Third-Year Reset: Versatile Defensive Back Amir Riep Looking to Establish Role in Ohio State's Secondary

By Dan Hope on June 20, 2019 at 1:05 pm
Amir Riep

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.

The 13th installment of the Third-Year Reset brings us to Amir Riep, a versatile defensive back who has spent time at both cornerback and safety in his first two seasons at Ohio State but is still trying to earn his first substantial playing time in the Buckeyes’ secondary.

Before He Became a Buckeye

A four-year starter in the secondary at Cincinnati’s Colerain High School, Riep earned Greater Miami Conference defensive player of the year and second-team All-Ohio honors in 2015 after recording 65 total tackles, seven interceptions and three forced fumbles in his junior season for the Cardinals.

Holding offers from many of the nation’s top college football programs, including Alabama, Georgia and Michigan, Riep announced his commitment to Ohio State in July 2016, prior to his senior season at Colerain and just one day after the Buckeyes held their Friday Night Lights camp that summer.

Riep missed time during his senior season at Colerain due to a hamstring injury, but still helped lead the Cardinals to an 11-1 record.

Riep was ranked as the No. 186 overall prospect, the 26th-best cornerback and the sixth-best prospect from the state of Ohio in the recruiting class of 2017. He was the lowest-ranked of seven defensive backs in Ohio State’s class of 2017, which included Jeffrey Okudah, Shaun Wade, Isaiah Pryor, Kendall Sheffield, Brendon White and Marcus Williamson.

Career to Date

Riep immediately established himself as a core player on special teams as a true freshman. He played in all 14 of Ohio State’s games in 2017 and was a regular on the kickoff team. He played only 28 defensive snaps for the season, all as a cornerback, yet finished the year with 10 total tackles.

Prior to his sophomore season, Riep was moved to safety, where he competed with Pryor, Jahsen Wint and White – among others – for playing time. Despite the team’s inconsistent play at the position, especially with Pryor and Wint before White emerged as a starter in the second half of last season, Riep played only 31 defensive snaps as a sophomore.

He continued to be a regular on the kickoff team while also joining the kickoff return and punt block units on special teams last season, but finished the year with only three total tackles. He missed two games due to a hamstring injury, but played in each of Ohio State’s other 12 games.

Third-Year Outlook

Whether Riep will end up as a cornerback, safety or some combination of the two positions remains a question entering his junior year at Ohio State. He spent time lining up at both positions this spring as new secondary coaches Jeff Hafley and Matt Barnes evaluated where he could best fit into their defensive backfield.

Riep’s versatility and experience playing both positions makes him a valuable to Ohio State’s secondary, as he can provide depth at both cornerback and safety. He still has to prove he can excel at one specific position in the secondary, though, to earn regular playing time on defense as he enters the back half of his Buckeyes career.

Both Riep and Wade moved back and forth between cornerback and safety in spring practices and were used primarily as slot cornerbacks in the spring game, so it appears likely that Riep could slot in as Wade’s backup at slot cornerback – which could also prove to be a hybrid safety position – this year.

Okudah, Damon Arnette and Wade are expected to play the majority of snaps at cornerback this season, but with the lack of experienced depth at the position and the possibility for Wade to play outside cornerback as well, Riep could be the next man up on the cornerback depth chart. It’s also still possible Riep could factor in at deep safety, especially now that White is playing the bullet position, but Josh Proctor and Pryor appear to be the most likely candidates for playing time at that position after Jordan Fuller.

Hafley said earlier this month that the Buckeyes will look to create simple packages on defense to create roles for players who prove they belong on the field, so it’s possible Riep could earn semi-regular playing time even if he doesn’t crack the regular rotation at cornerback or safety. He’s a well-built defensive back with the ability to line up anywhere in the secondary, and that could make him valuable in certain situations or against certain opponents.

Unless the Buckeyes rotate heavily or have injuries in their secondary, however, it’s likely that the bulk of Riep’s playing time will come on special teams once again in 2019.

Beyond 2019

Riep’s best chance to potentially earn a starting spot in Ohio State’s secondary appears likely to come in 2020, when he will be a senior. Arnette and Fuller are seniors this year, and Okudah, Wade and White are all players who could potentially explore the possibility of leaving for the 2020 NFL draft if they perform well this season – which means there should be several spots open for competition in Ohio State’s secondary next spring and summer.

If Okudah joins Arnette in the NFL next year, Wade could move to outside cornerback if he’s still at Ohio State – opening up the slot cornerback spot for Riep – or Riep could simply fill one of the open spots on the perimeter.

Williamson, Sevyn Banks, Tyreke Johnson and Cameron Brown are also among the cornerbacks who are looking to earn bigger roles in the next two years, but Riep has as much experience as any of them and appears to be making progress – he was one of the top performers in this year’s spring game – toward getting a shot to earn a starting job before his Ohio State career is over.

Whether Riep gets a shot to play in the NFL will likely depend on how he performs in his senior season in 2020.

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