The 2021 recruiting class is officially on the clock and the Buckeyes are off to a great start after finishing the 2020 cycle as the nation’s fifth-ranked recruiting class. With ten commitments already, it’s time for Ohio State to begin narrowing down its lists and Lettermen Row is going position-by-position to break down a number of the top targets being courted by Ryan Day and the Buckeyes.
In a word, Ohio State’s 2020 receiver class was ridiculous.
There’s been no shortage of coverage about the standout group of Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott and Mookie Cooper. That quartet is already in Columbus and working toward lofty career goals collectively and individually.
Because the 2020 class was filled so thoroughly and so early, Brian Hartline and Ohio State found time to get ahead in the Class of 2021. The Buckeyes have made good on those opportunities reeling in a commitment from two high-priority early targets. Massillon Washington 4-star Jayden Ballard is among the country’s most under-recruited athletes, and he was an absolute must-get in the state of Ohio for the Buckeyes.
Ballard put Ohio State into a bit of a recruiting pickle. There were a number of high-ceiling prospects interested in joining the program, and eventually the Buckeyes settled on Marvin Harrison as the second piece of the 2021 receiver haul, a decision that effectively ended the chances for Ohio State with Beaux Collins. The California 4-star committed to Clemson last month after making three visits to Ohio in the last calendar year, but he wasn’t ready to pull the trigger when Harrison did.
As two kids who play the same essential position on offense, something had to give. The Ohio State staff didn’t want to risk losing out on both guys, which could have happened if they’d asked Harrison to take a little more time before committing.
The four-prospect haul of 2020, combined with a young roster full of unproven receivers like Jaylen Harris, Jaelen Gill, Kamryn Babb and Jameson Williams, means that there’s simply not a lot of room for receivers in 2021. With two committed, Ohio State may have another tough decision to make at the position.
How many can they take? How many do they want to take? Here are the biggest names to know for Brian Hartline and the Buckeyes at this point in the middle of the February recruiting dead period.
Emeka Egbuka • Steilacoom, Washington • ★★★★★
- If he wanted to be a defensive back, Emeka Egbuka would be one of the country’s top-ranked cornerbacks. Egbuka wants to be wide receiver, though and that’s exactly what Ohio State is interested in him being. The question here is not about relationships, because Egbuka and Hartline have built a very sincere bond. The issue will be distance. Will the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Egbuka leave the West Coast for college? The Buckeyes feel confident in their odds of landing him if that happens, but Clemson, Alabama, LSU and others are also fighting off Washington and Stanford in this recruitment.
Troy Stellato • Fort Lauderdale, Florida • ★★★★
- Ignore the rankings and ignore the stars, Stellato is the top target for Ohio State and Clemson at the receiver position — and that says a whole lot more than a subjective opinion by recruiting analysts around the country. The Cardinal Gibbons standout has been to Columbus three times and Clemson once. The relationship between the Buckeyes and Stellato has been the driving force in his recruitment since he first became a hot commodity on the trail last fall. Numbers aside, there’s no way Ohio State would say no to Stellato or the aforementioned Egbuka.
Kaden Prather • Hyattsville, Maryland • ★★★★
- Raw but talented, Prather has all the physical tools Ohio State is looking for in a wideout, but he isn’t as polished as Stellato or as naturally athletic as Egbuka. There’s a wide gap between those two guys and anyone else on this list, but Prather’s combination of size and speed and upside make him and intriguing prospect for the Buckeyes if the need arises to really make a push for a receiver beyond Egbuka and Stellato.
Dont’e Thornton • Baltimore, Maryland • ★★★★
- Another Maryland star that the Buckeyes have remained interested in is Dont’e Thornton, a former Penn State commit who was offered by Ohio State in January last year. Thornton is a big, easy-gliding receiver who caught 16 touchdown passes as a junior at Mount St. Joseph’s High School. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound receiver hasn’t been to Ohio State, and that’s affected the relationship between he and Hartline. But the Buckeyes receivers coach did stop in to see him during the last contact period the interest is clearly still there.
Until Ohio State knows for sure that it won’t land Stellato or Egbuka — or both — I don’t think this list will expand much in the future. Yes, there are guys out there like Mario Williams in Florida who was offered last week, but there’s been minimal discussion between the two sides to this point. Hartline and the Buckeyes are working on the guys they know best.
The time they’ve invested in the top targets is substantial, and the goal is to see those investments mature into the finishing touches on another big-time wide receiver haul.