We continue the Better Know a Buckeye series with its 25th installment in 2018. Here, we profile Javontae Jean-Baptiste, a defensive lineman from Oradell, New Jersey.
- Size: 6-5/235
- Position: DE
- Hometown: Oradell, NJ
- School: Bergen Catholic
- 247 Composite: ★★★★
- National Ranking: 219
- Position Ranking: 16 (OLB)
- State Ranking: 6 (NJ)
Jean-Baptiste was a late offer and late arrival into the recruiting class. Ohio State only started recruiting him in December and only offered him in early January of this year. By that point, Jean-Baptiste had already taken official visits to places like Boston College and Virginia Tech, which were each front-runners as the early signing period approached. His recruitment after the early signing period saw the Buckeyes beat out Nebraska and Texas A&M for Jean-Baptiste's National Signing Day commitment.
I retell this recruitment below. I offer a scouting report for a defensive end prospect that is more of a two-year or three-year project as he transitions from a 3-4 outside linebacker to a 4-3 defensive end. I suggest we should not expect to see Javontae Jean-Baptiste on the field as a true freshman. I close with some senior-year highlight film for the reader to watch at the end of the feature.
Jean-Baptiste is a four-star prospect, a top-ten player in a talented prep state and was, through most of his recruitment, a top 150 player overall in the 2018 recruiting cycle. However, Ohio State started recruiting him only as signing day approached and his recruitment did not resemble that of other four-star players to come out the Garden State. The recruiting story that unfolded can be best captured by his prediction timeline. There was a long-running lean toward Boston College through most of his senior year with a flurry of activity at the end that saw Virginia Tech and Nebraska emerge as favorites in January before a last-minute push by Ohio State saw Jean-Baptiste sign with the Buckeyes.
More Javontae Jean-Baptiste at 11W
Jean-Baptiste was a Boston College lean through most of his senior year. The Eagles, which offered Jean-Baptiste last February, were among his biggest offers early into the recruiting cycle and appear to have been the first Power Five offer. It led to an unofficial visit to Chestnut Hill when the Eagles hosted Virginia Tech and a follow-up official visit in early December.
Virginia Tech replaced Boston College at the top of his predicted destinations following an official visit on Dec. 15, 2017. The visit to Blacksburg went great and the coaching staff at Virginia Tech did well to communicate to Jean-Baptiste that he had become their top target at the position. He was in no rush to pledge to a program as the early signing day approached but the Hokies may have been the team to beat entering 2018.
Ohio State offered on Jan. 9, 2018. Ohio State's coaching staff, particularly Larry Johnson and Greg Schiano, had been in contact since early December. Schiano, the former Rutgers coach and area coordinator for New Jersey, even visited him in his school to communicate Ohio State's interest. The extension of the offer made the Buckeyes an instant favorite to land Jean-Baptiste after the early signing period and as signing day approached.
However, two programs with two new, and instantly recognizable, head coaches emerged as major challengers after Ohio State's offer. The first was Nebraska, which had just hired Scott Frost. Frost had recruited Jean-Baptiste when he was coaching UCF. Indeed, UCF was one of Baptiste's first offers. Frost's move to Nebraska came with identifying Jean-Baptiste as a gem still available to flesh out his first recruiting class at Nebraska. An official visit just three days after Ohio State's scholarship offer catapulted Nebraska over Ohio State (and Virginia Tech) with just a few weeks to go before signing day.
Texas A&M made a late push as well. Jimbo Fisher left Florida State for Texas A&M and identified Jean-Baptiste as a solid four-star prospect to add to Texas A&M's class at the last second. The Aggies' offer came the same day as Ohio State and Jean-Baptiste scheduled his official visit for five days before the final signing day. The visit went well and Texas A&M was momentarily a threat, but the visit was not enough to take over Nebraska at the top of Jean-Baptiste's list.
Indeed, it looked like Jean-Baptiste was Nebraska-bound before an absolute last second, 11th hour push by Ohio State. Christopher Oats, who the Buckeyes had been recruiting late into the cycle as well, decided to stick with Kentucky over Ohio State. Urban Meyer and Greg Schiano then flew to New Jersey on the eve of Jean-Baptiste's visit to Texas A&M to make their case.
It was that last push that ultimately made the difference.
Javontae Jean-Baptiste committed to Ohio State on Feb. 7, 2018 as the 25th member of what would become Ohio State's full 2018 recruiting class. He chose the Buckeyes over Boston College, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Virginia Tech.
The decision came with knowing Ohio State already has a talented defensive line for 2018 and that other programs could more credibly promise instant playing time. However, the allure of playing for Ohio State was too much to forgo even if it may delay Jean-Baptiste's path to the field.
The interesting wrinkle to this situation is Jean-Baptiste technically "flipped" from Nebraska to Ohio State. Jean-Baptiste called Scott Frost that morning and told him he was going to sign with the Cornhuskers. However, his high school had cancelled classes because of wintry weather. That gave Jean-Baptiste time to rethink his options and led to his decision to sign with Ohio State instead.
So he had time after he called Nebraska to think and talk with his family. And during that talk, Jean-Baptiste said he switched to Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer, who told the Big Ten Network that Jean-Baptiste had signed with the Buckeyes before Jean-Baptiste's actual signing ceremony inside a Bergen Catholic coach's office.
"Ohio State has something special going on," Jean-Baptiste said when asked why he picked the Buckeyes. He added that the return of defensive coordinator Greg Schiano — who had been rumored to be headed to the New England Patriots — was "one of the main deciding factors" in his pick, as was OSU's penchant for developing NFL pass rushers.
"I want to play at the next level," Jean-Baptiste said. "Ohio State has a good group of coaches."
Jean-Baptiste said he called Nebraska's coaches after he decided to flip to OSU. He said NU coach Scott Frost "was kind of not happy," but Jean-Baptiste understood.
WHERE HE EXCELS
Jean-Baptiste promises to be a pass-rushing specialist for Ohio State. He's listed as an outside linebacker by recruiting services but Ohio State recruited him as a weakside defensive end.
His film shows a fiery, if raw, athlete that can grow into a spectacular pass-rusher. His arm length is ideal for making first contact at the line of scrimmage. He fires off the snap faster than most offensive linemen can move to engage him. He also gets skinny between gaps, finding the right crease into the backfield.
MUST WORK ON
Expect this to be a transition year for Jean-Baptiste as he grows into a player that can see the field in a few years.
Importantly, Jean-Baptiste is an outside linebacker moving to defensive end. He has ideal length to thrive at the position but not the ideal size right now. He'll need to get much bigger in order to see the field. By comparison, Sam Hubbard was listed at a similar height and weight and projected as a college safety before Ohio State moved him to defensive line. He too redshirted.
The size issue manifests in another residual concern of rounding out his ability to play against the run. He's a better pass rusher now than he is a run-stuffer. However, he'll want to balance out his skill set to ensure a path to the field.
Javontae Jean-Baptiste is a certain redshirt in 2018. He's ultimately moving to a new position and needs to add considerable weight to his frame as he transitions. Ohio State recruited him as a two-year project.
Here is a senior-year film of Javontae Jean-Baptiste.