Heat Check: The Recruiting Board Gets an Entirely New Look Following Some Big-Time Hits and Unfortunate Misses

By Andrew Ellis on August 6, 2019 at 1:30 pm
E.J. Smith is moving up Ohio State's running back board.
19 Comments

Recruiting is all about comfort and relationships. Sometimes you're gaining momentum on the trail, sometimes you're losing it. How are some of Ohio State's key prospects trending? Let's take a look.

July was one of the busiest months we've ever seen on the recruiting trail. To give a full recap would probably take up way too much of your time, so let's start off by saying that 10 of our previous 11 names have been scratched from the board for one reason or another and we're basically starting from scratch. 

Lathan Ransom, Kourt Williams, Mookie Cooper, Cameron Martinez, Joe Royer, Mitchell Melton, and Josh Fryar all committed to Ohio State since our last update on July 2. Ryan Day's first recruiting class is chugging right along with 22 commitments and is now ranked No. 4 in the country. Things have come together quickly on the trail, and Day and his staff now have just over four months until December's early signing period.

While there's clearly been plenty of great news, there were also a few unfortunate happenings. Our board had five-star tailback Bijan Robinson at No. 1, but the Arizona talent surprised the masses when he decided on the Longhorns about a week before last Friday's official announcement. There's no sugarcoating that one: it was a rather big blow to Ohio State's 2020 recruiting efforts.

All-purpose back Jaylan Knighton took a visit to Florida State just a few days before making his intentions known and he too ended up spurning the Buckeyes. This one wasn't quite as big of a surprise and the writing was on the wall when he arrived in Tallahassee just before the decision. 

Ohio State probably has room for 4-6 more before all is said and done, and the list is becoming increasingly difficult to piece together. While the positions of need remain mostly unchanged, our latest board has an entirely new look to it.

THE BOARD: CLASS OF 2020
PROSPECT POSITION RANK PREV. RATING OTHERS IN THE MIX
KEVONTRE BRADFORD RB 1 NA ★★★★ Wisconsin•USC•Baylor
E.J. SMITH RB 2 NA ★★★★ Texas•Notre Dame
ELIAS RICKS CB 3 NA ★★★★★ LSU Commit
RYAN WATTS CB 4 NA ★★★★ Oklahoma Commit
MICHAEL DRENNEN II RB 5 NA ★★★★ Kentucky•FSU•Stanford•UF
JACOLBE COWAN DL 6 8 ★★★★ Georgia•UNC•Tennessee
JALEN BERGER RB 7 NA ★★★★ Penn State•Rutgers
JAIDEN FRANCOIS CB 8 NA ★★★★ Miami Commit
C.J. STROUD QB 9 NA ★★★★ Oregon•Cal•Baylor
TYLER BARON DE 10 NA ★★★★ Tennessee•Oklahoma
DESMOND EVANS DE 11 NA ★★★★★ North Carolina•NC State

*Last month's edition can be found HERE. 


The running back carousel continues to spin and we've got a new tailback at No. 1 for the third month in a row. Tony Alford's hierarchy is really anyone's guess at this point, but Lancaster, Texas' Kevontre Bradford – the nation's 18th-ranked back – is now on top despite earning the Buckeye offer less than a week ago.

It continues to look like Alford would like to get a pure running back (like Bijan Robinson) and another more all-purpose type (like Jaylan Knighton). Of all the names being discussed, I personally believe that Bradford has the most potential as a pure runner. He's about 6-foot and 190 pounds and has some pretty impressive speed.

The Buckeye offer was a big one for a player who wants to leave the Lone Star State for college. He's now looking to take his recruitment into his senior season and the Ohio State offer could spell bad news for a school like Wisconsin. The Badgers are the only program to host Bradford for an official visit thus far.

E.J. Smith, Michael Drennen II, and Jalen Berger each have surfaced on our board and all three seem like candidates for the all-purpose back role. We've been hearing more on the Smith and Drennen fronts, but that could be due to the quiet nature of Berger's recruitment. 

Smith hails from Dallas, Texas where his father had a Hall of Fame NFL career. He's been to Columbus multiple times already and plans on getting back for an official visit this fall. Florida and Stanford are looking like the top competition for the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder. His recruitment is expected to linger into his senior season with Texas A&M and Georgia also being factors. 

Drennen is the local product and there's at least some pull to keep the Dublin native close to home for college. He's up to 195 pounds and there could certainly be a role for a playmaker of his caliber in Ryan Day's system. The odds of the Coffman four-star ending up in Ohio State's class seem to be increasing. Kentucky, Florida State, and Stanford are three other programs in the mix for the state's third-best prospect.

Jalen Berger is the No. 2 player in New Jersey and his decision timeline may help the Buckeyes' chances. I think there had been some uncertainty as to whether he ends up in the backfield or at safety, but now it just about has to be running back or bust. Penn State and Rutgers are at the top of his list, but a decision isn't expected for several months. It's also worth noting that the Nittany Lions may land a pair of Florida backs before Berger makes his commitment. 

Jeff Hafley has already made a splash on the trail, and the Buckeyes are now looking for a third cornerback. Right now the main options are all prospects they'd have to flip from other national programs, but there remains a need at the position despite two great ones already in the fold in Clark Phillips and Lejond Cavazos

Five-star Elias Ricks is still the perfect scenario and the LSU commit is likely the country's most technically sound corner. Corey Raymond has a defensive back factory going down in LSU and there's no real reason for optimism from the Ohio State side. It doesn't hurt to have Cavazos in his ear at IMG Academy and Ricks is planning an official visit to Columbus, however. 

Oklahoma commit Ryan Watts is likely a more realistic option. The Little Elm, Texas four-star has already made a trip to Ohio State and he's a guy the staff continues to communicate with. He's nearly 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds and you just don't find many corners with those kind of measurables. Miami commit Jaiden Francois makes his debut at No. 8 on our board. He took a summer trip to Columbus, but the fun is probably just getting started in this South Florida recruitment. 

The search for a pass rusher is also going to be an interesting storyline to follow as the Buckeyes don't have a pure edge rusher in the class just yet. Yes, Pickerington's Ty Hamilton may fill that role but there's at least some belief he ends up on the inside. The problem right now is that the defensive line board is total work in progress and that will likely be the case for the next several months. 

North Carolina's Jacolbe Cowan moves up a few spots, but one has to wonder if the 6-foot-5, 277-pounder stays on the edge in college. Five-star Desmond Evans is yet another pass rusher from the Tarheel State, but just about everyone thinks he ends up at North Carolina or NC State. There's absolutely no reason for optimism with that one and we'll see if he ends up making a trip to campus.

Knoxville, Tennessee's Tyler Baron is a player who has already made a trip to Columbus and plans on returning for an official visit. Still, everyone has him ending up at Tennessee where his father is employed as a member of Jeremy Pruitt's staff. There's no reason for optimism on this one either, but Baron is one of the few current candidates on the edge.

It remains to be seen if Ohio State will look to add a second quarterback, but an argument can be made that it would be the right move. California's C.J. Stroud has seen his stock soar over the summer thanks to his MVP performance at the Elite 11. Now a four-star, he's bound to see more offers start to roll in. Stroud is planning a trip to Columbus, but two big questions remain. Do the Buckeyes offer and is he willing to be the No. 2 guy in a class?


Needless to say, there are plenty of lingering questions at the moment. Last week's trifecta of bad news caught everyone off guard; including the Ohio State coaching staff. Running back, defensive line, and cornerback continue to be the team's primary needs. The good news is that Ryan Day and his staff have several months to get things figured out. 

The even better news? Ohio State's season kicks off in just a little over three weeks and there's been plenty of updates from Ryan Day and observations from camp. Our lives shall once again be complete and our hearts will be full.

19 Comments
View 19 Comments