Ohio State's Top Five Targets for the 2021 Recruiting Class

By Zack Carpenter on January 25, 2020 at 7:15 am
Donovan Edwards
Donovan Edwards

As Ohio State's 2020 class sits 11 days from being fully finalized with the Feb. 5 National Signing Day, we take a look at the top-five uncommitted targets Ohio State should be zeroing in on in the 2021 class.

Ohio State's biggest needs in the class have a larger effect on who is ranked higher on the list. For instance, the honorable mention on this list would be much higher if not for the players the Buckeyes signed in 2020, and No. 4 on this list would be higher if Jack Sawyer was not already committed. 

Before getting to this list of five, here are the nine players Ohio State already has committed in the 2021 class, currently ranked No. 1 in the country.

Honorable mention: Emeka Egbuka, ATH

Ohio State has plenty of receivers for the foreseeable future, which is the only reason Egbuka finds himself in the honorable mention category.

You already know about the historic 2020 receivers class, and the Jayden Ballard/Marvin Harrison Jr. combo for 2021 gives the Buckeyes a six-man group over that two-year span that should be as good as any the Big Ten will see over the next several years. 

But for Ohio State, recruiting is not about solely creating classes that win Big Ten championships. This is about creating a top-two or top-three national class that puts the types of players on the field that beat Clemson and Alabama. 

Seeing what Egbuka can do on the field is remarkable, and that's what makes the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Egbuka (listed as the country's No. 1-ranked athlete in the country because he could probably also be a terrific cornerback if he wanted to focus on defense) so valuable in the 2021 class. 

Egbuka can do it all, and he looks versatile enough to fill the X, Z or slot position in Ohio State's offense. He's got the hands, route running, acceleration, fluid footwork and the brains to fit in perfectly wherever he goes. If CJ Stroud ends up winning the quarterback battle down the road, it's not hard to picture him running out of the pocket and Egbuka separating himself from a defender and cashing in on the scramble drill. 

Egbuka is the type of player that would put the Buckeyes' receivers class over the top.

From Egbuka: “I’m really looking for a place that’s gonna develop me as a football player and as a person, and the profession I’m aiming for is obviously to play in the NFL. But after that, if I’m able to become a collegiate coach, that’s what I really wanna get into. Academics are still really important (in my college decision), but a lot of it’s about the connections as well. ... (Ohio State has) a huge alumni network so there’s obviously a lot of connections and just being able to start out in a role like a (graduate assistant) like a lot of them have and get taken under the wing of someone like Coach (Brian) Hartline – it could be really beneficial.”

“My mom likes a lot of things about Ohio State too. She’s really close with the coaching staff. She’s grateful for the coaches they have there, and she knows that if I end up going there that they’re gonna take good care of me.”

“I don’t feel like putting a timeline on (my commitment). It’s just whenever I feel comfortable and ready, and my family and I we’re all on the same page and my coaches too. We’re all on the same page.”

Others in serious contention: Clemson, Washington ... Egbuka took an unofficial visit to Ohio State for the Buckeyes' win over Wisconsin in October, and he plans on taking official visits to Ohio State and Clemson. The Steilacoom (Wash.) High School star most likely won't take an official visit to Washington, but that's because the school is so close and he's visited so often already. This is shaping up to be a three-team race, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see any of them win out here. At this point, it's great news for the Buckeyes that they are in the final heat with a player of this caliber.

Other high-caliber targets at his position*: Beaux Collins

*For these, I'm only considering those whom Ohio State currently has a good, realistic shot at landing

5. Jager Burton, OG

The argument for JC Latham being in this slot is just as reasonable, which is why I had such a hard time deciding between the two.

But in the end, I chose Burton for two reasons:

  1. His athleticism and the way he's able to move so effortlessly on the line is absolutely perfect for how the Buckeyes want to use their linemen and for the way they game plan. (Assuming they get the type of running back talent they need in 2021 and are able to stay with that type of running strategy, and if they don't end up going toward a more pass-heavy approach with the QB/WR talent they will have, which is possible.)
  2. In projecting what Ohio State's future offensive line could look like, it's very possible that at some point it will be Paris Johnson Jr. (LT), Donovan Jackson (LG), Luke Wypler (C), RG, Ben Christman (RT). While Christman does look like he could project to be a Branden Bowen type (a.k.a. someone who could be called upon to fill either the right tackle or right guard spot seamlessly), currently right tackle is where he will fit best at, leaving the right guard spot open. I think Burton fits that spot perfectly.

From Burton: “Ohio State’s probably the school – or one of the schools – that contacts me the most. Almost their whole coaching staff texts me every day – Coach (Ryan) Day, Coach (Greg Studrawa), Coach (Kennedy) Cook, Coach (Matt) Barnes – we have full-on conversations like all day while I’m at school. 

“I would say I have that type of contact with a lot of schools, especially that seven (Ohio State, Penn State, Oregon, Kentucky, Clemson, Alabama and Texas), but the thing about Ohio State is it’s not just my position coach texting me. It’s not just Coach Stud texting me. Coach Day, Coach Barnes and Coach Cook, all those people text me. That’s just different. Obviously, the head coach of those schools texts me, and I call them sometimes. But it’s not as much every day talking to them. It’s more of a rare thing. But with Coach Day, it’s more of a normal deal.”

Others in serious contention: Kentucky, Penn State, Oregon ... Burton narrowed his list down to seven schools, and he told Eleven Warriors that he'll be officially visiting Ohio State, Kentucky, Penn State and Oregon, with either Texas, Alabama or Clemson getting the fifth. Ohio State is in a good position here.

Other high-caliber targets: Latham, Tristan LeighRocco Spindler

4. Demeioun Robinson, DE

Tunmise Adeleye and Landon Jackson are studs, but Robinson is nastier than both, and he's got the versatility to stand up as an outside linebacker or rush off the edge in a two-point stance.

Some of the plays on Robinson's tape, some of the hits and lightning-quick explosions in which he bulldozed toward and through whoever had the ball, had me covering my mouth and having to whisper damn in the library (instead of actually yelling damn in the library.) 

Robinson could be the Buckeyes' next defensive star, and he could do it from either outside 'backer or defensive end.

As a final note that may or may not mean a damn thing ... Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni doesn't often retweet players' highlight tapes. He did so for Robinson's. Just another small reminder of how important this guy is for the Buckeyes.

From Robinson: “I’d like to commit before August and take all of my official visits,” Robinson told Rivals' Adam Friedman. “I’ll probably sign early in December. Playing outside linebacker or defensive end doesn't matter to me. It's about wherever the coaches put me.”

Others in serious contention: Tennessee, Penn State, Maryland, Virginia ... Robinson was supposed to visit Ohio State for the Penn State game in November, along with teammate Marcus Bradley, but he was unable to make the trip. Ohio State and Penn State, sort of ironically because of his inability to visit that weekend, are shaping up to be the top two programs in contention here, but Tennessee, LSU and Texas A&M are all serious contenders as well. Robinson visited Penn State, Tennessee, Maryland and Virginia for games this past season. 

Other high-caliber targets: Adeleye, Jackson

3. Jakailin Johnson, CB

A list of biggest 2021 targets would not be complete without at least one cornerback, and Johnson has emerged as the priority target.

Much of that is because five-star corner Tony Grimes, the nation's top-ranked player at the position, seems to have a bunch of other schools not named Ohio State higher on his own board (like Georgia, Clemson, Penn State and Texas A&M). Looks like the Buckeyes' final chance there is if Kerry Coombs can make a strong impression on him, which we can't rule out for obvious reasons.

That brings us to Johnson, a four-star CB from St. Louis and one who had the Buckeyes in his top six back when Jeff Hafley was still coaching. 

Brian Hartline and Matt Barnes visited Johnson this past week, and it's becoming clear how much the program wants Johnson, as well as fellow cornerback targets Hunter Washington and Avante Dickerson.

From Johnson: "I still talk to all of those schools," Johnson told Rivals' Joseph Hastings of his final six schools, which includes Georgia and Oregon. "Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Florida are probably the ones I talk to the most and the ones showing the most interest. My recruiting process is still open, and I'm waiting to see what happens."

Others in serious contention: Notre Dame, Missouri, Florida ... Johnson took an unofficial visit to Ohio State for its win over Michigan State in October. He got to see the electric atmosphere, and it made an impression on him. One of Johnson's good friends and high school teammates, five-star receiver Jordan Johnson (of no relation), signed with Notre Dame in the 2020 class. He plans on visiting Ohio State, Notre Dame and Florida soon.

Other high-caliber targets: Grimes, Washington, Dickerson

2. Derrick Davis Jr., S

Maybe it will be at Ohio State. Maybe it won't be. But soon enough, Derrick Davis Jr. is a name you're going to hear for years once he hits the college ranks. 

Davis is listed as a safety on his 247Sports recruiting profile and as an outside linebacker on Rivals, and he has the man-to-man skills of a cornerback. Eleven Warriors is going to try to get out to see him play in a game in the fall, and it doesn't sound like he will have made a college decision by then. 

Whoever ends up landing him will have a potential star on their hands. Don't be shocked if he ends his high school career as a five-star player.

From Davis: “I pushed my decision back until December because I have to take visits,” Davis told Rivals' Adam Friedman earlier this month. “Hopefully I'll take my official visits after the summer. I think I'm going to wait and I'll probably drop a top five before my season actually starts.

“I know for a fact that I'm going to Michigan next weekend. I’ll visit Ohio State in a few weeks.”

Others in serious contention: Penn State, Clemson, Alabama ... Penn State is in the driver's seat right now. Davis has visited at least nine times, and the Nittany Lions continue to prioritize him. That included a visit last weekend.

Other high-caliber targets: None

1. Donovan Edwards, RB

Ryan Day's No. 1 priority when the contact period opened up was visiting 2020 commit Cameron Martinez. Day's strategy and geographical planning centered around that, so that's part of the reason he made Edwards the first player he visited last Friday. 

He went to Edwards' high school in the morning, then he made it a tour of Michigan by visiting 2020 OL signee Grant Toutant and then heading over to Muskegon to see Martinez. The plan to see Martinez in the evening and going to watch his basketball game later had probably been set for weeks. 

But going to see Edwards that day absolutely played a significant part in that planning. With good reason. 

We've talked about it so much on here that we can keep this brief. If Ohio State strikes out on landing a big-time running back in 2021, things will get scary in a hurry in Columbus. I don't think that happens, but the Buckeyes need to land Edwards, Evan Pryor or Lovasea Carroll to feel good.

From Edwards: "In the Midwest, they're recruiting me harder because you know, that's where I live," Edwards told Rivals' Corey Bender. "But Florida is recruiting me hard as well; it's just not as much as the Midwest would be."

Others in serious contention: Michigan, Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU, Florida ... Nick Saban, Brian Kelly and Michigan assistant Josh Gattis were also all at West Bloomfield High School on the first day of the contact period to visit Edwards. Ohio State is likely to get an official visit from Edwards in the spring or summer, as are LSU and possibly Notre Dame. He took an unofficial visit to Alabama last summer. Michigan is likely the favorite right now, but Ohio State and those SEC programs are on the rise.

Other high-caliber targets: Pryor, Carroll, Kiner

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