Tony Alford and Ohio State's Running Back Recruiting on Track to Be Wrapped Up by Early August

By Andrew Ellis on July 16, 2019 at 12:05 pm
Bijan Robinson and Jaylan Knighton will both be coming off the board soon.
Bijan Robinson/Jaylan Knighton

Tony Alford and Ohio State's running back pursuits continue to be the talk of the Buckeye recruiting world. While Jeff Hafley is expecting some big news around 5 p.m. today, it's the backfield that remains the 2020 class's most glaring need. 

Heading into the cycle, there were a few key areas of need. The wide receivers and defensive backs are just about finished, and Ryan Day already has 20 commitments in the fold for a class that's expected to get up to at least 25. With only a handful of space remaining, it's Alford's unit that continues to be the focal point.

The good news? If all goes as planned, Ohio State's running back situation could be fully addressed by the first week of August. 

We've been saying it from the jump, but the Buckeyes need to sign two running backs by February. Most of the talk has surrounded a pair of five-stars in California's Kendall Milton and Arizona's Bijan Robinson. Though they're entirely different backs, both have the ability to carry the load at the next level.

Milton is scheduled to announce his commitment on July 29th, and just about everyone has him pegged to Georgia. Alford and the Buckeyes got the first official visit before the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder went on his SEC tour. Robinson is a shiftier, more elusive back who has some of the best jump-cuts you'll ever see on a highlight tape. He's set to decide between Ohio State, Texas, and USC on Aug. 2.

We've spent a lot of time talking about Bijan Robinson and where things stand between him and the Buckeyes. His crystal ball has swung in Ohio State's favor following the June officials, and landing his teammate – four-star safety Lathan Ransom – today certainly wouldn't hurt. 

Signing multiple tailbacks is more of the norm these days, but typically a staff looks to sign guys with different skill sets. This past cycle the Buckeyes brought in Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers. In 2018 it was Brian Snead and Master Teague along with all-purpose back Jaelen Gill. And so on and so forth back to 2013 with Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson. 

The term "all-purpose back" sometimes comes with a negative connotation and may be viewed as more of a smaller, "gadget" type of player who's not expected to get 15+ carries per game. Guys like Wilson and even Demario McCall come to mind. But the reality is that it's simply a player who can do multiple things out of the backfield; even if they're not going to be regularly toting the rock between the tackles. 

Four-star all-purpose back Jaylan Knighton is being recruited to do just that, and the Deerfield Beach, Florida star continues to be a candidate – though far from a lock – to end up in Columbus when all is said and done. 

As Florida State continues to have some problems on the trail, Willie Taggart's top running back target has been trending toward Ohio State ever since his pre-dead period official visit. And though at 5-foot-9 he's ranked as the country's No. 3 all-purpose back, he's added some muscle over the last year and has bulked up to 195 pounds. Knighton also isn't afraid to lower his shoulder from time to time and is far from the diminutive scatback type.

A decision date has been set for July 30, and though the crystal balls have been coming in for Ohio State, this one could be far from finished. The dead period ends on July 24 which means he could potentially get back to Tallahassee for Florida State's Saturday Night Live event on the 27th. As of now, it seems as though the Noles aren't necessarily expecting him, however. 

Knighton led the Bucks (yes, the Bucks) to the state semifinals in 2018. He rushed for 2,099 yards and scored 28 touchdowns and was ultimately named the Broward 8A-6A offensive player of the year. Deerfield Beach High School is about 30 minutes from Miami's Hard Rock Stadium. The Hurricanes remain a factor in this recruitment as well and that will continue to be the case after his intentions are known.

He previously spent about nine months as an Oklahoma commit before opening things back up. We've said it before, but this is a South Florida recruitment and those things can get interesting. For every relatively uneventful Nick Bosa type of situation, there tend to be others that are more like that of Jordan Battle or Torrance Gibson. Keeping the prospect in the fold can oftentimes be more challenging than earning the commitment.

It's worth reiterating that neither recruitment is a slam dunk just yet and truly wrapping things up won't take place until these guys sign in December or February. Texas and USC will continue their pursuits of Robinson for the next few weeks and after his Aug. 2 announcement. The same goes for Knighton with the in-state Seminoles and Hurricanes.

Securing commitments in the coming weeks – and then obviously signing – one of America's best tailbacks and top all-purpose backs would certainly go a long way in putting a bow on the Class of 2020.

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