As Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2018 enters its pivotal third season in Columbus, we’re taking a look back at each of their first two years as Buckeyes and look ahead at what to expect from them in 2020 and beyond with the Third-Year Reset.
Ohio State will be counting on its class of 2018, which is the highest-rated recruiting class OSU has ever signed but hasn’t yet made a huge impact in Columbus, to step up in a big way as it looks to make another run to the College Football Playoff despite the departures of many key players from last season.
Each of them have now been with the Buckeyes for two years, and by the end of the upcoming season, all of them will either be on the back end of their Ohio State careers or off to the NFL. So the time for them to deliver on their potential is now.
One member of the class of 2018 who certainly fits that description is Taron Vincent, a five-star defensive tackle who was the second-highest-ranked Ohio State signee (not including Justin Fields, who initially signed with Georgia) and No. 20 overall prospect in the class.
While Vincent was expected to be an early contributor for the Buckeyes, he suffered a setback last preseason when he tore the labrum in his right shoulder, which knocked him out for the entire 2019 season and forced him to take a redshirt year. That said, he’s a strong candidate for a breakout redshirt sophomore year in 2020, when he should be in line for substantial playing time in a defensive tackle rotation that lost three seniors from last year.
Before He Became a Buckeye
Vincent, whose father Troy was an All-American cornerback at Wisconsin and a five-time NFL Pro Bowler, started his high school career at the Gilman School in Baltimore before transferring to IMG Academy for his junior and senior year. As a senior, Vincent recorded 60 total tackles with 10 tackles for loss and three sacks and was named by the Maxwell Football Club as the national high school defensive player of the year.
Regarded from the beginning as one of the top prospects in the class of 2018 thanks to his family pedigree, Vincent was ranked as the No. 1 defensive tackle in the entire class. He is the highest-rated defensive tackle ever signed by the Buckeyes out of high school.
Career to Date
Vincent saw playing time in 11 games for a total of 98 snaps as a true freshman in 2018. While he only saw the field occasionally as the third-team defensive tackle at the 3-technique spot, he gained a package-specific role late in the season as a nose tackle in three-man passing-down fronts. He recorded three total tackles as a freshman, highlighted by a sack against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Going into last season, Vincent was expected to push Jashon Cornell and Haskell Garrett for significantly more playing time in the 3-technique rotation. After injuring his shoulder in August, however, Vincent underwent surgery that kept him off the field for the entire fall.
As a result, Vincent enters his third year at Ohio State having yet to start a game or play more than 19 snaps in a game in his college career.
With Cornell now in the NFL, Vincent is expected to compete with Garrett for a starting spot in preseason camp. Given that Larry Johnson likes to rotate his defensive linemen regularly and that Ohio State currently has only six true defensive tackles on scholarship, there should be plenty of playing time available to Vincent regardless of whether he’s in the starting lineup.
Because Garrett has already been a regular in the rotation for multiple seasons, he might enter the summer with the upper hand for the starting job, especially after the Buckeyes had only one week of spring practices, which was an important time for Vincent to get back up to speed after so much time on the sidelines. That said, Vincent might have the highest upside of any defensive tackle on the roster, and Johnson liked what he saw from Vincent in the few March practices they did have.
“I was really pleased that he returned from his rehab, from his injury really well,” Johnson said in April. “I think our staff did a great job of getting him ready, and just as we were getting going, you started to see some of the things you recruited him for. Just unfortunate we ended so early. But we're hopeful we'll get back together and get going again. I'm really looking forward to some big things for him going into the fall.
“One thing Taron has really done a good job is developing skills. We want Taron to be a great pass-rusher at the 3-technique. You guys know how I feel about the pass rush at the 3-tech position – that's the guy who's the key to our defense a lot of times. So he has to take on that role. He can play the run well, is a very physical player. He runs about 295 (pounds). He's really the ideal of what we're looking for in a guy to play that position.”
Now that Chase Young (along with Cornell, DaVon Hamilton and Robert Landers) is no longer at Ohio State, the Buckeyes are going to need a multitude of defensive linemen to step up to continue to have an elite pass rush, and Vincent offers the most potential of any Buckeye defensive tackle to make a big impact in that phase of the game in 2020.
Of course, he remains unproven, which it makes difficult to forecast exactly what to expect from Vincent in his third year. While he demonstrated elite athleticism for his size and dominant ability in high school, his opportunities to showcase his skill set have mostly been limited to the practice field in Columbus so far.
He should get plenty of opportunities this season, though, and he’s more than capable of emerging as Ohio State’s next star interior defensive lineman once he gets going.
“Just a whole lot of plays,” Vincent said when asked by Eleven Warriors in December what Ohio State fans should expect to see from him in 2020.
”He's really the ideal of what we're looking for in a guy to play that position.”– Larry Johnson on Taron Vincent's skill set
When it comes time to consider whether to enter the 2021 or 2022 NFL draft, Vincent will have a tremendous resource to lean on in his dad, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. In that role, Troy Vincent’s responsibilities include overseeing the College Advisory Committee that provides feedback on whether players with remaining collegiate eligibility should enter the NFL draft or stay in school, so it shouldn’t be hard for Taron to get insight on his draft stock that will help him make an informed decision.
That said, Ohio State will certainly be hoping to have Vincent for at least two of his remaining three seasons of eligibility, considering how little he has played so far in his career and how thin its defensive tackle depth could become if he does leave early.
Assuming Vincent stays for at least the 2021 season, he’d be the clear-cut frontrunner to start at 3-technique next year even if he doesn’t start this year, as Garrett is now a senior. He’d also likely become one of the top leaders for a defensive line that is set to lose at least three veterans (Jonathon Cooper, Garrett and Antwuan Jackson) after this season.
While Vincent took his redshirt in his second year at Ohio State rather than his first, an ideal model for his next two years would be Dre’Mont Jones, who could have entered the NFL draft after an excellent redshirt sophomore season as the Buckeyes’ starting 3-technique in 2017 but chose to return for his redshirt junior season, in which he was a first-team All-Big Ten performer on the field while also graduating from the university.
Right now, though, it’s too early for Vincent to be thinking about the NFL or whether he’ll be a three-, four- or five-year college player. Those conversations will come in time, but first, Vincent has to start playing a consistent role on Ohio State’s defensive line and show why he was such a heralded high school player three years ago.