More than a year ago, the first-ever rankings for the 2022 class came out, and there were only 100 prospects listed.
Of those 100 players, Archbishop Alter High School product C.J. Hicks was the only one who hailed from Ohio. Hicks was listed as an athlete because he could play either side of the ball, but that positional listing was primarily because he could play any spot in the back seven of a defense.
After initially being the No. 1-ranked prospect in Ohio's 2022 class, Hicks took a bit of a fall in the rankings a few months ago because of an underwhelming sophomore season. The primary question surrounding Hicks was his lack of development, which stemmed from him never really being able to focus on one defensive position at the high school level.
However, since he did play a combination of safety, cornerback and linebacker last season, it has really helped him become a multifaceted defender and better linebacker prospect at the next level.
Because of his time spent as a cornerback, Hicks is adept in both zone and man coverage regardless of who he is matched up against. And after all the snaps he has played at safety, combined with his athleticism, Hicks is also a very rangy defender from boundary to boundary.
Finally, seeing as he saw a good amount of snaps at linebacker last season, and since he loves to play defense, Hicks is a big hitter. All the time he has spent at a variety of positions in high school has made him sound in coverage, fast from sideline to sideline and a heavy hitter.
With all three of those skills being Hicks' strong suits, and combined with his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame, he is the ideal linebacker in today's game.
Sound coverage skills
In today's day and age, football is a passing game where teams throw the ball all around the field and put up major points. Because of that, the one thing that defenses need is athletic linebackers who can cover and hopefully slow offenses down.
Hicks is that prototype athletic linebacker in coverage because of all the time he has spent in the secondary early in his career. Whether it's a slot receiver, running back, or even a big-bodied tight end, Hicks can cover them all because of his technique, athleticism and frame.
- Play one: Here is a quick glimpse into Hicks at the cornerback position where he is up pressing the wide receiver in man coverage. As soon as the receiver tries to create space, Hicks reroutes him and takes the pass away, forcing the quarterback to look elsewhere.
- Play two: This is not the same type of coverage Hicks uses in the first clip, but it is a better example of what he will be doing at the college level. He is once again up on the line pressing, but this time he sees the swing pass coming and rips through a blocker on his way to tipping the pass before it can get to the wide receiver.
- Play three: After the first play showing him at cornerback and the second showing him at linebacker, this play shows him at free safety. Off the snap, he reads the quarterback's eyes and fades back into where the quarterback was looking to go. But once again, he gets in the away of the pass to cause an incompletion.
At the high school level, Hicks plays a few different positions that helped make him sound in coverage. Once he gets to Ohio State and devotes his time to the linebacker position, he could be a special linebacker in coverage and help take away the offense's top weapon.
Sideline-to-sideline speed and instincts
Another great by-product of Hicks playing a lot in the secondary is the fact that he can roam from boundary to boundary.
He also has natural defensive instincts because of his love for the game – specifically that side of the ball. And when those instincts are coupled with his rare athleticism and 4.5 time in the 40, it creates a rare type of linebacker that can do anything. However, the primary focus here is that Hicks has the instincts and speed to make plays all over the field.
- Play one: Down near the goal line, Hicks in lined up at linebacker. As soon as the ball is snapped, the offense tries to run at him. But the running back bounces it outside, and Hicks reads this quickly before flying up to get a tackle for loss before the offensive lineman could get to him.
- Play two: Hicks is playing outside as a cornerback against a run-heavy team and formation. The offense tries to hand the ball off to Hicks' side, but he reads it quickly and shoots upfield to make the tackle before the offense gains any yards.
- Play three: Again Hicks is lined up as a linebacker. This time, however, the offense tries to run a tunnel screen with the wide receiver coming toward the middle and upfield. However, the pass takes a little too long, and Hicks reads it before cutting underneath the would-be blocker, stopping the wide receiver from getting a big gain.
Hicks is going to be a big problem for offenses because of his speed and instincts that make it hard to trick him or get outside of him. As long as Hicks can add weight while maintaining his speed, his instincts should allow him to make a lot of plays for the Buckeyes in the future.
While playing all over the field and covering well is a necessity for today's game, it is not all that a linebacker has to do.
Regardless of how much teams pass or run, linebackers have to be able to tackle and make big hits. As mentioned above, Hicks loves to play defense and be physical, which shows in some of the hits he has on Friday nights.
Despite being a big athlete that can do it all, Hicks is a hard-nosed, downhill linebacker at heart, and everything else is a bonus because of how athletic he is.
- Play one: Hicks lays a big hit at the cornerback spot. He sees the jet sweep play coming across the field, so he leaves his man and fires upfield and drops the ball carrier in a hurry.
- Play two: Now at safety, Hicks sees the wide receiver coming across the middle on the slant route. Within 2-3 steps of him catching the ball, Hicks is there to stop him in his tracks with a big hit.
- Play three: Again, Hicks is lined up at safety, but this time it is near the goal line. The offense tries to power up the middle, but that gets shut down. With the running back bouncing outside, Hicks flies to the ball and stops the ball carrier for a loss at a key part of the field.
Yes, Hicks is a big athlete who can cover sideline-to-sideline and play man-to-man with offensive players. But at his core, Hicks is a downhill linebacker who can play in the Big Ten.
He is still raw and needs time with both linebackers coach Al Washington and strength coach Mickey Marotti. But one day, he should be a standout for the Buckeyes.