COLUMBUS — Jaylen Johnson is underrated in more than one way.
Throw on his highlight tape and watch. He’s a gifted football player who can play in the box and defend the run while also possessing the skills to flip his hips and run with wide receivers.
He’s a versatile athlete. He just happens to not be rated as highly as the other guys who signed with the Buckeyes.
In a way, Johnson wears the badge of Lowest-rated Member of the 2021 Ohio State Recruiting Class with a sense of honor. He isn’t exactly worried where the so-called experts peg him in the rankings, which was obvious in his actions when he chose not to attend camps that often carry weight in the player rankings — and won’t determine anything once he starts his career with the Buckeyes anyway.
“Of course I do [pay attention], but I don’t really let it get me down,” he said. “I don’t really go to camp, so therefore, scouts don’t look at me. In my defense, I feel camps are for people who want to look good, and I’m not really into that. I let my actions on the field speak louder than anything else. I don’t know exactly how to be a top player in Ohio. I’m not as high of a recruit as I’m supposed to be.
“But honestly, it’s just a website. If you look at it, Aaron Donald was a three-star coming out of high school. Now, he’s one of the most paid men in the NFL, an all-time defensive player.”
He’s certainly underrated as an athlete and a football player. But even more so, he’s criminally underrated as a recruiter.
Johnson was a huge part of the Ohio State effort to land some of the best prospects in the country. While Buckeyes coach Ryan Day, assistant coaches and recruiting director Mark Pantoni couldn’t host some of their priority targets due to the recruiting dead period, Johnson became an ace recruiter for the Big Ten champs.
“Jaylen, he’s got a great way of connecting with the other recruits,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said during the early signing period. “He’s been a glue during this whole process, keeping guys together.”
Not only did Johnson help keep the class together, he also helped Day and the staff land their No. 1 target at cornerback, Jordan Hancock. A one-time Clemson commitment, Hancock chose to decommit and pledge to Ohio State. Johnson certainly played a massive role in that decision.
It’s part of what Johnson brings to the Buckeyes recruiting class, both on and off the field.
“I just want to make my team great,” Johnson said. “That’s all I really care about. Just being a team player, being there for my teammates, helping the coaching staff, doing what’s best for us. I go after the greatest players on the market. If I get them, I get them. If I don’t, I don’t.”
He got plenty of them. Ohio State currently has the No. 2 class in America behind only Alabama. Johnson didn’t single-handedly recruit all 20 other members of the class. He had a lot of help from the other recruits, as well as the coaching staff and strength of the football program.
But he deserves more credit than he has been given, both as the bottom-ranked member of the class and as one of the keys to landing 19 players that are ranked ahead of him. Once he arrives at Ohio State in June, though, that all is thrown out.
The real work begins for Jaylen Johnson and the players he helped bring to the Buckeyes.
“At my school, I’m pretty good. I’m one of the greats,” Johnson said. “I did a lot of things, but that’s high school. This is college. I need to build my brand back up, get my name out there and prove to the ones who doubted me why I should be here.
“My mindset is: You’re the same star as me. … Zero.”