The Buckeyes now have five of the nation's top defensive backs committed for the Class of 2017.
In the last week, Ohio State has seen four players elect to forego their remaining eligibility and move on to the NFL Draft. Two of those players – Gareon Conley and Malik Hooker – helped comprise one of the better secondaries in recent memory. While we still await an announcement from Marshon Lattimore, the good news is that help is on the way.
We've talked before about the potential for a historic defensive back class, and that certainly is coming to fruition. Even better news is that four of the five current pledges are set to arrive on campus this week.
Yesterday's commitment from Jeffrey Okudah, the nation's top-ranked corner, wasn't exactly a surprise to anyone who follows Buckeye recruiting. The five-star from Grand Prairie, Texas will make the trek to Columbus following the weekend's Army Bowl festivities, and he may be able to compete for a starting spot as a true freshman. He's long and athletic enough to see the field early on. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he should be able to play anywhere in the secondary.
It's likely too early to make any guesses about potential redshirts for 2017, but it would be pretty surprising if Okudah didn't see the field in some capacity next season. Denzel Ward should have one of the corner spots on lockdown, but if Lattimore does elect to leave, then Okudah could battle it out with the likes of Damon Arnette, Wayne Davis, and Rodjay Burns for the spot opposite Ward. He also could go up against Damon Webb, Jordan Fuller, Erick Smith, and Eric Glover-Williams for the vacant safety and/or nickel spots.
I made the best decision of my life today! #O-H
— Jeffrey Okudah III (@TheJeffOkudah) January 7, 2017
Jacksonville's Shaun Wade is also set to begin his college career this week. Ohio State battled Alabama and the Florida schools for the better part of two years after Wade committed back in January of 2015. At 6-foot-1 and 177 pounds, he's another corner who possesses great length. As with Okudah, it will likely be difficult to keep him off the field as a true freshman. While it's not easy to find long, athletic corners, Wade is another player who could move to safety if needed.
The nation's fifth-rated safety has been a part of the Buckeyes' 2017 class since July of 2015. When Isaiah Pryor arrives this week, he too will look to get a head start on the rest of the 2017 class as he looks for early playing time in the secondary. The Under Armour All-American looks to be the lone defensive back signee who was a true safety in high school.
The 6-foot-2 and 195-pounder has been one of two commits that have been mentioned as possible linebackers down the road. Olentangy Liberty athlete Brendon White seems to have already made the switch, and Pryor – who has become a bit of a forgotten man with all the Wade, Okudah, and Darnay Holmes talk – should start out at safety.
Marcus Williamson should also be able to provide some depth at corner. At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, the Westerville native doesn't have the size of Okudah or Wade, but he has great instincts and possesses the ability to stop the run. If Lattimore doesn't return, there are all kinds of question marks behind Denzel Ward. Damon Arnette had his ups and downs and will look to bounce back as a third-year sophomore. Rodjay Burns provided a pick-six in the season opener, but wasn't heard from much after that. Joshua Norwood hasn't been heard from much since enrolling in 2015, and Wayne Davis redshirted this past season.
The Buckeyes got a win over the Spartans when Cincinnati Colerain's Amir Riep sided with Kerry Coombs rather than heading north to East Lansing. While Riep won't be enrolling early, he too should provide some needed talent in the Ohio State secondary. The four-star is also versatile enough to end up at corner or safety.
The most immediate impact from all the newcomers may come from a prospect that hasn't yet committed to the Buckeyes. Kendall Sheffield is now virtually the only remaining defensive back target on Ohio State's radar, and the nation's top JUCO corner could move right into one of the starting corner spots.
After most thought Texas A&M would be the next destination for the one-time Bama signee, the Buckeyes are surging and now hold over 90% of the crystal ball picks. Sheffield could still enroll early, but without a decision date set, he may have to adjust those plans a bit. A win over the Aggies and Longhorns could give Urban Meyer an immediate starter in the secondary for 2017.
The loss of two or three starters in the defensive backfield will be a lot to overcome, but Ohio State will have a number of talented newcomers fighting for playing time on a team that could be poised for yet another playoff run.