Running Back Options Remaining for Ohio State in the 2020 Class

By Taylor Lehman on July 30, 2019 at 10:10 am
EJ Smith
EJ Smith

Clearly, now is not the time to panic about Ohio State's running back room, but the landscape of three-down running backs in the 2020 class seems fairly bleak at the moment.

Things have not gone as planned for Ohio State at the running back position this week. What was expected to be a triumphant series of days, with Jaylan Knighton and Bijan Robinson’s expected commitments, has turned into days the Buckeye staff would likely wish to forget about, beginning with five-star California running back Kendall Milton’s commitment to Georgia on Monday evening.

While there is time for the Ohio State staff to talk to Robinson and his family about reconsidering, Knighton commits Tuesday, and he seems set on a decision at this point. But if Ohio State does, in fact, go 0-for-3 on these running back targets, these are a few options the Buckeyes have set up on the other side of this tough recruiting week.

EJ Smith

Four-star all-purpose back EJ Smith, the son of Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, is the best of the remaining running backs with close ties to Ohio State, but even with his body type – 5-foot-11, 198 pounds – he still plays a lot like an all-purpose back versus a pure running back. That’s not to say he can’t be developed into a running back, but if Ohio State is trying to recreate what it lost in Robinson and Knighton, Smith is more like Knighton, as are many of the available options at the position now. Smith has a good relationship with Tony Aflord and told Eleven Warriors at The Opening Finals that he does plan to take an official visit to Ohio State in the fall. Ohio State has also been in contact with Smith regularly, including Saturday and Sunday of this past weekend. Smith had appeared to be leaning in other directions before this weekend, but a seismic change in a program's recruiting efforts at a position can also change the intentions of some prospects.

Mike Drennen

Mike Drennen is the uncommitted running back that has the best relationship with Ohio State. He’s developed a very close relationship with Ryan Day and has plenty of interest in the Buckeyes. The problem with Drennen as an all-purpose back in comparison to Knighton, though, is that he won’t run between the tackles very often. He’s fit for more of an H-back role that Mookie Cooper is expected to fill, while Knighton was going to be a pure running back behind Robinson, had they both committed to Ohio State. Drennen is certainly an option if Ohio State finds him to be a fit for the class, but that’s the biggest immediate issue for the Dublin star.

Lawrance Toafili

Four-star running back Lawrance Toafili is a running back prospect that fell between the cracks since he visited for Ohio State’s spring game in April. He’s maintained a semblance of a relationship with Ohio State, but it’s mostly been Florida State as of late. Even though Toafili didn’t attend the SNL event this weekend, he is expected to visit Florida State on Tuesday. Florida State is where he will likely commit, even though Florida State already has a couple top targets ahead of him. The Seminoles are hoping to add three running backs in the 2020 class. If Toafili finds himself in a similar position as DeaMonte Trayanum did with Ohio State, it wouldn't be surprising to see him look elsewhere.

DeaMonte Trayanum

Akron four-star running back DeaMonte Trayanum really likes Arizona State, but with the distance between Tempe and Ohio, it’s only natural for one to assume Arizona State would be the secondary option to Ohio State. But Trayanum is strongly committed to Herm Edwards and the Sun Devils, despite his tight relationship with Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford. That won’t stop the Buckeyes from reaching out to him, though, and it’s worth a shot, considering how close he was with Ohio State so close to his commitment. Trayanum could blossom into a three-down back too, which is what Ohio State thought it was getting in Robinson and Knighton, but he clearly wants to be a No. 1 option for a program. That’s what he is for Arizona State. In fact, he’s their top-rated recruit. It doesn't seem like a flip from Trayanum would be automatic.

Jalen Berger

Jalen Berger is rated as the No. 10 running back in the class, but he is closer to an all-purpose back than a running back. As far as lining up in a traditional backfield and carrying the ball between the tackles 20 or 25 times per game, it’s tough to see Berger doing something like that where he stands now. He works mostly out of the slot or the Wildcat formation and likes to work in space. He seems destined for Penn State at the moment anyway.

Other Options

There are some long chances within the class that Ohio State could look to activate. The first one is Darvon Hubbard, who decommitted from Ohio State in February for what seemed like a lack of interest from the Buckeyes’ side. 

Zachary Evans is a wildcard at this point, and nobody knows where he is going, but it likely isn’t Ohio State, considering he canceled his last unofficial visit scheduled for Columbus. He will take his recruitment into the later stages of the cycle, though, which could bode well for the Buckeyes.

No. 7 running back Tank Bigsby could be a legitimate option for Ohio State. He has been predicted to go to South Carolina and Georgia, who each have their No. 1 running back for the class. Bigsby is rated as the No. 31 overall prospect, though, so it might be too late for the Buckeyes to break into his circle again.

Sam Adams might even be an option for Ohio State. He was at the Buckeye Bash & Barbecue event, and he is the teammate of Gee Scott Jr. He just committed to Washington earlier this month, and the Huskies value his commitment very much, so that would also be a long shot. 

Wherever Ohio State feels it can get some leverage on a running back prospect, it will exploit it at this point, whether those running backs are committed to other programs or not. But the Buckeyes are certainly searching for a three-down back before anything else, and those are becoming harder and harder to come by for the 2020 class.

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