Donovan Jackson entered Wednesday as one of the highest-priority targets for Ohio State's 2021 class, and he will end the day as one of the program's best hauls no matter where this recruiting cycle ends up.
The four-star offensive lineman, listed as an offensive tackle but one who will almost certainly play guard at Ohio State, became the Buckeyes' ninth overall commitment on Wednesday, and he will be coming to Columbus by way of Episcopal High School in Texas, which resides in the Houston metro area. He has family in Cincinnati and his father is from Cleveland, and those factors played a small helping hand in bringing him from the Lone Star State to the Buckeye State.
What did the Buckeyes get in their latest big-time commitment? We take a look at what Jackson brings to Ohio State on and off the field:
On the field
Jackson is a monster, and it looks like he and Ben Christman will spend their careers competing to see which one is the best Buckeye offensive lineman in this class.
Jackson stands at 6-foot-4, weighs 310 pounds and has a wingspan of nearly 7 feet. He's got strong, broad shoulders, and he's able to combine his strength and length perfectly, utilizing them as a bull-dozing run blocker who is able to set the edge by turning defensive ends and linebackers inside or push them outside and far out of the play. He also has the patience and balance to lay back in pass protection, staving off edge rushers.
Just those two attributes (strength and length) would make him a good offensive line prospect alone, but what pushes Jackson into elite range and makes him stand out physically is his speed, athleticism and burst off the line. He weighs more than 300 pounds but runs a 5.27 in the 40, and he explodes off the line in the run game, where he has the quickness to pull from either the tackle or guard spot to blow up linebackers in the hole, or quickly get to the next level to put defensive backs on, well, their backs.
Jackson, who will be competing in next year's All-American Bowl in San Antonio, was one of the rare underclassman offensive line prospects to reach The Opening Finals in Frisco, Texas last summer, and he showed out in a big way. Jackson earned Offensive Line MVP honors, beating out a bevy of top-end talent, including future Buckeye teammate Paris Johnson Jr. He was also named to The 2019 Opening Finals Dream Team for his efforts.
The best way to describe Jackson is that he is a ferocious, aggressive blocker but not out of control or malicious. He rarely will find himself having over-extended on a run play, as he has the speed to explode to where he's supposed to be but has the footwork to break down and set an effective block. After that, he will finish the block by putting his teeth into a defender and laying him on the ground without going overboard by drawing a flag.
"It’s something that I always had from little league," Jackson told Eleven Warriors of his intense nature along the offensive line. "I would get angry if I didn’t throw my guy on the ground."
Day now has one of the linchpins he needs to be able to continue running his balanced offense, as Jackson will be able to do both run block and pass block. He has the versatility to play both tackle and guard, but a move inside to play guard is almost certainly the position he will play when he gets to Ohio State.
"Majority (of coaches) have told me guard," Jackson said of what O-line position he will play at the next level. "Anywhere any coach tells me to play, I’m gonna play to the best of my abilities, but I would say majority have told me guard."
Much of the Buckeyes' offensive success in 2019 came through the run game, and as The Athletic's Bill Landis pointed out in late December, Day was able to make outside zone runs a staple of his offense because he had very reliable offensive linemen with the athleticism to move laterally with such fluidity.
Jackson, who owns a 4.63 time in the shuttle and a 32.2-inch vertical, is that type of athletic O-lineman. He's the perfect fit to help Day and the Buckeyes continue moving forward with that identity, and that's why this was such a big commitment for Ohio State. Day's 2020 class had two key anchors on the offensive line (Johnson, Luke Wypler) to build around, and now his 2021 class has the same.
And they're not done yet (see below).
Off the field
The Real Life Wednesdays program was one of the biggest pulls for Jackson to come to Columbus, in addition to the already strong Ohio connections with family.
Jackson is a good kid with a great head on his shoulders, and he has a strong family support system behind him. He's the latest example of someone the Buckeyes targeted not just because he can get it done on the field but also has the potential to be a leader off of it.
In the class
Christman and Jackson, as I said above, will be in contention for top dog along Studrawa's line in the future, but they may have some company before all is said and done.
JC Latham, a four-star monster of an offensive tackle out of Florida's IMG Academy, is going to end up at either Ohio State or LSU. Jackson's commitment and Christman having already been in the class for a while should have no bearing on Latham's decision.
When asked in November if, hypothetically, Jackson ended up on Ohio State's roster along with Christman, Latham told Eleven Warriors that he is "never one to back down from a challenge. We'll see how things play out. I'm never one to back down from a challenge. I'm always willing to work and embrace that."
Don't be surprised if Latham, who is still planning a visit to LSU and plans to return to Columbus in the spring for a third visit, ends up coming aboard as well. Other names to watch out for along the offensive line include Jager Burton, Tristan Leigh, Trey Zuhn, Rocco Spindler, and Rayshaun Benny. All of them visited for the Ohio State-Penn State game and had good things to say about the atmosphere and the overall visit.
Jackson's commitment widens Ohio State's lead for the nation's No. 1 recruiting class in 2021, as it already had the top spot following tight end Sam Hart's commitment to the Buckeyes, and safety Jaylen Johnson's commitment on Tuesday gave them an even bigger lead.
Ohio State now has the second-most four-star junior commits (six) in the country behind Notre Dame (seven) in the junior class.
Jackson's commitment means one side of the Buckeyes' offensive line is solidified if he and Christman are placed side by side. If that happens, it's likely it would be on the right side, as Christman is seen as a right tackle.
If Latham comes to Ohio State as well, that means two tackles and a guard spot are sealed. The Buckeyes would still look for at least one, probably two more offensive linemen, but they would be set with a "Big Three," of sorts, along the line, which would give one of the country's elite running back recruits an added incentive to choose Columbus as his college destination.
For now, though, Jackson's commitment alone should be plenty of reason for excitement among Ohio State fans. Since Iowa did it in 2005, no Big Ten team has signed two top-60 offensive tackles in the same class, and even though Jackson is slated to play guard, the Buckeyes are now primed to pull it off less than a year from now during the next early signing period.