Ohio State's Young Corners Could Be Thrust Into Early Playing Time As Secondary Aims for 2021 Turnaround

By Andrew Ellis on February 14, 2021 at 8:35 am
Four-star cornerback signee Jordan Hancock could be in line for early playing time.
Jordan Hancock via 247 Sports

Fresh faces are on the way.

Kerry Coombs, Matt Barnes, and the much-maligned Ohio State secondary are looking to turn things around. And they'll need to do just that if the Buckeyes want to make another playoff appearance in 2021.

Even with a new quarterback, the talent on offense is better than just about any other program in the country. There aren't too many concerns on that side of the ball despite the upcoming battle under center. The defensive backfield is another story as Ohio State loses its most talented player from a unit that was shredded by Indiana and Alabama and ended up ranked 122nd out of 127 teams. 

Sevyn Banks is the top returning corner as he looks to raise his game and become the next great Buckeye defensive back. Cameron Brown tore his Achilles on Oct. 31 against Penn State, and we'll be monitoring his health for the next several months. Marcus Williamson returns for his role in the slot. Tyreke Johnson has struggled throughout his career. Ryan Watts, Lejond Cavazos, and Cameron Martinez will look to make an impact in year No. 2. Watts was the only one of the trio to see action in 2020 (28 snaps). 

The Buckeyes are welcoming in three new cornerbacks in the Class of 2021. A more typical offseason should have them up to speed a bit more than what we saw for the 2020 signees. No one's expecting a true freshman to start at corner, but it's fair to think at least one of the newcomers will be a contributor (beyond just special teams) as a true freshman. And a case can be made for each of the three. 

The Case for Jakailin Johnson 

St. Louis, Mo. • 6-foot-1, 175 pounds • ★★★★ • No. 49 (No. 3 CB)

The nation's third-ranked cornerback committed to Ohio State in March of 2020 as the Buckeyes beat out Notre Dame, Georgia, and several others. Truth be told, I think some may have forgotten just how good Jakailin Johnson is thanks in part to all of the craziness that was going on at the time. His pledge came just days after March Madness was canceled due to the pandemic and was quickly followed by a flurry of other commitments from the likes of Evan Pryor and TreVeyon Henderson. 

Johnson is long and physical defender who plays bigger than his listed 175 pounds. His tape shows a fast corner that does a solid job of turning his head around to the ball. The top-rated defensive back in the class, he will need to bulk up a bit upon his arrival. Early playing time had been one of the factors when he was still mulling over his options. Johnson did not enroll early but still could be in line for a significant role as a true freshman. 

The Case for Jordan Hancock 

Suwanee, Ga. • 6-foot-1, 170 pounds • ★★★★ • No. 72 (No. 5 CB)

The 2021 cycle had more than few memorable moments. And flipping Jordan Hancock from Clemson was certainly one of the most important recruiting wins. Though he ended up ranked as the nation's fifth-best corner, Hancock was targeted by the Buckeyes long before his rise to stardom. Kerry Coombs and Ryan Day used that relationship to pull off one of the cycle's biggest flips.

Some outlets had Hancock in the five-star discussion for a while before the pandemic hit. He ended up ranked No. 46 according to 247 Sports and No. 72 in the composite rankings. Like Johnson, he's got plenty of length and will benefit from Mickey Marotti's presence. His junior film was beyond impressive playing against the top competition in Georgia. Hancock opted out for his senior season before ultimately opting back in. He initially had planned on enrolling early but will instead arrive this fall. 

The Case for Denzel Burke 

Scottsdale, Ariz. • 6-foot, 180 pounds • ★★★★ • No. 194 (No. 8 ATH)

Out of all the 2021 signees, Scottsdale's Denzel Burke may be the one we know the least about. The Buckeyes were listed as a top choice for the four-star, but there really wasn't much Ohio State chatter until about 24 hours before he announced his decision. Up until that time, most had expected that he'd end up in the Pac-12 footprint. 

Burke is more of an athlete than either Johnson or Hancock. Much of his film highlights his playmaking ability at wide receiver rather than his coverage skills in the secondary. Another player with solid length and ball skills, the Arizona native's early arrival is what could give him a leg up on the competition. However, Burke is a bit more raw than his 2021 counterparts and could need some time to develop. We'll see if his January arrival (the first time he'd ever been to Columbus) can help to make up for that. 

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