Heat Check: New Running Back Target Emerges, Ohio State Staff Enters Evaluation Mode As Season Kicks Off

By Andrew Ellis on September 4, 2019 at 8:35 am
Pittsburgh commitment Henry Parrish is the newest name to watch at running back.

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.

While we are certainly not in an NCAA-mandated dead period, things sure have gotten quiet on the recruiting trail. Truth be told, we warned of this a while back and it's happening due to a number of different factors. 

College football is now underway and high school teams across the country are also focused on their own respective schedules. For Ryan Day and the Buckeyes, the primary focus is preparing for Saturday's game against the Bearcats. But we all know recruiting never stops, so continuing the evaluation process – especially at positions like running back and defensive end – of course lingers on into the fall and winter months. 

While Ohio State's 2020 class does have some key spots remaining, the staff seems content with waiting to see how the high school season unfolds and how its targets fare before really zeroing in on select prospects at running back and in the trenches.

Things will really start heating up once the official visitors make their way to Columbus and that will give us a much better idea as to who the remaining priorities truly are. We don't have too many changes to our recruiting board, but there is absolutely a new name to know at the staff's biggest position of need.

KEVONTRE BRADFORD RB 1 1 ★★★★ Wisconsin•USC•Baylor
E.J. SMITH RB 2 2 ★★★★ Stanford•TAMU•Florida
ELIAS RICKS CB 3 3 ★★★★★ LSU Commit
RYAN WATTS CB 4 4 ★★★★ Oklahoma Commit
MICHAEL DRENNEN II RB 5 5 ★★★★ Kentucky•FSU•Stanford•UF
JACOLBE COWAN DL 6 6 ★★★★ Georgia•UNC•Tennessee
TYLER BARON DE 7 10 ★★★★ Tennessee•Oklahoma
HENRY PARRISH RB 8 NA ★★★ Pitt Commit
JALEN BERGER RB 9 7 ★★★★ Penn State•Rutgers
C.J. STROUD QB 10 9 ★★★★ Oregon•Cal•Baylor
JAIDEN FRANCOIS CB 11 8 ★★★★ Miami Commit

*Last month's edition can be found HERE. 

Ezekiel Elliott is now the richest running back in the world, but the Buckeyes are still looking for their 2020 version. Do we have a pretty clear idea of the pecking order? Absolutely not, and I don't think the coaching staff really does at this point. There are plenty of question marks here and arguments can be made to move player X up the board and player Z down a bit. This is one of those areas that's going to take some time to become more clear. 

Kevontre Bradford is still No. 1 on our list, but there's been very little movement on that recruitment. The Lancaster, Texas speedster still plans on making an official visit to Ohio State this season, so we will know more on this one in the coming months. He's a big-play back with track speed who's also considering the likes of Baylor, Wisconsin, and USC.

Much of the same can be said on the E.J. Smith front. With the season now underway, we haven't heard much on the four-star all-purpose back. He's set to visit Georgia on Sept. 21 and then will check out Texas A&M and Florida in October. A trip to Stanford will go down in January and the 6-foot, 200-pound Gator legacy is still looking to finalize a visit to Columbus.

I'm still not entirely sure what to make of the Michael Drennen II situation. Kentucky is the crystal ball favorite and some recent picks have come in for the Wildcats over the last month. Personally, I don't think this one is close to being over and it's anyone's guess as to where the Dublin Coffman star ends up. We've still got him at No. 5 and there's still a lot to unfold with official visits coming this fall.

I've moved New Jersey athlete Jalen Berger down a few spots to No 9. I just get the feeling that he's someone whose recruiting ranking doesn't exactly line up with how college coaches are viewing him. Maybe it's just because it's been such a quiet recruitment, but it actually seems like there's a real possibility of him ending up at Rutgers. Penn State is up on his list as well, but the Nittany Lions landed a pair of four-star backs in August. 

The big new addition to our board is three-star Pittsburgh commitment Henry Parrish. He's the latest back the Buckeyes have been in contact with (no offer yet), and his senior season has started off with a bang. The Miami product ran for 324 yards and three scores in Columbus High School's opener and added another 232 yards and two touchdowns last week against Osceola. 

Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: Henry Parrish isn't some big, bruising tailback. He's listed at just 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, but there's no denying that he's caught the attention of Tony Alford and the Buckeyes' staff. He holds offers from Miami, Michigan, Penn State, and others, and I have a tough time believing he ends up at Pittsburgh; especially if he keeps performing at such a high level. This is one to watch closely moving forward. 

The defensive line is the other area that's still filled with uncertainty. Ohio State needs a defensive end to help round out the 2020 class, but right now the Buckeyes don't seem to be at the top of the list for any of the pass rushers. We still think Jacolbe Cowan best projects at tackle, and the 6-foot-5, 277-pounder already used his official visit. An official trip to Athens still looms large with this one. 

Tyler Baron is a name that I will be watching closely in the coming weeks and months. We've talked about it before, but his dad works at the University of Tennessee and everyone feels the Knoxville native will end up staying home. The Vols have one defensive end committed and are expected to land four-star Jay Hardy as well.

Baron made an unofficial trip to Ohio State and will be back for an official. Tennessee just lost to Georgia State and this season is shaping up to be a bit of a disaster for Jeremy Pruitt. Obviously there are plenty of ties to the Volunteers, but we will be keeping an eye on this one. The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder is up to No. 7 on our board as Larry Johnson continues the search for an edge rusher.

It's still the big three at cornerback as Jeff Hafley looks to add a third to complement Lejond Cavazos and Clark Phillips. I continue to believe that Ryan Watts is the most likely flip candidate, but we'll see if Cavazos can put in enough work for an Elias Ricks miracle to go down. Ricks is expected to make an official to Columbus this season. Miami commit Jaiden Francois is still in the picture but has moved down a few spots to No. 11. 

Quick sidenote: Clark Phillips has been playing like an absolute madman this season and it wouldn't be a surprise at all to see him end up as a five-star when all is said and done.

C.J. Stroud remains on the list at quarterback, but we're still not 100 percent sure that Ryan Day will elect to take another one to go along with Jack Miller. My thinking is that the staff will move on one in the coming months, and it sure looks like Stroud is at the top of the list.

He hasn't been shy about his interest in Oregon, and Mario Crostobal extended an offer on Aug. 12. The Ducks also have a 2020 quarterback committed already, so we'll see how this one plays out once he starts making visits. Stroud threw for 381 yards and five scores in Rancho Cucamonga's season opener.

These aren't the most exciting times in the Buckeye recruiting world, but the good news is that we now have actual football to watch on Saturdays. Ryan Day has 22 commitments in the fold and his first recruiting class is ranked No 4 in America. The staff now has to do what they and every other program does from August through the new year: Focus on game prep and scheming all the while keeping the recruiting train rolling. 

We talked about Tennessee's struggles, but I'd also keep an eye on Florida State. The Noles lost at home to Boise State and Willie Taggart proceeded to blame poor hydration for his team's lackluster performance. How would FSU tailback commit Jaylan Knighton feel about another 5-7 season? The Buckeyes have benefitted plenty from other team's ineptitudes. Perhaps that could happen again. 

It's worth noting that Paris Johnson Jr., Darrion Henry, Joe Royer, Jakob James, and Jake Seibert all hail from the Queen City. Ryan Day and his staff are doing quite well in Southwest Ohio, and while the Bearcats are on a path toward destruction, Skyline Chili remains undefeated. 

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