COLUMBUS — One of the players that kickstarted a remarkable recruiting run for Ohio State has had a change of heart: Devonta Smith has decommitted from the top-ranked class in the country.
A source familiar with the decision-making process indicated the decision by the Cincinnati La Salle recruit was primarily about a concern that Ohio State had “too many defensive backs” in the Class of 2021.
The 3-star prospect, who verbally committed to the Buckeyes on March 16, reopened his recruitment and is no longer pledged to Ohio State. He was the lowest-ranked prospect in the Class of 2021 for the Buckeyes, but his departure leaves a hole in the secondary for Kerry Coombs, who had made a solid connection with Smith leading up to his decision last month.
“I’m truly at a loss for words,” Smith said when he added his Ohio State offer. “I cried today when [Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry] Coombs called me and offered.”
The Buckeyes are back to 18 commitments in the Class of 2021 and will go back to the drawing board as they look to supplement a defensive back haul that now includes 4-star cornerback Jakailin Johnson, 4-star safety Andre Turrentine, 4-star athlete Denzel Burke and 3-star athlete Jaylen Johnson, a teammate of Smith’s at Cincinnati La Salle.
Ohio State felt Smith could be a contributor to the defense or it would not have offered and accepted a commitment from him. Still, in a class with growing concerns over the number of available scholarships, there wasn’t much fight and certainly no begging from the Buckeyes to keep the 6-foot, 185-pound prospect in the fold. Alabama, Notre Dame and Oregon are each expected to make themselves contenders for his next commitment but it appears the Crimson Tide are in the driver’s seat.
Where do the Buckeyes go from here? Lettermen Row is breaking it down.
How can Ohio State replace Devonta Smith
Devonta Smith is a versatile player who could line up at cornerback or safety, and that means replacing him isn’t exactly a black-and-white proposition for Ohio State. The numbers are more important than the positions for Kerry Coombs and the Buckeyes, and that’s why it’s not a matter of plugging in another cornerback or safety necessarily — even if Smith’s future more than likely was at corner.
There are a number of top-level options who have been priorities for the Buckeyes for months, even before Smith’s commitment. So the natural assumption is that the tires will be kicked or re-kicked on prospects who have already been mentioned for Ohio State in the past.
That list will naturally include 5-star Tony Grimes, but he’s making a decision in the near future and the Buckeyes are on the outside looking in as North Carolina and Georgia jockey back-and-forth to be his choice. Ohio State remains heavily involved in the recruitment of Clemson commit Jordan Hancock. But flipping a player from the Tigers isn’t ever an easy sell.
Ohio State has been very involved in the recruitment of Derrick Davis, a 4-star defensive back from Pennsylvania, and the decommitment of Smith could make the sell a little easier for the Buckeyes.
Don’t expect to see Ohio State rushing into a replacement for Smith at this point. Instead Ohio State will likely take advantage of the extended recruiting dead periods to evaluate new names while keeping the focus on Hancock and Davis.
How does decommitment affect recruiting rankings?
Devonta Smith was the lowest-rated member of the Buckeyes top-ranked 2021 class. So the loss of Ohio’s No. 12-ranked prospect actually improves the overall, per-player ranking for Ohio State while decreasing the lead over Clemson as the country’s best group.
The Buckeyes remain in striking position for the highest-ranked class in the history of modern recruiting. With potentially seven or eight more spots to fill, their current edge over Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and LSU has a chance to grow over the next few months — provided that the recruiting calendar reopens anytime in the near future.
Smith’s decommitment does take the Buckeyes under the 300-point threshold in the 247Sports.com rankings, but they’ll surpass that mark again as soon as the next addition to the class happens.
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