After such a long saga of silent commits, secret visits and plenty of message board commentary, the 2020 running back recruiting saw a bit of an anticlimactic end after there was such promise to sign two top-100 stars.
Looks like there will be no such drama or question marks in the 2021 cycle, as the nation's No. 6-ranked running back and No. 85-ranked overall recruit, Evan Pryor, committed to the Buckeyes.
What did the Buckeyes get in their latest big-time commitment? We take a long look at what Pryor brings to Ohio State on and off the field:
On the field
Watching Pryor's film, it's clear to see why Ohio State, North Carolina, Georgia, Penn State, USC and Oklahoma (his top six final schools) wanted him.
All glory to God !!— Evan Pryor (@evanpryor3) March 16, 2020
1000% C O M M I T T E D pic.twitter.com/8EVnYZekMK
Before he takes a handoff, the 5-foot-10, 190-pound back is already diagnosing the defense, using outstanding vision to hit the hole confidently, accelerating quickly and using breakaway speed to outrun second- and third-level, defenders. He ran a 4.39 at a Penn State camp last summer and ran a 4.42 at Ohio State, and he runs a 10.8 in the 100-meter dash while also bringing that skill to his track team's 4x100-meter relay.
But he's not just a speedster.
When the play isn't there, Pryor slows down after the handoff, waiting patiently for his blocking to develop, using that vision to pick his spot and then using that burst for big gains. Once through the hole and to the next level, he's laterally agile as well, using subtle footwork to create his own cutback lanes with no wasted movement.
He's not an overly physical back, but he's still strong and won't be afraid to run up the middle, and he will protect the ball when he goes through the dog pile.
One big question mark is his pass-blocking ability. Because he's used so often in the passing game, he will have to get better at staying in the pocket as a blocker and getting better leverage. In his blocks on film, he depends on upper-body strength that he won't be able to rely on against Big Ten linebackers and defensive lineman. He will need to work on consistently getting lower and powering a block using lower-body strength.
As for his usage in the passing game, Pryor is good at working out of the slot effectively. He'll consistently get good, quick releases off the line, though it will be interesting to see how he adjusts if and when he sees physical press-man coverage thrown his way in college. When he's a receiving target, Pryor becomes a vertical threat, his soft hands making him adept at hauling in long, over-the-shoulder passes downfield, and he also shows an ability to stop and start on a dime, even after snagging a pass. He's already very good at racking up yards after the catch.
Whether it's 10 yards downfield after taking a handoff and getting through the second level, or if it comes following a 15- or 20-yard gain after a reception, Pryor shows an almost natural, seamless ability for looking to get outside the numbers and smoothly get to the boundary before bursting upfield.
“I don’t wanna close myself in as being just a third-down guy or someone who’s only gonna be used in the passing game,” Pryor told Eleven Warriors in early March. “I do it all. Being on the field at all times and being a three-down back is how I see myself.”
Pryor's talents dictate he could be one of the Buckeyes' running backs of the future. I say one of because they're not done recruiting the position, and it's well-documented that Pryor wants to be part of a two-back system (see below).
Off the field
Pryor a smart, level-headed person who speaks confidently and respectfully. And one of the most revealing quotes about his character came via a November interview with Eleven Warriors when he discussed Tony Alford's conversations with him during a summer visit to Columbus.
“You go to some other places in the country, and they just want you to, you know, ‘Come to our school. Come to our school. Come to our school,’” Pryor said. “But the talk was nice with Coach Alford just talking about life in general. That was something I’d never gotten at another college. … My dad thought it was great. He was like ‘that’s somebody and a staff that I don’t have any issue with sending my son off to college with.’”
“I’ve gotta keep my eyes on the ultimate goal and that’s to make it to the NFL.”– Ohio State RB commit Evan Pryor
But it wasn't just the comfort of a family environment that Pryor wanted in his college. In the end, he wanted and needed a place that he felt could fulfill his life goal of reaching the NFL, and the program that fostered Ezekiel Elliot and Carlos Hyde into the league, with Dobbins to soon follow, was the right fit.
That's saying a lot about Ohio State, since Pryor had the option of picking between a laundry list of SEC schools with just as strong, if not stronger, of a reputation for putting running backs into the pros, led by Alabama, Georgia and LSU, with Georgia having initially been considered the favorite by many to land him.
“I’ve gotta keep my eyes on the ultimate goal and that’s to make it to the NFL,” Pryor told us in November. “I’d say definitely one of the main reasons is the amount of backs that they have and the production they do in college and in the NFL, I feel that’s the main reason I’m interested in Georgia.
“(Those SEC schools) have a great record of putting running backs in the league. You see good Florida backs, amazing Georgia running backs, great Bama backs, good LSU running backs in the league as well. So I look at that from the outside saying, 'Hey one of those backs could be me, and I could get my shot at my ultimate goal of making it to the NFL.'"
That path to the NFL now begins with him in scarlet and gray, and he was just as complementary of Ohio State being right up there with those SEC programs as a school that could help him accomplish that professional dream.
In the class
It's been a hell of a two-day run for the Buckeyes, who on Sunday landed a commitment from the nation's No. 4-ranked cornerback, Jakailin Johnson, and on Monday welcomed cornerback Devonta Smith to the class.
Pryor's commitment today extends their lead even further for the No. 1 overall recruiting class in the nation over Clemson.
As for Pryor's position itself, in the 2020 class, the Buckeyes wanted to get two running backs – and they nearly did before silent commitments from Bijan Robinson and Jaylan Knighton went by the wayside.
And before they landed Miyan Williams, Ohio State coaches had been telling recruits they would be looking to land two backs in the 2021 class, and as the months wore on, Alford became more and more upfront about that two-back goal.
So getting a commitment only from Pryor in this class would still be a big deal and something to be excited about because of his talent alone. But it would be a simultaneous disappointment.
Pryor's commitment gives Ohio State momentum, but Alford and Ryan Day are hopeful it's only a great start to the Buckeyes' running back recruiting.
Look for Ohio State to continue its push for Donovan Edwards and TreVeyon Henderson as its top two targets, with guys such as Lovasea Carroll, Will Shipley, Camar Wheaton, Brandon Campbell, Cody Brown, LJ Johnson and Corey Kiner as other targets.
Being from Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati, a city from which the Buckeyes have brought in eight combined commitments in the 2020 and 2021 cycles, Kiner seems like he would be the top option. But Michigan and Cincinnati look like they sit much higher in that recruitment. Shipley and Wheaton also each sound like they won't be headed to Columbus for college, so continue keeping your eyes peeled for Edwards and Henderson.
Edwards has been the Buckeyes' top running back on the board for a long time, and it's continuing look like a battle between the Buckeyes and Wolverines for the Michigan high school star.
As for Henderson, every program in the nation is gunning to land the five-star running back ranked No. 2 in the nation, and Ohio State has as good of a shot as any. Perhaps an even better shot.
He had been planning on getting to Columbus for his first visit on campus for the April 11 spring game, but with the coronavirus outbreak, that extended Henderson's timelines of narrowing his list and committing to a school. The Buckeyes will have to wait until they get him on a visit for Henderson to be a more serious contender in his recruitment.
Often with running back recruits, when they see a school has landed a commitment from one as talented as Pryor is, that means the uncommitted running backs crosses that program off his list. That doesn't appear to be the case here.
Pryor, Edwards and Henderson all want to be part of a two-back system so that they can save their legs for a potential career in the NFL.
Henderson's head coach Richard Irby: “Tre’s a kid who’s interested in going somewhere that plays multiple backs and not just somewhere where he has to be the only guy to carry the ball.”
Edwards: “Playing running back, it's a short career. I want to play as long as I can so I feel like with the way that I play, I think them bringing in two running backs (would help me).”
Pryor: “They wanna take two. It’s not something that runs me away. It’s actually something that attracts me more; the two-back system. … It’ll definitely help me in the long run because you wanna get to that second contract – like you mentioned earlier. That’s a huge part of something I wanna do. Not burning my tires out in college would be huge.”