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Ohio State recruiting: Predicting Buckeyes 2020 defensive class

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Ohio State is hoping to add Lejond Cavazos back in the 2020 class. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football Recruiting

Ohio State recruiting: Predicting Buckeyes 2020 defensive class

Welcome back to Lettermen Row’s 100-percent official, guaranteed to be entirely correct* “Predict the Buckeyes Class of 2020” series.

This week, we’re going to discuss the defense for the Buckeyes — knowing that there are zero current commitments on that side of the ball for Ohio State.

All that means is you’re going to be even more impressed when I absolutely nail** each and every pick come December and February.

No need for too much in the way of an introduction here, you know what we’re doing. Let’s get to telling you what’s what.

Darrion Henry-Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football

Ohio State target Darrion Henry. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Defensive line: Ohio State needs three total, could take four

We’ve talked a little bit about the defensive line and the fact that Ohio State should be going into the 2020 season with somewhere around a dozen players deep at the position.

That means in a class that’s going to be offense heavy in 2020, there’s a need for a minimum of three defensive linemen — and at most four. Cincinnati Princeton’s Darrion Henry is one that can be penciled in, and I like that he provides some flexibility because he’s a big-bodied kid who could end up playing inside or outside down the road. I think that opens things up for Ohio State a bit.

Though he’s just recently landed a couple of major offers from Notre Dame and Michigan, I think the Buckeyes could also end up winning the battle for Culver (Ind.) Academy 3-star prospect Deontae Craig, a player who will certainly see his national rankings rise thanks to his athletic 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. It’s another battle between the three traditional Midwest powers that I think will be even more interesting: Port Huron (Mich.) 4-star Braiden McGregor. I know everyone is saying the Irish and the Wolverines are the teams to beat there, but when it comes down to Larry Johnson and Greg Mattison versus anyone else, I’m taking the guys wearing Scarlet and Gray.

As for the third defensive lineman, there are a number of potential players who could fill the spot or two, but there doesn’t seem to be one guy that is really sticking out as a real option yet.

That’s why I am going to take a flier here and add Jaheim Thomas, a teammate of Henry’s at Cincinnati Princeton, as the final defensive lineman in this story. Despite his contention that he will not play anywhere other than linebacker, I believe as camp season rolls around he’ll be more open to the idea of working on the defensive line. I think that’s his future position, and I think the chance to play for Ohio State is somewhat reliant on working out there. Thomas is a younger prospect than most of his peers, and he’s already 6-foot-5 and 220-pounds. I just don’t see him at linebacker and I know college coaches don’t either. It will be up to him to accept that down the road, and I think the sooner he does it, the better off he’ll be. If Thomas decides against that option, I think adding Craig is a real option.

Prediction: Darrion Henry, Braiden McGregor, Jaheim Thomas

Linebacker: Buckeyes need one pure guy, could take two

This is where things get a little weird. Ohio State has 15 or so scholarship offers out right now to linebackers, and there’s no doubt that the top target is St. John’s College High School (Washington D.C.) 5-star prospect Mekhail Sherman. The Buckeyes have been in a good position for him for a while now, but the transition from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day has opened the door for other programs to make it a very interesting battle, most notably with Georgia.

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Mekhail Sherman could be Ohio State’s top overall target in 2020. (Via Twitter/Mekhail Sherman)

Outside of Sherman, the Buckeyes are gaining a little steam with Garfield (Seattle) High School 5-star Sav’ell Smalls, but he’s not visited the school yet. Until he does, you can’t put much stock into that recruitment even with the efforts from Gee Scott, Jr. Ohio State has also stayed active recruiting Georgia’s Phillip Webb, and Massachusetts 4-star Kalel Mullings is expected to visit in early April. Maryland target Mitchell Melton is a player the Buckeyes are very high on, and I think if they add a second true linebacker prospect, he’d a good choice for that.

Another player to watch California’s Kourt Williams, who is visiting Ohio State with a handful of his St. John’s Bosco (Bellflower) teammates later this month. He’s a rising star and someone the Buckeyes are well aware of.

One pure linebacker is needed, and until it’s not Mekhail Sherman, he’ll continue to be the absolute priority. Getting him back on campus sometime in the near future is the single most important thing Ohio State has to do in this recruiting class this spring. I think if that happens, he’ll see the parts of the Buckeyes program he fell in love with haven’t left with Urban Meyer.

Prediction: Mekhail Sherman and Mitchell Melton

‘Bullet’ position: Locate right fit for new Ohio State position

In case you were wondering, that’s what this new position where Brendon White is practicing this spring — a combination of linebacker and safety — is called at Ohio State. It’s called a “viper” at Michigan and has a number of different names around the country, and it’s a spot that the Buckeyes will have to recruit a few players at if they’re going to stock the cupboard with capable talents.

I think of the currently offered players, there are two guys that make a lot of sense in this position — and I believe Ohio State is in a good position with each. The first is Erasmus Hall (Brooklyn, N.Y.) 3-star William Mohan, the country’s 27th-ranked athlete and a big-hitting defender from a school Ohio State is very comfortable recruiting players from. The second is Muskegon (Mich.) prospect Cameron Martinez, one of the best pure football players in the Midwest in the Class of 2020 and a prospect Ohio State has gotten to know very well, very quickly since offering in February. Either of those two players could fit the spot well, and Martinez is interesting because he could be more of a traditional defensive back as well.

There other players in the area that I think could end up in this role, including Akron East’s Bangally Kamara, if there are changes in the way things are heading with Mohan and Martinez. For now though, those two are the guys I’m putting at this position.

Prediction: William Mohan, Cameron Martinez

Defensive backs: Ohio State needs to reload

The Buckeyes have only two seniors in the secondary heading into 2019, and they’re going to lose Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller after the upcoming season. There’s also always a chance others, like Jeffrey Okudah, Brendon White and Shaun Wade for example, look at possible NFL early-entry. Because of that, I think it’s safe to assume at least four players get added in the secondary — and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if there ended up being more than that.

I think that the Buckeyes are in a good position to resecure IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) 4-star cornerback Lejond Cavazos. Though it’s rare for a player to come back to the place he decommitted from, I truly believe Cavazos decomitted as a measure of self-preservation as he and his family tried to get a read on Day and the program Meyer left. They’ve been thrilled with what they’ve seen so far and will make a pivotal visit in two weeks. If they’re able to reel Cavazos back in — and soon — he could go a long way toward helping them land other stars like Elias Ricks or Kelee Ringo. The former is a player and family he’s very close to. It’s not a guarantee that he’d bring either of those two with him, but it’d help having his charismatic personality recruiting alongside Paris Johnson and others.

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Ohio State is hoping for some more success in Arizona and Lathan Ransom would provide that. (Lathan Ransom/Courtesy)

Miami’s Henry Gray will also visit this month, and he’ll be in Columbus for almost four days making his first visit to Ohio State a very serious one. The Buckeyes are a real threat in his recruitment as they are in the recruitment of Arizona’s Lathan Ransom, who visited at the end of February. That recruiting may very well end up being a two-team race between the Buckeyes and Notre Dame. I think if Ohio State can land his teammate, 5-star running back Bijan Robinson, it could swing the momentum in its favor.

The Buckeyes are also very interested in players like New Jersey’s Jordan Morant, Kentucky’s Landen Bartleson, California’s Clark Phillips and a pair of stars from Florida, Fred Davis and Miles Brooks. Texas standouts like Ryan Wyatts, Dwight McGlothern and Jalen Kimber are all interesting to watch, but until they visit it’s hard to see much happening in those recruitments.

Don’t ignore the fact that the Buckeyes have recruited West Bloomfield (Mich.) 4-star safety Makari Paige extremely hard for more than a year, but that recruitment is going to be a nail-biter as the Michigan schools keep pushing for him to commit as well. I’m bullish on the Buckeyes chance to secure Brian Branch, a 4-star safety prospect from Sandy Creek (Tyrone, Ga.) as well if they decide to go all in. He wanted to commit during his first visit in November.

With so many names it’s hard to narrow it down to four, but I think these picks all have better-than-average odds to pick Ohio State. I honestly could have selected five others and still felt similarly.

Prediction: Three cornerbacks: Lejond Cavazos, Henry Gray, Clark Phillips and two safeties: Lathan Ransom and Brian Branch

Special teams: The Buckeyes need a kicker

Blake Haubeil will be a senior following the 2020 season, and I think the Buckeyes should take the best kicker they can find now to begin preparing to replace him. That means not overthinking it and offering a scholarship to Cincinnati La Salle’s Jake Seibert before they lose him to someone like Georgia, which is pushing hard for him already.

Seibert wants to be in Columbus and will wait for the chance to get the offer, so expect to see him at the Ohio State specialists camp this summer. If it comes down to taking skill position players who can contribute or wait until 2021 for a kicker though, I imagine the Buckeyes will wait it out. In that case, they may try to convince Seibert to grayshirt in 2020.

Prediction: Jake Seibert


So, after last week’s official*** prediction about the offensive class and this week’s guarantee**** on the defense, you know how exactly how the Buckeyes class of 2020 will develop. It’s going to be a big and extremely talented class.

You’re welcome.

*This is not official at all
** I am confident there will be a lot of these names that don’t commit to Ohio State
*** That prediction is absolutely not official either
****Seriously guys, it’s a best guess no one can guarantee this stuff

The best way to stay on top of all that recruiting #stuff? Subscribe to Lettermen Row’s Recruiting with Birm newsletter. 

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Brunstar
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Brunstar

I’ll be happy if Lejond Cavazos recommits.

Sir Miles
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Sir Miles

Why not blueshirt seibert instead, he’d be eligible And on the team in Jan. like an early enrollee.

Outdoorbuckeye
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Outdoorbuckeye

If he wears a blue shirt on campus, he better be prepared to run laps./s

Buonomici
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Buonomici

‘20 class is lame at the DT position for OSU

TimeOut
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TimeOut

I like Ransom at Bullet.

Birm

Birm is Lettermen Row's Director of Recruiting and the site's primary Ohio State sports photographer. A Toledo, Ohio native, Jeremy has been in similar roles for elevenwarriors.com and Landof10.com and has been covering the Buckeyes for seven years.

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