The Hurry-Up: Buckeyes Make Final List for No. 1 Safety Target Xavier Nwankpa and DT Target Nick James, Top Remaining LB and CB Targets

By Zack Carpenter on May 2, 2021 at 6:30 pm
Xavier Nwankpa

The Hurry-Up is your nightly dose of updates from the Ohio State football recruiting trail, keeping tabs on the latest from commits and targets from around the country.

Nwankpa releases final list

Ohio State may have had a subpar draft when it comes to defensive backs this year, at least to the program's standards. But despite just one former Buckeye in the secondary (Shaun Wade) going in the fifth round, the program still has a high standard and reputation for being a factory of producing pro-ready players at the position.

That is one major factor in why the Buckeyes cracked the final list for four-star safety Xavier Nwankpa, the nation's No. 71 overall prospect and No. 5 safety in the 2022 class out of Iowa's Southeast Polk High School – where he's the state's top-ranked player and one of the highest-rated players in the state's history.

Nwankpa, who is a borderline five-star prospect who is ranked 13th overall and No. 1 at safety per 247Sports' own ranking system, has Ohio State competing with Clemson, Iowa, LSU, Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Arizona State for his services. 

Nwankpa told 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong that the pro development and relationships with Buckeye commits in the class are key reasons for why Columbus is still a top potential destination.

“Definitely how they produce DBs recently and some of the players I’ve talked to like the other recruits there. C.J. Hicks, I’ve talked to him a few times. Mostly the relationship I’m building and I definitely want to get down there on a visit when things open up. Their development for sure and the players. Their recruits that are committed so far.”

That's no different of a reason that Nwankpa gives in April 2021 as he gave to Eleven Warriors in September 2020 when the Buckeyes offered, as he told us "the players they put out every year into the league and the guys they recruit (are) top notch for sure."

Hard-hitting, versatility, passion and leadership were some of the main traits that the 6-foot-2, 190-pound stud of a safety noted that Matt Barnes loves about him as a prospect. Nwankpa is a pure safety prospect in this class, and that's one of the program's biggest needs to fill in this cycle.

You can see some more below on the other safety targets and Nwankpa, who was on an unofficial visit to Iowa this past weekend, took an unofficial visit to Texas A&M in April and will be taking official visits to Ohio State (June 4-6 for the Buckeye Bash 2.0), Texas A&M (June 11) and Notre Dame (June 18).

Buckeyes crack James' final six

Defensive tackle is one of the Buckeyes' top-two or top-three positional needs in the 2022 class, and they are seeking a minimum of two at the position – possibly three, especially if they land the versatile Caden Curry, who could wind up as a 3-tech or on the edge as a defensive end.

Ohio State has been pushing out several DT offers to 2022 prospects over the past month or so, but one player who we recently touched on (who had previously not been talked about too much) is IMG Academy (Florida) four-star Nick James, the No. 181 overall player and No. 16 DT in the cycle.

James, who is heading up to Columbus for an official visit on June 4-6, released a top-12 list in March, and he went into further detail at the time with us about most of those schools.

On Saturday, the 6-foot-2, 280-pounder cut his list in half with two things that stand out – Ohio State being on the list (not a surprise) and Alabama being absent from the list (which is a major surprise).

Instead, the Buckeyes are pitted against LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, Oregon and South Carolina for the No. 21-ranked player out of the Sunshine State.

James is an Alabama native who transferred to IMG Academy in January 2020, and the prevailing belief was that the Crimson Tide would have a distinct edge in his recruitment. It appears, however, that the two sides will be going separate ways for the rest of his recruiting process.

If the Buckeyes want him, James is probably theirs to lose at this point as they done a good job building a relationship with him and showing them a culture that he believes would suit him well.

“I want a family-like atmosphere, you know?,” James told us previously. “Where I feel like I can talk to my coaches about anything. I wanna feel at home as soon as I step on campus and I can see myself being there for three or four years. … I feel like Ohio State is (a good fit). Coach (Larry) Johnson and Coach (Ryan) Day are great coaches. They run a great program.”

Top remaining LB/CB targets

A rundown of our breakdowns of Ohio State's top remaining targets at each position group in the 2022 class:

Finally, we hit on the back seven:


Shawn Murphy

Unfortunately, the timing of Dasan McCullough's flip to Indiana means there's not a ton of time to build relationships with outside linebacker prospects in the 2022 class. Fortunately, Al Washington and the Buckeyes have already formed a tremendous relationship with the former five-star Murphy, who has slid down to the No. 61 overall spot and No. 2 at inside linebacker as a four-star prospect.

Murphy would not be a replacement for McCullough, though, as Murphy is a Mike linebacker prospect. He would still help fill the need for a third linebacker prospect in this cycle, and I think Ohio State has a good shot at Virginia's No. 2-ranked prospect, who has some strong Ohio ties.

Justin Medlock

At one point, Medlock looked as if he was clearly headed to Texas and staying in-state, but the Manvel High School three-star now appears to have a quartet of Oklahoma, Ohio State, LSU and Oregon as his top suitors. Like Murphy, though, Medlock is more of an inside linebacker who would play at either the Mike or Will spot, the latter of which he told us that Al Washington believes he fits the best at.

David Bailey

There are a few analysts who believe Bailey could be the next linebacker in this cycle to get an Ohio State offer. He is ranked No. 64 overall, No. 5 at OLB and No. 5 in the state of California, where he attends a powerhouse program that the Buckeyes have had trouble cracking in Mater Dei High School. He has only 11 offers listed, but I believe some of that is attributed to him not being vocal about recruiting and being fairly separated from the whole process while focusing on the game itself. He's described as an absolute stud by coaches and teammates.

Jihaad Campbell

Ditto what I said about him on Friday:

Campbell would have been No. 2 or No. 3 in this space just a couple months ago, but the Buckeyes have slipped here for this immensely talented hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker

Jaishawn Barham

Unsure of Ohio State's interest here, but he does have an offer and is a borderline five-star prospect ranked No. 52 overall and No. 1 at inside linebacker.


Toriano Pride

The top-two remaining cornerback targets seem to be pretty clear-cut, though the third player on this list probably isn't far behind. The clear top-of-the-board guy, to me, is Pride. He's a vastly underrated top-tier outside corner prospect ranked at just No. 180 overall and No. 22 among cornerbacks.

He has a top seven that he broke down with us in March, but Ohio State and Clemson have emerged as 1A and 1B in his recruitment in some order. He's taking his official visit to Columbus on June 4, and he follows that up with a Clemson official visit the following weekend. Those back-to-back trips are likely to determine his decision. He has been to Clemson and visited Ohio State three or four times, but meeting the coaches in person is the final straw in figuring out where he wants to go.

Ryan Turner

Just like Pride, this one is an Ohio State vs. Clemson battle, but don't rule out Jeff Hafley, defensive backs coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim and Boston College as a darkhorse. They were in on him earlier than most others with a December 2020 offer before the bluebloods came calling in January and February, and we all know how great of a relationship-builder, recruiter and talent developer Hafley is. But still, I expect it to be the Buckeyes vs. the Tigers with Ohio State as a narrow leader.

Yes, it's a disappointment to not land any of the five-star talents (Domani Jackson, Denver Harris, Will Johnson) that litter a filthy rich cornerbacks class in 2022. It's one of the best cornerback cycles in recent history – both with high-end future NFL talent at the top and deep with plenty of talent throughout the top 100.

But Jackson was going to be a ridiculously hard pull from SoCal and USC, Johnson was a near-Ohio State commit but the family legacy pull to Michigan was too difficult to overcome, and Harris seems destined to stay in the south. Kerry Coombs got his man in five-star Jaheim Singletary, so the Buckeyes have their no-doubt stud corner in the class with Jyaire Brown adding developmental depth as a slot corner with a bright future. Adding one of Pride or Turner would be tremendous; somehow adding both (unlikely) would be a grand slam.

Austin Jordan

Not sure Ohio State is as high on the Texas defensive back out of powerhouse Ryan High School, but his speed and raw talent is evident. He's coming up for an official visit on June 11 before official visits to the other programs in his final three, Oklahoma and Texas, the following two weekends. I expect him to stay in Big 12 country, but that could wind up being determined by the decisions of Pride and Turner.

Jayden Bellamy

A versatile corner who can play both the inside and outside spots, Bellamy is the Buckeyes' most recent cornerback offer, and he went into detail about that offer with us in March. An official visit to Columbus is coming on June 25.

Ephesians Prysock

An off-the-radar guy who we spoke with at length a couple months ago, Prysock is the lone cornerback on this list who does not yet have an official visit scheduled to Ohio State. He's a tall, long cornerback prospect (6-foot-3, 170 pounds) who would be a nice addition as an outside guy, but it's likelier that the Bishop Alemany (California) four-star stays out west, though Notre Dame and LSU are also lurking.


Xavier Nwankpa

Nwankpa is the No. 1 safety target. I don't think there's really even any doubt about it. He's one of the top-four remaining targets in the class regardless of position for the Buckeyes. He's a must-get for a team that needs a pure safety prospect, and he has "future star" written all over him...

Zion Branch, too, does Branch. I believe he's the clear-cut No. 2 target, but I'm not sure he's too far behind Nwankpa. The No. 49 overall player and No. 4 safety in America out of Las Vegas, Branch will be joining Nwankpa on an official visit to Ohio State for the Buckeye Bash 2.0.

Kamari Ramsey

Ramsey is likely to stay out west at either USC or Stanford (with UCLA or Arizona State also in the mix in his final five), but the Buckeyes will be welcoming him for an important official visit on June 21. His official visit to USC on June 18 lingers as perhaps just as important as the Trojans look to keep him in SoCal.

Sherrod Covil Jr.

Ohio State's most recent safety offer, Covil is perhaps the hardest-hitting safety prospect in the 2022 class. I like Covil's game a lot, but this is still a pretty new relationship being built and the Buckeyes will have to do some fast work here if Nwankpa or Branch opts to go elsewhere.

Jake Pope

Pope is headed to Columbus for an official visit on June 18, and he hails from the same Georgia school as Buckeyes offensive lineman Harry Miller in Buford High School. 

On a final note

My final note tonight is bittersweet. This is my last day working at Eleven Warriors.

I wanted to give a final note before I head out, and if you care to read it you can head over to our forum to check it out. Thank you for following along over the past year and a half, and hopefully whoever fills my shoes will also exhaust you guys with endless movie and song references.

Header photo: Xavier Nwankpa – Zach Boyden-Holmes/USA Today

View 4 Comments