Ohio State has been sitting on the country’s top-ranked recruiting class for months.
Alabama, Clemson, Tennessee and North Carolina have jockeyed for the No. 2 spot behind the Buckeyes, but despite the fact that Ryan Day’s program has only added one verbal since May, there’s not yet been any real threat to unseat the reigning Big Ten champs.
And the truth is that if Ohio State is able to finish the 2021 recruiting cycle the way it would like to, no school is going to be able to catch them. If the Buckeyes can land the final targets they’re chasing, it’s almost a certainty that it will be the best recruiting class of the modern era.
There are five players Ohio State needs to reel in order for that to happen. The odds of doing so vary from player to player, but there’s no doubt that the Buckeyes pitch is simple: Come be part of the best class in history and get developed for the NFL better than anywhere else. It’s a five-man group that consists of two offensive players and three defensive stars who could thrive in Columbus for years to come.
Who is included in this final, fantastic five? Who are the biggest threats to Ohio State in the race to land them? Lettermen Row is taking a closer look right here.
Emeka Egbuka • 5-star wide receiver • Steilacoom (Wash.)
- The competition: Oklahoma, Washington
- Why Ohio State? The country’s No. 1-ranked receiver has been to Ohio State twice, and the Buckeyes have been the leaders for him for a while now. The relationship with Brian Hartline is longer and better than the relationship anywhere else, and the Ohio State offense has shown him exactly how he’d fit using Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Chris Olave as examples. The Buckeyes are also a notch above
- Why not Ohio State? There are a couple reasons one could point to if trying to decipher why Egbuka would choose elsewhere. The most obvious is the depth and talent of the Buckeyes 2020 receivers class. Another underlying, potential issue is this big question: If Egbuka were to pick the Buckeyes, is he viewed as following the footsteps of fellow Washingtonian Gee Scott? Does that matter to him? Plus, Ohio isn’t exactly a stone’s throw from Washington.
Tristan Leigh • 5-star offensive tackle • Robinson Secondary (Fairfax, Va.)
- The competition: LSU, Oklahoma, Clemson, Alabama
- Why Ohio State? First and foremost, the idea that the Buckeyes have too many tackles — a recruiting pitch that helped sway J.C. Latham away from Ohio State — isn’t entirely accurate. There are some very talented young players like Paris Johnson, sure, but beyond him there are more question marks than answers. There is no true tackle in the Buckeyes 2021 class, and Leigh has major upside with a chance to play early. The Buckeyes are putting more offensive linemen into the NFL than anyone in recent years, and that’s an attractive combination.
- Why not Ohio State? It could be argued that the Buckeyes didn’t truly prioritize Leigh throughout the last year while they pursued Latham, and that’s not the case for LSU, which has been considered the leader in this recruitment for a while now.
J.T. Tuimoloau • 5-star defensive tackle • Eastside Catholic (Sammamish, Wash.)
- The competition: Oregon, Oklahoma, Alabama, USC, Washington
- Why Ohio State? Larry Johnson has produced three top-five picks in the NFL Draft in the last four years, and that trio has signed first-year contracts totaling almost $100 million. The development aspect is reportedly the biggest motivator for J.T. Tuimoloau and his family, and no one gets it done better than Johnson. Personality wise, the introspective and private defensive line star is a perfect fit with Johnson as well. Oh yeah, the Buckeyes depth chart is extremely inviting for a player as physically ready for the next level as he is.
- Why not Ohio State? It’s a long, long way from Washington to Ohio. And the Buckeyes have not been able to get Tuimoloau on campus yet because of the NCAA’s eternal dead period. That’s a big deal for a kid and a family that is very close and makes decisions together. Oregon has been putting on a lot of pressure, and Mario Cristobal has built an imposing defense in a short amount of time. The chance to be a part of that, much closer to home, is no doubt appealing.
Tywone Malone • 4-star defensive tackle • Bergen Catholic (Oradell, N.J.)
- The competition: Texas A&M, Alabama, Rutgers, Ole Miss
- Why Ohio State? Once again, it’s Larry Johnson and his reputation that starts the wheel turning. But as a true interior lineman, Malone also has the talent to play heavily in the Buckeyes defensive line rotation as a true freshman. There’s no one on the current roster who sets up as nicely in the 1-tech spot as Malone does. If Malone is looking for a chance at NFL development and to compete for championships, Ohio State is near at top of the list — and isn’t as far from home as Alabama.
- Why not Ohio State? Malone really wants to play two sports at the next level, and he’s a very good baseball player. The Buckeyes don’t usually allow football players to do that. Texas A&M has done a very good job recruiting defensive linemen from the Northeast in the last few cycles as their defensive tackles coach, Elijah Robinson, hails from Camden (N.J.) and recruits the area hard.
Derrick Davis • 4-star defensive back • Gateway High School (Monroeville, Pa.)
- The competition: Penn State, Georgia, Clemson, LSU
- Why Ohio State? The Buckeyes have recruited Davis for almost three years, and they have done a great job maintaining their relationship with him despite a bevy of coaching changes in that time. Ohio State’s safety depth after this season is also limited. Josh Proctor and Marcus Hooker are upperclassmen, and there’s no proven depth among the others on the roster. The coaching staff’s commitment is important to Davis. and there’s no one who has been more committed to him than the Buckeyes. Derrick’s father, Derrick Sr., is originally from Cleveland, and Pittsburgh is a hop, skip and a jump from Columbus — where they’ve visited eight times in the last three years.
- Why not Ohio State? Ohio State has six defensive backs already committed in the Class of 2021, and that’s hard to overlook no matter how much Davis and his family try to ignore it. Penn State is the primary competition, and the Nittany Lions are doing a good job selling the idea that they’re just a few pieces short of toppling the Buckeyes. For Penn State, guys like Derrick Davis could hold the answer.