Heat Check: Even More Movement at Running Back As Buckeyes Prepare to Host a Number of October Visitors

By Andrew Ellis on October 2, 2019 at 8:35 am
2020 quarterback C.J. Stroud is still looking for a Buckeye offer.

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.

We're now in the midst of the 2019 season and Ohio State's recruiting has hit a bit of a lull. That's not necessarily bad news, however, given that the class is already sitting at 22 commitments and Ryan Day has his team looking better than anyone in America. 

Sitting at No. 3 in the national team rankings behind only Clemson and Alabama, the 2020 recruiting storylines are mostly the same as what we've been discussing over the last few months. Running back, quarterback, defensive line, and cornerback remain the areas to watch, and there's been some movement at each of those spots in recent weeks.

October is setting up to be a big month with a number of visitors heading to Columbus, and that starts this weekend for the showdown against the Spartans. Larry Johnson could be getting some good news on Friday as well with one of the top defensive line targets set to announce.

KEVONTRE BRADFORD RB 1 1 ★★★★ Wisconsin•USC•Baylor•LSU
MIYAN WILLIAMS RB 2 NA ★★★ Iowa State Commit
RYAN WATTS CB 3 4 ★★★★ Oklahoma Commit
JACOLBE COWAN DL 4 6 ★★★★ Georgia•UNC•Tennessee
TYLER BARON DE 5 7 ★★★★ Tennessee•Oklahoma•Kentucky
C.J. STROUD QB 6 10 ★★★★ Oregon•Cal•Baylor
ELIAS RICKS CB 7 3 ★★★★★ LSU Commit
JAHMYR GIBBS RB 8 NA ★★★ Georgia Tech Commit
E.J. SMITH RB 9 2 ★★★★ Stanford•TAMU•Florida
JAIDEN FRANCOIS CB 10 11 ★★★★ Miami Commit

*Last month's edition can be found HERE. 

It's a bit of a surprise to me, but it sure seems like Ohio State is considering just taking one running back this cycle. I think most expect this to be J.K. Dobbins' last season in Columbus, and we've long been forecasting a pair of 2020 backs. 

Could the emergence of Master Teague and the play of Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers (albeit very limited) be giving the staff some more confidence moving forward? It's certainly possible, but I'm still looking – and hoping – for a backfield duo by the time February rolls around.

The biggest recent development was the offer to Cincinnati's Miyan Williams. The Winton Woods rusher is among the favorites to take home Mr. Football honors and has been committed to Iowa State since July. A three-star and Ohio's No. 25 prospect, the 5-10, 210-pounder is an absolute take for the staff. 

Interestingly, the Cyclones actually signed a pair of touted tailbacks in 2019 and could have a bit of a crowded backfield for the coming years. David Montgomery is currently leading the Chicago Bears' backfield, so there are worst places for a running back to end up. Williams recently surpassed 5,000 yards for his career and is looking to get up to Columbus with his mom. 

While Miyan Williams is by no means a speedster, four-star Texas back Kevontre Bradford is just that. Wisconsin was thought to be the stiffest competition, but a recent offer from LSU could shake things up a bit. Bradford is making his official visit to Ohio State this weekend and we'll hopefully know more in the coming days.

A Bradford/Williams pairing would make a lot of sense, in my opinion, and the duo is sitting at the top of the board. An argument probably could be made for Williams at No. 1 since he's an Ohio kid and may be the more likely of the two, but we like how we have things for the time being. 

Rounding out the names at running back are Jahmyr Gibbs, E.J. Smith, and Michael Drennen II. Gibbs is a new addition to our board and the lowest rated of the trio, but he may be my personal favorite of the group. A Georgia Tech commit since May, the Buckeyes and Gators are both heavily involved with the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Dalton, Georgia back.

Just yesterday Lettermen Row's Jeremy Birmingham reported that Gibbs will be making an unofficial visit for the Maryland game. One interesting thing to watch here is whether the Bulldogs decide to toss their hat into the ring. Five-star Kendall Milton is already pledged to Kirby Smart and Co., but Georgia is looking for another 2020 back as well.

The Smith and Drennen recruitments both seem to still be in the early stages. Smith is preparing to make his official to Florida and will also check out Texas A&M and Stanford. Ohio State is scheduled to host the four-star the weekend of the Nov. 23 matchup with Penn State. Drennen – who is rebounding from a foot injury – has made an official to Kentucky and is considering trips to LSU, Florida, Florida State, Arizona State and USC.

Drennen and Smith are two of the more talented all-purpose backs in the country and schools seem to be looking at them in more of the running back/slot hybrid role. We'll know more about each of the recruitments in the coming months, but they've moved down the board a little bit for now.

Four-star Oklahoma cornerback commit Ryan Watts moves up to No. 3 following his official visit to Ohio State. I had a brief feeling of pessimism when Watts left town without any change in his status, but I do believe there's some confidence here despite still being a Sooner pledge and planning a trip to Penn State. The 6-foot-3, 187-pounder doesn't say a whole lot, so we'll likely be in wait-and-see mode for a bit here.

LSU commit Elias Ricks remains a dream scenario for Jeff Hafley and the Buckeyes. While the five-star does plan on making an official visit, there's no reason for optimism right now. Jaiden Francois remains committed to Miami, but he seems anything but solid as the Canes are off to a disappointing start to the season.

Francois is expected to visit Florida this weekend for the game against Auburn and Ohio State is also firmly in the mix. His future may actually be brighter at safety than at corner. Interestingly enough, the coach he's committed to had some strange comments given his own recent history.

Larry Johnson is still looking to add one or two more in the trenches, and the Buckeyes should be getting some good news on Friday when four-star lineman Jacolbe Cowan announces his decision. The North Carolina native has made just one official visit and that was to Columbus back in June. 

At 6-foot-5 and 277 pounds, it's a little tough to imagine Cowan staying on the edge, but there's no reason to believe LJ won't be able to maximize his potential. He's certainly been a disruptive pass rusher at Charlotte's Providence Day School where he's got seven sacks on the season. I think it'd be best to view him as a Jashon Cornell type who should bring some versatility to the school of his choosing.

Tyler Baron continues to be the other big one to watch along the line, and the Knoxville pass rusher will be in Columbus this weekend for an official visit. Thought by many to be a Volunteer lock, the Buckeyes will get their shot to sell all of the recent success at the position. Kentucky is also involved here and the Vols certainly haven't shown much life in 2019.

Rancho Cucamonga quarterback C.J. Stroud makes a move up to No. 6 on our board as the Elite 11 MVP still waits on the Ohio State offer—or at least one of the public variety. He'll be in town this weekend for an unofficial and it's a big step after months of contact with the staff. Arizona's Jack Miller remains solidly committed, but the Buckeyes could use a pair in the class. I'd keep a very close eye on this one.

Business is about to pick back up on the trail following some fairly uneventful times. Ohio State is now in the heart of its Big Ten schedule and there are some big ones on deck starting Saturday evening against the Spartans. 

Also, this is your annual reminder that October is unquestionably the best month of the year. It's been a rough start this go around, though, as it's 90 degrees in Columbus and schools are closing due to the scorching temps. That's not something I can really get behind as I prefer the typical crisp fall air and everything that goes along with Halloween.

Here's to hoping for a nice bounce-back for the remainder of the month filled with fall weather and plenty of success on the field and the recruiting trail. 

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