Heat Check: Unveiling Our Very First Board for Ryan Day and Ohio State's 2021 Recruiting Class

By Andrew Ellis on January 2, 2020 at 3:05 pm
Five-star cornerback Tony Grimes is No. 1 on the board for 2021.

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.

Ryan Day and the Buckeyes have about a month to add another piece or two to its 2020 class. The top priority is keeping four-star athlete/safety Cameron Martinez in the fold and securing his signature in February. Additionally, Ohio State will be on the lookout for a cornerback to replace former commit Clark Phillips III and potentially another edge rusher. 

Meanwhile, the Class of 2021 is already looking exceptional as Ohio State checks in with seven commitments and is ranked No. 1 in the country. It is led by five-star Pickerington defensive end Jack Sawyer and already features pledges at a number of major positional needs, including offensive tackle and edge rusher.

As the staff puts the finishing touches on 2020, we're looking ahead to the next great recruiting class. Right now, it's a class that's likely going to need plenty of help at a few key spots, but running back and cornerback appear to stand out above the rest.

In an effort to better keep up with the movement on the recruiting front, we will once again be releasing a monthly board to help monitor some of the more noteworthy occurrences from the previous 30 days. 

Our annual reminder on the process:

  • This isn't based on any one particular factor. We consider it a combination of positional needs, reciprocated interest, player caliber, and how hard the staff may be pushing. It's absolutely not an exact science.
  • It's only January, and this is going to change a lot over the coming months. Prospects are going to commit to various schools and we've seen before how a single pledge can impact numerous programs across the country.
  • Keep in mind that as the season gets underway, we'll get a much better feel of the personnel – including players who could be leaving the program for one reason or another – and what to expect beyond just 2020; certainly another variable to consider when looking at recruiting needs. 
  • Again, it's the very first edition, and we only include 11 spots. Some familiar names we've frequently discussed may not be making an appearance now, but as signing day draws near, it gets a bit easier to narrow things down.

Without further ado, the initial 11W board for the Class of 2021:

TONY GRIMES CB 1 ★★★★★ Virginia Beach, VA Clemson•Penn State•TAMU
DONOVAN EDWARDS RB 2 ★★★★ West Bloomfield, MI Michigan•Notre Dame•LSU
EVAN PRYOR RB 3 ★★★★ Cornelius, NC Penn State•Georgia•LSU
DONOVAN JACKSON OT 4 ★★★★ Houston, TX Georgia•Texas•TAMU•Stanford
JAKAILIN JOHNSON CB 5 ★★★★ St. Louis, MO Notre Dame•Georgia•Oklahoma
DAMON PAYNE DT 6 ★★★★ Belleville, MI Michigan•Bama•FSU•Kentucky
COREY KINER RB 7 ★★★★ Cincinnati, OH Michigan•Notre Dame•PSU
J.C. LATHAM OT 8 ★★★★ Milwaukee, WI LSU•Michigan•Miami•FSU
WILL SHIPLEY APB 9 ★★★★★ Matthews, NC ND•Clemson•Georgia
TUNMISE ADELEYE DE 10 ★★★★★ Katy, TX Alabama•Oklahoma•TAMU
BEAUX COLLINS WR 11 ★★★★ Bellflower, CA Clemson•Notre Dame•USC

We'll start by attempting to sort out the ever-important running back spot since Tony Alford almost certainly will need to sign two in 2021. There are probably five or six prospects that stand out right now, but I don't think Ohio State is necessarily the leader for any of them; at least not at this point in the process. 

Michigan's Donovan Edwards is very much a national target, but his recruitment is very likely to come down to the Buckeyes and Wolverines. He reportedly talks to Ryan Day more than any coach in the country, but he's got teammates going to Michigan and his head coach (Ron Bellamy) played wide receiver for Lloyd Carr. Edwards seems pretty torn at the moment, and we've got him as the top tailback on our board. 

Evan Pryor is the second running back and sits at No. 3 overall on the board. The North Carolina product was in Columbus this past November for the matchup with Penn State, and both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are firmly in the mix. This one likely has a long way to go and a number of SEC programs are also pushing hard.

The recruitment of Cincinnati's Corey Kiner also may end up as an Ohio State/Michigan battle. A star at Roger Bacon High School, Kiner rushed for 2,300 yards and scored 41 touchdowns as a junior (including eight in one game). The Wolverines and Nittany Lions are heavily involved in this one, and this is one of those Ohio kids that is far from a lock to end up in Columbus. 

The nation's top all-purpose back is on the board at No. 9, and five-star Will Shipley is already drawing comparisons to Christian McCaffrey. He made a number of visits this fall to schools like Ohio State, Notre Dame, Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia. This will be a very tough pull for Tony Alford, and he's down on the board a bit – despite the talent – since the Fighting Irish appear to have a pretty big lead right now. 

At cornerback, things are also troubling as the Buckeyes didn't sign a single player in 2019 (thanks to Jordan Battle's late flip to Alabama) and Clark Phillips' recent decision to sign with Utah was also problematic. Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts are tremendous talents, and fortunately both are enrolling this month. Still, this is a major need for 2021. 

With the looming transition from Jeff Hafley to whoever comes next, it's difficult to really pinpoint the top priorities with no one running the show in the secondary. Tony Grimes is the nation's No. 1 player at the position, and the Virginia Beach star is also at the top of our board. The five-star is considering a number of schools, and Ohio State appears to be in the top group. Grimes has stated that Penn State and Clemson will definitely get official visits.

The Buckeyes have had plenty of success in the state of Missouri, and this time around it's looking like Jakailin Johnson will be the priority target. A four-star corner from St. Louis, Johnson is looking especially hard at Ohio State and Notre Dame. One thing working in Notre Dame's favor? Brian Kelly just signed five-star 2020 wideout Jordan Johnson (no relation), and the two are former teammates and close friends.

Sticking on the defensive side of the ball, Larry Johnson is going to need at least one more defensive end to complement Jack Sawyer. There are a number of options out there including Solon pass-rusher Najee Story, but for now we've got a five-star Texan at No. 10 on the board. Tunmise Adeleye released his final six schools last week, but it's probably a four-team race between the Buckeyes, Sooners, Crimson Tide, and Aggies.

With Sawyer already on board, we elected to include just one defensive end for the time being. Don't be surprised if another Lone Star State defender surfaces in the coming months as the Buckeyes are very much in the picture for Texarkana's Landon Jackson, and the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder appears to be a priority at the position. 

The top player in the state of Michigan is also heavily considering Ohio State, but it's going to be a battle for Belleville's Damon Payne – a prospect who could play either tackle or guard at the next level. The Buckeyes are the crystal ball leader for the No. 6 player on our board, but a number of schools remain involved in this one.

On the other side of the trenches, Ben Christman is already in the commitment column at tackle, and that's a heck of a start for Greg Studrawa. The Buckeyes could also be in line for some good news next week when Texas's Donovan Jackson makes the call.

Jackson is the nation's No. 57 overall prospect and took home MVP honors at The Opening Finals last summer (an event that also featured Paris Johnson Jr.). At 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, he doesn't have the best length or prototypical tackle size, but Jackson can likely play a number of spots along the line. He's set to announce on Jan. 8 and all signs continue to point toward the Buckeyes. 

Ohio State is battling LSU and a few others for IMG Academy's J.C. Latham. The Wisconsin native has made the switch from defensive line to offensive tackle, and most seem to think the Buckeyes are the team to beat for the 6-foot-6, 285-pounder. He visited Columbus twice in 2019 and has built up a friendship with Jack Sawyer. 

Brian Hartline's wizardry on the recruiting trail means that wide receiver isn't exactly a pressing need right now. Ohio State just signed four of America's top wideouts in what may be the best haul ever at the position. Additionally, two are already in the fold for 2021 with Philadelphia's Marvin Harrison Jr. and Massillon's Jayden Ballard

We're expecting three or four signees this time around, which means Hartline will likely look to add two more before all is said and done. The big ones to watch include five-star Washington athlete Emeka Egbuka, Florida's Troy Stellato, and California's Beaux Collins. We've got Collins on our board for now, and his recruitment will very likely come down to Ohio State and Clemson.

With the quarterback position already locked up with Kyle McCord and wide receiver sitting pretty, the Class of 2021 should see a heavy focus on a few key areas of need. Ryan Day has been nearly flawless thus far in his short tenure in Columbus, and Ohio State's recruiting remains in the upper echelon alongside Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and LSU.

Given the need at cornerback, the hiring of a new co-defensive coordinator (with expertise in the secondary) is going to help dictate the direction of the class. Matt Barnes is the only staff member with a real presence in the backfield at the moment, but that will absolutely change in the coming weeks. 

The program clearly remains in great hands, and the nation's top-ranked recruiting class should be even better by the end of the month. Apologies to the other fanbases who thought the Buckeyes would take a step back in the post-Urban Meyer world.

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