Wade both gave Urban Meyer two very big wins over Nick Saban's Crimson Tide.

The Buckeyes' class features 17 commitments and checks in at No. 2 in America behind Alabama. It's worth nothing that Ohio State only trails Bama by seven points despite having eight fewer commitments.

Outside of December's new additions and Wade news, the month's greatest intrigue swirled around a longtime five-star target that most had assumed would stay out West; a name that has skyrocketed up our recruiting board.

With only 4-6 spots remaining, some familiar (yet unlikely) names have surfaced once again. The month leading up to signing day is never without its twists, turns, smoke and mirrors.

JAY TUFELE DT 3 4 Utah•Michigan•USC
JAYLEN HARRIS WR 5 7 Tennessee•Penn State
THAYER MUNFORD OL 7 NA Kentucky•Pittsburgh
MARKQUESE BELL ATH 8 NA Maryland•Virginia Tech
GARY JOHNSON (JUCO) LB 11 NA Louisville•Miami

*Last month's version can be found HERE. 

Little more needs to be said about the top spot. It's still Jeffrey Okudah and he still will be committing to Ohio State on Jan. 7 at the Army All-American Bowl. He still has five little stars next to his name and he's still very, very good at football. 

Darnay Holmes has had an interesting recruitment. Ohio State seemed to be very much in the picture early on, but then most pundits suddenly stopped talking about the Buckeyes while schools like UCLA and Nebraska were believed to have taken over the top spots. The nation's No. 2 corner was in town for the Michigan game and received a visit from Urban Meyer shortly thereafter. 

The crystal ball has flipped in favor of the Buckeyes, and right now the dead period might be Ohio State's greatest ally. Holmes is also set to announce at the Army Bowl and it will almost assuredly be the Buckeyes or in-state Bruins. Urban Meyer may have the edge heading into the dead period, but can he hang on for another couple weeks?

Holmes and Okudah are both set to enroll early at their school(s) of choice. 

Defensive tackle may be the most important position remaining for the Class of 2017. Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage are both already in, but the Buckeyes are hoping to add a third. Ohio State made the top five for five-star Marvin Wilson, but LSU's decision to retain Ed Orgeron likely has the Tigers out in front. The nation's top tackle will announce his decision on signing day.

Utah's Jay Tufele continues to be the most likely addition at the position, but the Utes are going to be tough to beat for the state's top player. Michigan is still in the mix as are BYU and USC, but Ohio State and Utah appear to be in the best shape. Tufele made the trip to Columbus for the Michigan game and Larry Johnson stopped by and joined the family for church the following weekend. The Trojans will host the four-star on Jan. 20 and the Utes get the last crack on Jan. 27. 

Only two names remain on the offensive side of the ball, and it's a pair of Ohioans in two very different situations. 

Jaylen Harris has been offered by the Buckeyes and the state's top wideout will take his long-awaited official visit to Columbus on Jan. 20. Tennessee may be the only real competition and the Volunteers are set to host the four-star on Jan. 27, the weekend before signing day. 

Any chance Harris pulls a bit of shocker and ends up spending his college days in Knoxville? It seems unlikely, and we wouldn't be surprised if the Tennessee official never transpires. 

Massillon's Thayer Munford continues to be perhaps the most likely candidate to earn a late-in-the-process offer from the Buckeyes. After Jake Moretti bolted and elected to play for the Buffs, questions began to surface as to whether or not Ohio State would target another lineman. When Trey Smith committed to Tennessee earlier in the month, Munford became a very serious potential target. 

The Cincinnati native is likely someone the Buckeyes could secure even with an extremely late offer, so there's a chance the staff is waiting to see how the next couple weeks unfold before making a move. The four-star has a few things working in his favor. Greg Studrawa is a big fan, Ohio State currently only has two offensive linemen committed, and at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, he may be versatile enough to play guard or tackle. 

Kendall Sheffield, the nation's top JUCO corner, also had an interesting month. Most assumed the Missouri City, Texas product would be committed somewhere by now, but here we are in late December and the recruitment appears to be very much still up in the air. Ohio State and Texas A&M have been the favorites, but Tom Herman now has the Longhorns back in the picture. With no decision date set, this continues to be one worth monitoring even though the Buckeyes already have a loaded 2017 secondary haul.

The bottom four names on our board are admittedly unlikely to end up in Columbus. However, wild and crazy things tend to happen in the world of college football recruiting.

Bubba Bolden was a Buckeye lean for a while following his official visit, but things are now trending toward Southern Cal for the Bishop Gorman star. Xavier McKinney is a name that had been tossed around for a while, but the four-star appears destined for Clemson. Bolden will announce his commitment during the Army Bowl while McKinney will make his intentions known this weekend at the Under Armour All-America Game.

Four-star athlete Markquese Bell was set to announce his decision on Dec. 1 but elected to wait things out after his official visit for the Michigan game. It just feels like Bell wants in and was waiting (hoping) that something would change on the Ohio State side. He's a player who could end up at safety or linebacker, but the numbers crunch just hasn't worked out between the two parties. Maryland is expected to be the pick when he announces his commitment on Sunday. 

JUCO linebacker Gary Johnson is another long shot, but with Raekwon McMillan likely gone, the potential to bring in the country's top junior college inside linebacker has to be at least somewhat appealing. Johnson – a former Alabama pledge – has talked about visiting Ohio State in January. Pete Werner is expected to man the middle at some point during his career, but Johnson is a player that could see the field immediately. 

And there you have it, the eleven remaining names that we feel comprise the final Ohio State recruiting board for the Class of 2017. With Urban Meyer at the helm, anything is possible, and it definitely wouldn't be a shock if some new names surface between now and Feb. 1. 

As it stands, there's only a handful of spots remaining and the Ohio State faithful is hoping that the top two names on the board move over to the commit column on Jan. 7.

January will bring the aforementioned All-American games and a number of the nation's top prospects making their announcements. The recruiting dead period ends on Jan. 11 and then a final round of official visits will take place before the first Wednesday in February.

As with every year, the next month will be fun to follow as the Buckeyes chase Bama for the nation's top class. 

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