Finding the right fit for your college football program isn't just about what happens on the field, but off it as well. Today, Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Ohio State earned the commitment of four-star defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan on Friday night, with the Charlotte (N.C.) Providence Day star choosing the Buckeyes over Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Oregon.
Cowan is ranked as the No. 165 overall recruit in the country, the No. 15 defensive tackle nationally and the No. 7 prospect out of North Carolina.
Let’s take a look at how Cowan will impact the Buckeyes’ 2020 recruiting class.
On The Field
Cowan’s biggest strength he brings to Larry Johnson’s table is versatility, as he is able to play on the interior as a defensive tackle or on the outside as a tough, sturdy defensive end.
His best attribute comes as a run-stopper who holds his ground, able to use his strength, consistent handwork and long arms to shed blocks before barreling his body into runners and finishing the tackle.
He doesn’t look like an above-average athlete, but he still moves really well for a 6-foot-5, 262-pound lineman. He probably won’t make much of an impact as a freshman and may need time to develop his body — all of the Buckeyes’ current defensive tackles on their current depth chart are sophomores or older and weigh at least 285 pounds.
He's similar to Jashon Cornell, who was a 260-pound strongside defensive end out of high school but is now a 285-pound defensive tackle starting for the Buckeyes.
So Cowan will need to work with Mickey Marotti to add about 20-25 pounds over the next year or two before becoming a consistent contributor on the interior, but with Marotti's strong reputation, that should almost be an after-thought. He'll get up to the right weight by the time Year 2 rolls around.
As for his projections as a defensive end, he won’t be a flashy, woah-look-at-him edge rusher. He doesn’t have a quick first-step or a fast get-off. So even though he stands at the same height or taller than four of the Buckeyes’ top five defensive ends, he’s not going to be racking up sacks coming off the edge.
Cowan does, however, have plenty of potential to still make an impact as a pass-rusher because he still has the strength to get around the edge or from the inside, and he shows a strong pursuit even after his initial pass rush.
If the Buckeyes continue getting strong defensive backs who can cover — which they certainly will — Cowan should be one of the benefactors of their work, tallying sacks by not giving up on plays.
He probably won't be an electrifying speed rusher, but if he works at it, he should be dependable — whether that's on the edge or the interior.
Cowan also flashes plenty of solid instincts, especially during run plays, as he doesn’t get confused and can set the edge before blocking runners off and forcing them inside if he doesn’t make the tackle himself.
And based on watching his interviews and some brief interactions with him myself, he comes off as a bright, well-spoken kid. There shouldn't be any worries there.
In The Class
Cowan says he is a strongside defensive end — that is, after all, the position he plays at Providence Day — but he’s listed as a defensive tackle, and I believe that's where he will see the bulk of his playing time in college.
He should be able to contribute consistently in his second year and may become a starter. The current defensive tackles on the depth chart who will still be around by the time Cowan begins either his redshirt freshman or sophomore season are – and these are their current years in school – redshirt sophomore Jerron Cage, sophomores Tommy Togiai and Taron Vincent and freshman Jaden McKenzie.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Cowan to play, and he will be competing with Darrion Henry both for playing time in the future and for the title as this class' top defensive lineman. For now, anyway, though another 2020 defensive lineman could still join that competition (see below).
Henry is projected as a potential second-round NFL draft pick by 247Sports Director of Recruiting Steve Wiltfong, who compares him to the Denver Broncos' Derek Wolfe.
Cowan, meanwhile, is compared to the Green Bay Packers' Quinton Dial by 247Sports' Charles Power, who projects Cowan as a day three NFL draft pick in Rounds 4-7.
Henry, Cowan and Ty Hamilton can all play on the interior and move over to play defensive end, giving Johnson plenty of versatility to work with moving forward.
The Buckeyes are still hopeful they can get Tyler Baron to fall in love with the program this weekend during his official visit, as a commitment from Baron would officially put the finishing touches on the 2020 defensive line class.
However, with Cowan coming to Columbus, it gives Ohio State a lot of breathing room if Baron doesn’t commit, and they don’t have to panic anymore about a thin defensive line class.
Off The Field
Cowan represents just the third recruit from North Carolina the Buckeyes have landed over the past five years – four-star running back Antonio Williams in 2016 and three-star defensive tackle Jaden McKenzie in 2019 are the others.
Also, Tyquan Lewis, a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts, came from North Carolina in the 2013 class.
Cowan's commitment makes it back-to-back years Ohio State has nabbed a defensive lineman from the state, though I don’t expect the Buckeyes to start a pipeline to North Carolina for the position. Mainly because they can get plenty of talent locally, as five of the seven commits from the 2019, 2020 and 2021 classes hail from Ohio, and another could be on the way if junior Najee Story joins the Buckeyes.
Five-star 2021 defensive tackle Payton Page and four-star 2022 defensive tackle Travis Shaw, both out of Greensboro, are the only two North Carolina defensive linemen the Buckeyes have offers out to right now.