Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2017 is entering a pivotal season.
Those Buckeyes are entering their third season in Columbus, which means they’re expected to be ready to play significant roles for Ohio State if they haven’t already. Each of them now have two years as Ohio State players under their belts, and by the end of the upcoming season, all of them will be on the back end of their careers while some of them will have decisions to make about whether it’s time to go to the NFL.
With that in mind, Eleven Warriors is taking an individual look this offseason at each of Ohio State’s third-year players – in descending order of their 247Sports composite recruiting rankings – and the expectations that preceded their Ohio State careers, how they have performed in their first two seasons as Buckeyes and the outlook for the remainder of their careers.
After a brief hiatus, we get back into the Third-Year Reset with a look at Marcus Williamson, who has flashed the potential to be a playmaker at cornerback but is still looking to earn his first significant playing time in the Buckeyes’ secondary after injury setbacks.
Before He Became a Buckeye
Williamson grew up in Central Ohio and spent his first three years of high school at Westerville South, where he emerged as a lockdown cornerback and an early Ohio State target. He committed to Ohio State in April 2015, before his junior season with the Wildcats.
For his senior year of high school, Williamson transferred to IMG Academy, where he joined Isaiah Pryor – also a member of Ohio State’s 2017 recruiting class – in the Ascenders’ secondary and helped lead them to an undefeated season.
Williamson was ranked as the 24th-best cornerback and No. 182 overall prospect in the class of 2017.
Career to Date
Williamson appeared in 10 games for Ohio State as a true freshman in 2017. He played primarily on special teams, establishing himself as a regular on both the kickoff and kickoff return units for the Buckeyes, but also played 77 defensive snaps at cornerback, primarily in late-game action in lopsided wins.
Going into his sophomore season, Williamson made his case for more playing time at cornerback with a strong showing in Ohio State’s 2018 spring game, in which he forced several incompletions with tight coverage. Still, he remained stuck behind Kendall Sheffield, Damon Arnette and fellow 2017 signees Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade on the Buckeyes’ cornerback depth chart and played only 42 defensive snaps last season, all coming in the season’s first four games.
Williamson was once again a regular on special teams for the Buckeyes’ first five games of last season, seeing playing time on the kickoff, punt and punt return units, but did not play again for the remainder of the season due to an undisclosed injury.
Because he appeared in one more game than would have allowed him to take a redshirt last season, Williamson is now a junior in eligibility, so the clock is ticking for him to earn his way into the Buckeyes’ cornerback rotation. In order to make that happen, Williamson first has to get healthy.
Williamson was limited in practice this spring and did not play in the spring game as he continued to battle an injury, so he has not yet had the opportunity to prove to new secondary coach Jeff Hafley that he deserves more playing time. He will have that opportunity as long as he is healthy in preseason camp, but he’ll have some ground to make up.
“He’s been injured quite a bit,” Hafley said in an interview session earlier this month. “I’m really hoping he can stay healthy and I think that will help us out.”
The departure of Sheffield could open up a spot for Williamson in Ohio State’s cornerback rotation, but it also might not. Hafley hasn’t specified whether he plans to rotate his cornerbacks regularly, and Okudah and Arnette are in line to be the starting outside cornerbacks while Wade is expected to remain the team’s top slot cornerback.
Williamson is the most experienced cornerback on the team outside of those three and should get a shot to establish himself as the Buckeyes’ fourth cornerback, but 2018 signees Sevyn Banks, Tyreke Johnson and Cameron Brown are also pushing for spots on the cornerback depth chart. Amir Riep also spent some time at cornerback this spring after moving to safety last year.
If Williamson can get healthy and stay healthy, he has the talent to earn a spot on the Buckeyes’ two-deep and potentially be a contributor in the secondary this season, or at least the next man up if one of the top three cornerbacks suffers an injury. He’s spent time at both outside cornerback and slot cornerback in his Ohio State career, so he offers the versatility to contribute at either spot. He’s likely to play a substantial role on special teams once again, too, as long as he is available to play.
Because he was injured for most of last season and this spring, however, it will be hard to forecast how exactly he might factor into Ohio State’s plans this season until he practices with the team in a full capacity again.
Williamson’s best opportunity to earn a big role in Ohio State’s secondary could come in 2020, as Arnette is entering his senior season while Okudah and Wade could both potentially be candidates to leave early for the NFL draft. Okudah is a seemingly likely candidate to go pro after this season, which could leave the Buckeyes with two open starting spots at outside cornerback, and Williamson should be a candidate to fill one of those spots.
Surely, Williamson would prefer to earn significant playing time this year too, as he’s already starting the back half of his Ohio State career, but next year looks like the year that the Buckeyes will really be counting on Williamson to be a leader at the cornerback position.
Williamson hasn’t played enough yet at Ohio State to demonstrate whether he could be a future NFL cornerback, but he still has two more seasons to try to earn his way into the lineup and make that happen.
Banks, Johnson and Brown will also be pushing to earn their way into the cornerback rotation over the next two seasons, while fellow IMG Academy product Lejond Cavazos is set to arrive in Columbus in 2020. If he can take advantage of whatever opportunities come his way this season, though, Williamson should have a chance to compete for a starting role in his senior year.