Ohio State's Recent History of Losing Defensive Back Commits is a Strange but Not Quite Worrisome Trend

By Andrew Ellis on June 27, 2020 at 3:47 pm
Kerry Coombs is putting together a stellar 2021 defensive back class.

Every program deals with decommitments.

Ohio State's 2021 recruiting class was hit with a bit of a blow this week when three-star cornerback Devonta Smith backed off of his pledge. The Cincinnati product was one of five defensive back commitments for Kerry Coombs and now seems to be trending toward the Crimson Tide.

We won't go too deep into the details behind the decommitment, but Smith is a talented player who's clearly being courted by some of America's best. For Coombs and the Buckeyes, things continue to look promising with the four remaining commitments (we continue to view Jaylen Johnson as a linebacker) and the pursuit of another one or two in the secondary. 

The Buckeyes have had a bit of a problem landing cornerbacks of late despite the stellar play in the secondary. For the 2019 and 2020 classes, an argument can be made that Ohio State didn't sign a single pure cornerback. Yes, Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts both are starting out at corner, but some do feel safety could be the best long-term fit. Either way, versatility is always a good thing to have in the defensive backfield, so it's a little bit nit-picky.

The decommitment wave in the secondary is a tough thing to wrap your head around when you consider the recent NFL Draft success. Obviously each situation is different, but the vast majority of the recent departures weren't players that Ohio State wanted to see end up elsewhere. So what's the reasoning behind it and is this a potential issue moving forward?

Noteworthy Decommits
2015 CARLTON DAVIS Miami, Fla. ★★★★ No. 340 AUBURN
2018 JAIDEN WOODBEY Fontana, Calif. ★★★★ No. 35 FLORIDA STATE
2019 JORDAN BATTLE Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ★★★★ No. 43 ALABAMA
2020 CLARK PHILLIPS III La Habra, Calif. ★★★★ No. 50 UTAH
2021 DEVONTA SMITH Cincinnati, Ohio ★★★ No. 400 TBD

First of all, absolutely no one should be doubting Kerry Coombs' ability as a recruiter. He proved himself during his first stint in Columbus and is already doing it again from his defensive coordinator role. He's one of the best recruiters in the country and the defensive backfield is in great hands. As for his play-calling, the jury is still out on that one and we'll find out more this fall. 

Miami's Carlton Davis was a surprise commitment back in the Class of 2015, and he only saw his stock rise throughout the process. I don't think anyone really expected him to end up at Ohio State, and that's exactly what transpired when he ultimately flipped to Auburn. Was this a miss? Absolutely as Davis was first-team All-SEC in 2017 and went onto be a second-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. 

Four-star California safety Jaiden Woodbey became commitment No. 3 for the 2018 class way back in February of 2017. Late in the process, most caught wind of his desire to look elsewhere with schools like USC and Florida State very much in the mix. Greg Schiano nearly ending up at Tennessee didn't help Ohio State's chances as he ultimately sided with the Noles.

Things haven't gone so well in Tallahassee of late, and Woodbey played in just four games in 2019 before suffering a leg injury. He's spent much of his time in the hybrid "star" position but is expected to move back to safety under Mike Norvell. At this point, one has to wonder if he regrets the decision more than Ohio State does. The Buckeyes' 2018 class ultimately included Josh Proctor and Tyreke Johnson (who has since moved to corner). 

The loss of Jordan Battle to Alabama was a big one and the former four-star is expected to start at safety for the Tide in 2020. Hailing from the St. Thomas Aquinas pipeline, Battle made the switch during the December early signing period. It was a significant blow to the 2019 recruiting class and can probably be directly attributed to Urban Meyer's retirement. 

Last cycle it was Clark Phillips III who ended up flipping from Ohio State to Utah. This was problematic since he was a pure cornerback in a class that was quite needy at the position. Much like Battle, the decision very likely came down to a coaching change. Phillips had built a great relationship with defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, and his decision to head to Boston College came down just days before the early signing period.

It's worth noting that Phillips' brother also plays for Utah and proximity to home worked in the Utes' favor as well. He's expected to make an early impact in Salt Lake City and would almost certainly have fought for playing time as an early enrollee in Columbus. 

As for the aforementioned Devonta Smith news, we'll see how things play out for the three-when he decides to make his next announcement. Smith is by all accounts a great kid and should do well regardless of his destination. He's hit a bit of a growth spurt since last year and is reportedly a priority target for Nick Saban and Co. 

All in all, coaching changes have probably had the most direct impact on the number of decommitments we've seen over the years. Great assistants at a place like Ohio State tend to move onto bigger things. It's honestly tough to blame a kid – regardless of position – when someone like Urban Meyer rides off into the sunset or a position coach elects to head elsewhere.

Is it a bit of a strange trend given that Ohio State has had seven defensive backs selected in the first round dating back to 2016? Probably so. Should it be viewed as problematic or troubling in any way? Hardly. 

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