Three-Stars Can Be All-Stars for Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but They Are the Exceptions

By Vico on July 31, 2017 at 2:45 pm
Malik Hooker at an NFL combine event

Marcus Hooker committed to Ohio State last week hoping to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Marcus. The elder Hooker signed with Ohio State as part of its 2014 class and left an All-American, a national champion, and a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

The younger Hooker will also hope to follow another path that his brother traveled while at Ohio State. Like his older brother, Marcus Hooker is a three-star prospect that defied expectations en route to gridiron glory.

Urban Meyer has signed 42 three-stars in his first five recruiting cycles. Our review of these 42 signees suggest that a case like Malik Hooker is exceptional among this sample of all Ohio State football signees. Most don't reach those heights, and certainly among signees in more recent classes. The 2012 and 2013 classes are conspicuous for how many recruits became important contributors to Ohio State football in the past three seasons.

Three-Star Ohio State Signees (2012-2016)
Year Name Position Hometown Notes
2012 Jacoby Boren OL Pickerington, OH Two-year starter at center (2014, 2015). Third-team All-B1G (2015).
2012 Frank Epitropolous WR Upper Arlington, OH Retired from football in Aug. 2014 to focus on academics. Transferred to Michigan State a year later.
2012 Blake Thomas TE Westlake, OH Ended career after nerve injury in Aug. 2013
2012 Tyvis Powell DB Bedford, OH First father-son combo to play at Ohio State at same time (with Cardale Jones). Defensive MVP of 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship.
2012 Luke Roberts LB Lancaster, OH Transferred to Harvard after freshman year.
2012 Pat Elflein OL Pickerington, OH First-team All-BIG, All-American (2016). B1G OL of the Year (2016). Rimington Trophy (2016). 70th overall pick of 2017 NFL Draft.
2012 Cardale Jones QB Cleveland, OH Did not come to play school. Left as all-time Ohio State folk hero. Current LA Charger.
2012 Ricquan Southward WR Lakeland, FL Left program in October of freshman year.
2012 Jamal Marcus LB Durham, NC Potential breakout star from 2013 season. Transferred to Akron after academic problems in spring of 2014.
2013 Tracy Sprinkle DE Elyria, OH Senior, expected starter at DL in 2017. Four career tackles.
2013 Darron Lee ATH New Albany, OH Two-year starter (2014, 2015). Defensive MVP of 2015 Sugar Bowl. 20th overall pick of 2016 NFL Draft.
2013 Timothy Gardner OL Indianapolis, IN Removed from team in July 2013 after obstruction of official business charge. Transferred to Indiana. Left program before 2016 season.
2013 Gareon Conley DB Massillon, OH Two-year starter (2015, 2016). Second Team All-B1G (2016). 24th overall pick in 2017 NFL Draft.
2013 Donovan Munger DT Shaker Heights, OH Retired from football in 2016 (pulmonary embolism). Five career tackles.
2013 Chris Worley LB Cleveland, OH Senior, second-year starter at OLB. Honorable mention All-B1G (2016).
2014 Dylan Thompson DE Lombard, IL Yet to play. Off scholarship in 2016 and 2017.
2014 Sam Hubbard LB Cincinnati, OH Eventually moved to DL. Freshman All-American (2015), Honorable mention All-B1G (2016).
2014 Sean Nuernberger K Buckner, KY First-team kicker on national championship team. Potential starter as senior in 2017.
2014 Stephen Collier QB Leesburg, GA Scout-team QB. Retired from football in January without ever seeing the field.
2014 Malik Hooker DB New Castle, PA First-team All-B1G/All-American. 15th overall pick in 2017 NFL Draft.
2014 Brady Taylor OL Columbus, OH Backup OL/center. Played in 12 of 13 games last year.
2014 Darius Slade DE Montclair, NJ 2014 redshirt that played in seven games in 2015 before injury sidelined him for 2016. Transferred to Arizona State in July.
2015 Joe Burrow QB Athens, OH Backup QB in 2016. In race with Dwayne Haskins to back up Barrett in 2017.
2015 Denzel Ward DB Macedonia, OH Stands out as one of few to not redshirt in 2015 class. Likely starter at nickel in 2017.
2015 Joshua Alabi DE Detroit, MI 2015 redshirt that played five games in 2016 at DL. Now in OL rotation.
2015 A.J. Alexander WR Burke, VA Favorite to start 2017 season at tight end before season-ending injury.
2015 Alex Stump WR Lakewood, OH One catch for eight yards in 2016. Transferred to Vanderbilt.
2015 Rashod Berry DE Lorain, OH Switched positions to tight end and back to DL again. Seven tackles in 2016.
2015 Josh Norwood DB Valdosta, GA Played in 11 games after redshirt year. Left the program in May.
2015 Branden Bowen OL Draper, UT Backup OL.
2015 Mirko Jurkovic, Jr. OL South Bend, IN Academically ineligible (did not enroll). Transferred to Georgia. Medically disqualified in 2016.
2015 Robert Landers DT Huber Heights, OH 7.5 TFLs as redshirt freshman
2015 DaVon Hamilton DT Pickerington, OH Backup DL. 10 tackles in 2016 after redshirt year.
2015 Damon Arnette DB Ft. Lauderdale, FL Backup/nickelback after redshirt year. Potential starter at cornerback in 2017
2016 Drue Chrisman K Cincinnati, OH Expected starter at punter for 2017
2016 Tuf Borland LB Bolingbrook, IL Redshirt freshman
2016 Kareem Felder DB Baltimore, MD Academically ineligible (did not enroll). Transferred to Toledo.
2016 Gavin Cupp OL Leipsic, OH Redshirt freshman
2016 Jahsen Wint ATH Brooklyn, NY Redshirt freshman
2016 Rodjay Burns ATH Louisville, KY Appeared in seven games. Transferred to Louisville.
2016 Jordan Fuller DB Old Tappan, NJ 71 snaps on defense as true freshman.
2016 Malik Harrison ATH Columbus, OH Played in 12 of 13 games as true freshman.

Were it Meyer's choice, every signee would be a five-star can't-miss talent given how well star rankings correlate with on-field performance. Since that's not practical, Ohio State still fills out otherwise star-studded rosters with three-star talent that is some combination of available, interested, and potentially undervalued by recruiting services.

A few three-star signees in the 2012 and 2013 recruiting cycles certainly fit that bill. Several names among those three-stars became important contributors to Ohio State's 2014 national championship team. Jacoby Boren was a two-year starter at center. Pat Elflein and Tyvis Powell became household names during the 2013 Michigan game before establishing themselves as two-year starters at offensive line and safety. Powell earned defensive MVP honors for the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship and Elflein even won the Rimington Trophy last year as a redshirt senior. 

Cardale Jones' name is conspicuous among the 2012 three-stars as well. Jones entered fall camp in 2014 as the third-team quarterback before leading the Buckeyes on a final three-game run en route to the Big Ten and national championships.

The 2013 class also had a few three-stars that became vital contributors to the Buckeyes. Darron Lee is the most prominent of these three-stars. Lee was a high school quarterback at New Albany and needed a strong intervention from Luke Fickell to convince Urban Meyer to take him in the 2013 recruiting class. He became a two-year starter from his redshirt freshman year and the defensive MVP of the 2015 Sugar Bowl. The Jets took him in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Gareon Conley eventually became a two-year starter before leaving for the NFL after the 2016 season.

The class also has a few holdovers that are still on the roster. Tracy Sprinkle looked to be big-time contributor last year before his season-ending injury against Bowling Green. Chris Worley will be a two-year starter at outside linebacker as well.

These names stand out but they are cherry-picked. The three-stars in the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes still mostly panned out as three-stars typically do, certainly in a program saturated with talent like Ohio State. Six of the 15 three-stars Ohio State signed in 2012 and 2013 were not on the roster by the fall of 2014. Donovan Munger's career never materialized as blood clot concerns eventually led him to hang up his cleats.

More recent classes have yet to produce the same kind of contributors among the three-stars. The 2014 recruiting class produced Malik Hooker, Sam Hubbard, and Sean Nuernberger. Malik Hooker started slow, even redshirted his first year, before becoming an All-American and first-round draft pick. Sam Hubbard redshirted as well but has since positioned himself as one of the best defensive ends in the country. Sean Nuernberger's career path has been more of a rollercoaster by comparison. Nuernberger was a day-one starter at kicker as a true freshman but saw walk-ons and transfers take his job in 2015 and 2016. He'll hope to end his career this season as Ohio State's starting kicker again. Brady Taylor, also in this list for 2014, has been a backup center for the past two years.

However, a few careers never effectively materialized for three-stars in the 2014 class. Dylan Thompson is still on the roster but is yet to play. He will even be off scholarship for 2017 for an academic issue. Stephen Collier retired from football without playing a down for Ohio State, but served well as the scout-team Blake Sims and Marcus Mariota in the 2014 playoff run. Darius Slade played in seven total games in his three years on campus before transferring last week to Arizona State.

Robert Landers enters Ohio Stadium for the Northwestern game in 2016.
Robert Landers could buck a recent trend of three-star signees as his career develops.

The 2015 recruiting class will stand out in the entirety of Meyer's Ohio State tenure as likely his most disappointing recruiting class. Almost all of it redshirted, unable to make a first-year impact for the defending national champion Buckeyes. Damon Arnette, Robert Landers, and Denzel Ward will be important contributors in 2017.

Still others, like Joshua Alabi, Rashod Berry, and Davon Hamilton, are searching for their place in the program.

A few have since left the program. Alex Stump and Josh Norwood recently transferred. Mirko Jurkovic, Jr. never enrolled. He failed to qualify academically at Ohio State and chose the University of Georgia as his second destination. Georgia's football program medically disqualified him before the start of the last season.

Whereas most of this class will be redshirt sophomores in 2017, the jury is still out for how their careers will unfold. Joe Burrow served as backup quarterback in 2016 and will compete with Dwayne Haskins and Tate Martell to replace J.T. Barrett in 2018. A.J. Alexander is a promising tight end and was a prospective starter but will not play in 2017 as he recuperates from an injury.

Likewise, the jury is still out for the three-stars in the 2016 class. The class had more of an immediate effect its first year on campus but fans can expect to see a bigger influence in 2017. Drue Chrisman will likely be the Buckeyes' punter. Jordan Fuller is a favorite to replace the departed Malik Hooker. Jahsen Wint redshirted last year but should become a familiar name on special teams in 2017.

Urban Meyer has taken Ohio State's football recruiting to new heights since his arrival in Nov. 2011. Yet, the litany of five-stars Ohio State now signs in a given recruiting cycle belies that Ohio State still needs three-stars to fill out the football roster. Three-stars, even in the Urban Meyer era, have become all-stars for the Buckeyes. However, those prominent three-star signees occur earlier in Meyer's tenure rather than later. It would be an exception to a more general trend recently if Marcus Hooker were to have the same kind of career trajectory as his older brother.

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