Ohio State’s 2018 roster is loaded with talent, per usual, but how does it compare to the Buckeyes’ previous teams since Urban Meyer has arrived in Columbus?
Here at Eleven Warriors, we’ve been taking a position-by-position look over the course of this month at how the Buckeyes’ current roster stacks up with Ohio State’s rosters from Meyer’s first six seasons as head coach.
That breakdown concludes today with a look at the Buckeyes’ safeties.
While the Buckeyes have consistently produced elite talent at cornerback during Meyer’s tenure in Columbus, they’ve been more inconsistent at safety. Malik Hooker and Vonn Bell were both stars on the back end of Ohio State’s defense, but Christian Bryant is the only other Buckeye safety who has been drafted since Meyer’s arrival, and Ohio State has sometimes struggled to find two consistent starters at the position.
Going into 2018, the Buckeyes look like they could be in a similar position. Second-year starting safety Jordan Fuller is expected to be among Ohio State’s top defensive players – with defensive coordinator Greg Schiano projecting Fuller to be an All-American – but the Buckeyes will go into fall camp without another established player at the position.
Yet even though Ohio State has had some inconsistency at the position in the past, and is facing uncertainty at the position now, Meyer’s Buckeyes have recruited plenty of talented safeties to Columbus over the past seven years.
For the season ahead, it’s new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Alex Grinch’s responsibility to develop and determine the right player to step in at the open spot next to Fuller in the starting lineup. But to get a sense of what exactly he’ll have to work with, we can take a look back at how the Buckeyes compare at the safety position to Meyer’s previous rosters in terms of depth, experience and recruiting stars.
Ohio State’s safety rosters for every season from 2012 through 2018 are listed below with each player’s year of eligibility, number of recruiting stars (based on 247Sports’ composite rankings) and how many games they had appeared in and started going into each respective season, with analysis to follow on how this year’s group stacks up with the rest.
Notes: Players who made position switches are only listed for the seasons that they were safeties for the Buckeyes. Players who made midseason position switches are listed if they began the season at safety.
Orhian Johnson, Redshirt Senior (★★★*) – 37 games, 15 starts
C.J. Barnett, Redshirt Junior (★★★★) – 23 games, 15 starts
Christian Bryant, Junior (★★★★) – 19 games, 10 starts
Jamie Wood, Redshirt Junior (★★★★) – 26 games
Zach Domicone, Redshirt Senior (★★★*) – 25 games
Corey Brown, Redshirt Junior (★★★★) – 21 games
Ron Tanner, Redshirt Freshman (★★★★)
Devan Bogard, Freshman (★★★★)
Tyvis Powell, Freshman (★★★)
Russell Doup, Redshirt Sophomore (Walk-on)
C.J. Barnett, Redshirt Senior (★★★★) – 32 games, 24 starts
Christian Bryant, Senior (★★★★) – 31 games, 22 starts
Corey Brown, Redshirt Senior (★★★★) – 33 games
Ron Tanner, Redshirt Sophomore (★★★★) – 11 games
Devan Bogard, Sophomore (★★★★) – 7 games
Tyvis Powell, Redshirt Freshman (★★★)
Vonn Bell, Freshman (★★★★★)
Jayme Thompson, Freshman (★★★★)
Chris Worley, Freshman (★★★)
Russell Doup, Redshirt Junior (Walk-on)
Kevin Niehoff, Sophomore (Walk-on)
Michael Cibene, Freshman (Walk-on)
Khaleed Franklin, Freshman (Walk-on)
Tyvis Powell, Redshirt Sophomore (★★★) – 14 games, 5 starts
Vonn Bell, Sophomore (★★★★★) – 14 games, 1 start
Ron Tanner, Redshirt Junior (★★★★) – 25 games
Cam Burrows, Sophomore (★★★★) – 12 games (as CB)
Erick Smith, Freshman (★★★★)
Malik Hooker, Freshman (★★★)
Russell Doup, Redshirt Senior (Walk-on) – 2 games
Kevin Niehoff, Junior (Walk-on) – 1 game
Michael Cibene, Sophomore (Walk-on)
Khaleed Franklin, Sophomore (Walk-on)
Michael Lawless, Sophomore (Walk-on)
Mike Maduko, Freshman (Walk-on)
Tyvis Powell, Redshirt Junior (★★★) – 29 games, 20 starts
Vonn Bell, Junior (★★★★★) – 29 games, 15 starts
Cam Burrows, Junior (★★★★) – 26 games (12 as CB)
Erick Smith, Sophomore (★★★★) – 14 games
Malik Hooker, Redshirt Freshman (★★★)
Eric Glover-Williams, Freshman (★★★★)
Khaleed Franklin, Junior (Walk-on) – 1 game
Jarrod Barnes, Redshirt Junior (Walk-on)
Michael Cibene, Junior (Walk-on)
Cameron Howard, Junior (Walk-on)
Michael Lawless, Junior (Walk-on)
Cin’Quan Haney, Sophomore (Walk-on)
Mike Maduko, Sophomore (Walk-on)
Cam Burrows, Senior (★★★★) – 29 games (12 as CB)
Erick Smith, Junior (★★★★) – 20 games
Damon Webb, Junior (★★★★) – 16 games (as CB)
Malik Hooker, Redshirt Sophomore (★★★) – 13 games
Eric Glover-Williams, Sophomore (★★★★) – 7 games
Jordan Fuller, Freshman (★★★★)
Jahsen Wint, Freshman (★★★)
Jarrod Barnes, Redshirt Senior (Walk-on) – 1 game
Khaleed Franklin, Senior (Walk-on) – 1 game
Michael Cibene, Senior (Walk-on)
Cameron Howard, Senior (Walk-on)
Michael Lawless, Senior (Walk-on)
Damon Webb, Junior (★★★★) – 29 games (16 as CB), 13 starts
Erick Smith, Senior (★★★★) – 32 games
Jordan Fuller, Sophomore (★★★★) – 13 games
Wayne Davis, Redshirt Freshman (★★★★)
Jahsen Wint, Redshirt Freshman (★★★)
Isaiah Pryor, Freshman (★★★★)
Brendon White, Freshman (★★★★)
Clay Raterman, Senior (Walk-on)
Kevin Dever, Freshman (Walk-on)
Jordan Fuller, Junior (★★★★) – 26 games, 13 starts
Amir Riep, Sophomore (★★★★) – 14 games (as CB)
Isaiah Pryor, Sophomore (★★★★) – 13 games
Jahsen Wint, Redshirt Sophomore (★★★) – 9 games
Brendon White, Sophomore (★★★★) – 5 games (2 as WR)
Josh Proctor, Freshman (★★★★)
Marcus Hooker, Freshman (★★★)
Owen Fankhauser, Junior (Walk-on)
Kevin Dever, Sophomore (Walk-on)
Luke Donovan, Freshman (Walk-on)
Overview: While Meyer inherited a more safety-heavy roster when he arrived in Columbus, with nine scholarship safeties on each of his first two Buckeyes teams, Ohio State appears to now be building its rosters around having seven scholarship safeties, as it enters the 2018 season with that exact number of scholarship players at the position for the third year in a row.
The Buckeyes are entering the season with only one safety who has ever started a game for Ohio State, but that’s not an unusual development from recent years, either. Ohio State was in the same situation last year, when Jordan Fuller ultimately emerged as a starter alongside Damon Webb. Going into 2016, the Buckeyes didn’t have a single safety who had started a game, but Malik Hooker emerged as an All-American with Webb moving from cornerback to start alongside him.
From a talent perspective, the Buckeyes’ five four-star safeties and two three-star safeties also put them about on par with where they’ve been in other recent years. They aren’t quite as deep with safety prospects as they were going into 2012, 2013 and last year – all seasons they entered with six four-star safeties – but they still have plenty of candidates to choose from at a position where they typically don’t often rotate their starters out of the lineup.
Isaiah Pryor and Amir Riep might be the top candidates to start alongside Fuller in 2018 after seeing playing time throughout their freshman years last season (primarily on special teams), but fellow rising sophomore Brendon White and new freshman Josh Proctor are also among the players who could make a push for the spot in fall camp.
Of course, recruiting stars don’t always equate to performance on the field, and the safety position has been as indicative of that as any position for Ohio State during Meyer’s tenure.
Vonn Bell, the only five-star safety Meyer’s Buckeyes have had, lived up to his billing. The best safety Ohio State has had over the past seven years, however, was a three-star recruit in Hooker. Tyvis Powell, who teamed with Bell to form what might have been Ohio State’s best safety pairing of the Meyer era in 2014 and 2015, was also a three-star.
So until we see what the Buckeyes’ safeties other than Fuller on the current roster can do in significant playing time in meaningful games, it’s purely conjecture who might be the best safety of the group or how good they can be this year.
If Fuller can match his play to the hype, though, and a couple of the Buckeyes’ talented but unproven safeties can prove capable of providing solid play alongside him, it is possible that this year’s group of safeties – despite the uncertainty now – could be among the better groups Meyer has had at the position at Ohio State.