Twists and Turns: Sorting Out Ohio State's 2018 Defensive End Recruiting

By Andrew Ellis on September 19, 2017 at 1:15 pm
A lot is yet to unfold for Larry Johnson and the Buckeyes.

The names remain the same. A lot has changed.

The Buckeyes are hoping to sign three defensive ends in the 2018 class. Five-star Brenton Cox is already in the fold, and that is obviously a tremendous start for Larry Johnson. The remaining targets have become household names, but their recruitments are becoming more and more difficult to read. 

Why is this perhaps the most important position for the entire 2018 recruiting cycle?

The depth chart is going to go through a major overhaul following this season with the departures of Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes, and likely Sam Hubbard. That means 2018 will feature the trio of Nick Bosa, Jonathon Cooper, and Chase Young. Each one of them was a five-star prospect in high school, but the position as a whole will need to be replenished in a big way.

Prospect Hometown Measurables Rating Pos. Rank Nat. Rank
MICAH PARSONS Harrisburg, PA 6-foot-3, 235 pounds ★★★★★ No. 1 WDE No. 5
TYREKE SMITH Cleveland, Ohio 6-foot-3, 260 pounds ★★★★ No. 4 WDE No. 62
JAYSON OWEH Blairstown, NJ 6-foot-5, 236 pounds ★★★★ No. 7 SDE No. 158

A month ago it legitimately looked like Ohio State could snag all of the above names to go along with Cox. Four defensive ends would certainly be a lot and that would potentially go down as the best haul of all time. Was the thought of this happening a bit ridiculous? Perhaps, but there was plenty reason for optimism. 

Fast forward to mid-September and there's some growing concern that the exact opposite could happen and the Buckeyes may miss on each of the three.

The case of Micah Parsons is likely the most complicated one of the bunch. The five-star was a Penn State commit all the while issuing non-stop praise to the Buckeyes on social media. When he backed off of his Nittany Lion pledge, most thought Ohio State was in line to eventually grab another of the country's top players. 

Parsons was in Columbus for the Oklahoma game — his official visit — and then took to Twitter to proclaim that Dwayne Haskins should be Ohio State's starting quarterback. It's unknown how the Ohio State staff felt about the tweet, though Meyer was certainly aware of it. Either way, it would appear that there are still some concerns amongst the staff and this one is likely trending away. 

The country's No. 5 prospect was in Happy Valley last weekend for an unofficial visit and things appeared to go well as Parsons hung out with several familiar faces – including four-star teammate Shaquon Anderson-Butts – who will be playing for James Franklin next year.

The crystal ball has been a bit funky lately with a Nebraska submission from Steve Wiltfong – who is always worth paying attention to – but that pick was recently moved back to the Nittany Lions. Penn State is now the crystal ball leader after the Buckeyes held that honor for several months. There are concerns on the Penn State side as well, so both coaching staffs will likely be keeping a close eye on the Harrisburg star.

The Buckeyes have commitments from three of the state's top five prospects, and they're hoping Jackson Carman and Tyreke Smith will round things out. We've talked before about Smith and how his situation is a tad different since he's not a native Ohioan. The family has West Coast ties and he's actually fresh off an official visit to USC where he was able to watch a fantastic game between the Trojans and Longhorns. 

Smith is slated to be in Columbus for an official visit on Oct. 28 when the Buckeyes host the Nittany Lions. Perhaps the most concerning part is that the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder has multiple visits scheduled with Penn State including his last official visit on Dec 8. The last two crystal ball submissions – including one from the aforementioned Wiltfong – have been for the folks in State College. 

He's already taken countless trips to Ohio State, but perhaps we have been underestimating Penn State in this one. James Franklin prioritized the Cleveland (Heights) star well before the Buckeyes even offered, and Smith has taken about a half dozen trips to Happy Valley. He's scheduled to announce on Jan. 4 at the Under Armour All-America Game. 

The first week of January is going to be a big one for the two Big Ten foes as four-star Jayson Oweh is also scheduled to announce his decision at the Under Armour event. Oweh burst onto the scene this past spring with some impressive testing numbers that prompted several programs to come calling. A decision was thought to be on the horizon this summer, but the Big Ten powers (and Notre Dame) are going to have to wait things out a bit. 

In his 2017 season opener, Oweh recorded 11 tackles, four sacks, blocked a punt, forced a fumble, and hauled in a 61-yard touchdown.

Visual evidence:

This one is also likely to come down to the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions. And again, the timing of the visits might be cause for concern. Like Smith, Oweh already has multiple trips to Penn State on the docket. He was there this past weekend and an official is set for their Nov. 18 game against Nebraska. The Ohio State official took place for the Oklahoma game. 

The Larry Johnson factor is very real here as Oweh has constantly talked about being coached up to his full potential. He's still a raw prospect who hasn't even played football for two seasons. The relationship with Johnson is very strong, and the Buckeyes' defensive line coach would love to get his hands on someone with that kind of upside.

So what do we make of all this? Is there a chance Ohio State misses on all of its remaining defensive end targets? 

First of all, it's important to remember Brenton Cox. He's the second highest rated recruit that's currently committed and a top-20 prospect in the entire country. Already securing his pledge is immense, but the need is clearly there to add a few more. 

We are still of the opinion that Larry Johnson and Urban Meyer can land two of the remaining three targets with Micah Parsons likely being the odd man out right now. The scheduling of the remaining visits could be better, but who can blame a couple of high school kids for using their officials on the Ohio State vs. Oklahoma game? 

One thing to monitor will be the staff's recruitment of other defensive ends. Right now the full focus is on the big three, but if they make a move on someone else then that may tell us that confidence is waning. 

The pitch here should be simple. You get to learn from the best defensive line coach in college football—who has a prosperous history of player development—and there will be plenty of playing time available right off the bat. 

Larry Johnson has about four months to make sure that message is heard loud and clear.

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