We take a look at some more detailed topics in our recruiting roundtable. BuckeyeSports.com staffers Ryan Ginn, Blake Williams, Marcus Hartman and Jeff Svoboda take part.
1. Did Ohio State fill its biggest needs with this class? Is there anything lacking?
Ginn: Even with Adolphus Washington coming back, I thought defensive tackle was one of Ohio State’s biggest needs -- if not the biggest. The Buckeyes managed to bring aboard three signees at that position but struck out with a trio of big-time prospects. I believe Robert Landers will be better than most people think, but OSU could have done better at this position. OSU did a good job of restocking the offensive line (you can never have too many), and I think grabbing a running back was also really important.
Williams: The biggest area of need going in to this class was along the defensive line. The Buckeyes have plenty of athletes who can play the edge but needed to fill some holes on the defensive interior. In that regard the 2015 class is kind of lacking. The Buckeyes got three-star defensive tackles DaVon Hamilton and Joshua Alabi and four-star Robert Landers, a player who salvaged their efforts on that front. Building offensive line depth was another area of need, and Ohio State did well in that regard. I also feel that replacing a pair of departing outside receivers in Evan Spencer and Devin Smith was important and the Buckeyes found K.J. Hill and big-bodied Alex Stump, so that was at least a mild success.
Hartman: To hear Urban Meyer tell it, the answer would be yes as far as filling the biggest need, and that would be on the offensive line. Ohio State needed numbers, but more so than that quality numbers. The addition of Isaiah Prince assured they had both. That should provide some competition at tackle for fellow youngsters Demetrius Knox and Jamarco Jones over the next couple of seasons. And, hey, maybe it means other guys on the roster who might be projects can still be a bonus if they develop rather than turning out to be crucial to the team’s success, something we have seen in the past when it comes to this position group.
Svoboda: There's a few reasons I like this class, and one of which is that there are some guys who have been described as projects by some analysts. I actually think that's kind of a good thing because it means they are guys with high ceilings who might need to be refined a bit by this very good coaching staff, and when you consider how much talent is on hand from the 2013 and '14 classes, they have some time. If they find a few diamonds in the rough from three-star athletes here, this will be a very good class that keeps the Buckeyes among the national elite. I also like the focus on each line of scrimmage, especially when it comes to the athletic prospects on the O-line that will be perfect for Ed Warinner to mold, as well as the fact the Buckeyes got some skill position studs in Torrance Gibson and Mike Weber who can make the things happen with the ball in their hands that are so important to the Urban Meyer offense. All in all, this class fits into the puzzle the Buckeyes have right now, especially with Ohio so loaded in 2016.
2. Which player do you feel is most likely to be a major contributor in 2015?
Ginn: The unfortunate truth of this class is that with a ton of returning starters and a talented group of redshirt freshmen in the class ahead of them, there won’t be many opportunities for big-time impacts. I think defensive end is one area that could see a prospect emerge because of the opportunity for playing time (an open spot and a greater ability to rotate players than some other positions). I like Dre’Mont Jones and Jashon Cornell … gun to my head, I’ll take Jones.
Williams: This question is really more about the team's depth than it is about the talent of the recruits, and the Buckeyes return so much talent it's hard to project any of the newcomers making a huge contribution. That's why I think that level of impact will come on special teams and hard-hitting linebacker Justin Hilliard seems well-equipped to do just that. The St. Xavier product could also rotate in behind Raekwon McMillan at times. (And yes, I realize picking the top-ranked recruit in Ohio to make a big impact isn't exactly going out on a limb.)
Hartman: That is a tough one given youth of Ohio State and the depth Meyer has built with three consecutive top-10 classes (not to mention Jim Tressel's last class, which ranked sixth nationally), but I'd look to the defensive line or defensive backfield. There are a whole bunch of young, highly regarded guys on the defensive line, but Michael Bennett and Steve Miller leave behind big shoes to fill each in his own way. The Buckeyes will need someone to play the solid role Miller did on the outside, but they could really use someone who can bend the corner as a pass rusher after no one really proved ready to do that last year. Then there is the playmaking inside of Bennett that was such a major difference when the defense really turned it on late in the season. At cornerback, Ohio State has only one player who has played significant minutes, so there should be a big competition for spots in the two-deep.
Svoboda: I am going to go with Dre'Mont Jones. I think Ohio State is going to need depth along the defensive line and Jones has been impressive to just about anyone who has seen him during his senior year. He has good size and projects well, and if he's disruptive enough, they could find a spot for him on a line searching for difference makers. There might be better players in the class than Jones, who is rated 220th in the nation, but I think the opportunity is more available to him.
3. Which three-star player is the biggest potential sleeper?
Ginn: I’m really high on the potential of a few of those guys but I’m going to choose Joshua Norwood. He’s a late bloomer who didn’t get the attention he deserved, and he’s a go-getter who baited opponents into quite a few picks this season even though he didn’t get thrown at very often. A coach told me he could end up playing at the level of another three-star cornerback from Georgia – Bradley Roby. If I had to pick a runner-up in this category it would be Rashod Berry.
Williams: I'm going with Damon Arnette. He comes from a great system, St. Thomas Aquinas High School, and I am really banking on that factory churning out another big-time contributor. He will have to compete some other young talent, but Arnette said he committed to Ohio State because of the work ethic he saw in the program so he shouldn't be shy about competing. His upside at corner is there as he has only played one year at the position and he carries over the hard-hitting skills he developed at safety.
Hartman: I am interested to see what Rashod Berry can do at tight end, where we saw last year Ohio State really needs to guys to be able to be its most versatile. Nick Vannett is one coming back, but could Berry push Marcus Baugh to be the second guy?
Svoboda: I am totally being a homer but I'm going to go with Lorain TE Rashod Berry. I'm from Lorain so that that's my bias, but the Buckeyes are still looking for depth at tight end so Berry might be one snap away from being in the two-deep as a true freshman depending on how things break. I just saw him play basketball and it's clear he's an athletic freak, and I only expect him to get better once he gets into a professional weight program at Ohio State. I think he's got a very high ceiling.
4. Just how impressive was the final day for the Buckeyes?
Ginn: It’s everything they could have wanted. It was critical to hang onto Mike Weber and Torrance Gibson, and then Urban Meyer topped that by adding Isaiah Prince and K.J. Hill. I think Prince is going to be a special player, especially with at least one year to develop under Ed Warinner.
Williams: Pretty impressive. The Buckeyes were unsure about five guys going into National Signing Day and they landed all five. Hard to top that. It shouldn't come as a surprise as Urban Meyer has long been one of the best closers in the business and he proved it yet again with the 2015 class.
Hartman: It really was just because of how hard it is to get guys late. Those are the guys being pulled in the most directions and often the ones who are the most highly sought after. I don't think anyone would have blamed Mike Weber for listening to the State Up North Siren Song, but his decision to be a Buckeye showed a lot of depth to the relationships he has built since committing to Ohio State. It sure beat 2003, when guys like Shawn Crable and Stanley McClover threw cold water on the national championship celebration by defecting to Michigan and Auburn.
Svoboda: I don't want to say you can never question Meyer's abilities as a closer ever again but kids make their own decisions independent of one another, but Meyer had a fantastic finish to the class by going 5 for 5 on the final day. He's proved to be perhaps the best National Signing Day coach out there on an efficiency basis, and this class looked to be on the brink of missing some major pieces as the Buckeyes went to bed Tuesday night. Instead, everything clicked, and Meyer showed again how hard he is to say no to as the clock winds down.
5. Ohio State went to 12 different states to get players including some places (South Dakota, Utah, Arkansas) that it hadn't ever pulled from. What are your thoughts on what that means for OSU recruiting?
Ginn: It bodes well for the future. Most of the guys they get from states like that have some connection to the state of Ohio or OSU. Last year, for example, featured Demetrius Knox (born in Ohio and raised as an Ohio State fan) out of Fort Worth, Texas, and Stephen Collier (raised in northern Kentucky) out of Leesburg, Ga. That was not the case this year, and to be able to go into those areas and pull kids with no Ohio connections is a good sign. Still, I think OSU is likely to stick to its hotbed areas (South Florida, New Jersey, Virginia) and cherry-pick everywhere else.
Williams: The Buckeye brand has always been strong, but Meyer and his staff may be more willing to test that strength across the country than previous staffs have been. Ohio State is a big deal everywhere and the presence of Meyer, a dominating personality with three national championship rings, surely doesn't hurt the reach that the Buckeyes have.
Hartman: Ever since the Michigan program fell apart at the end of the Lloyd Carr era thanks in no small part to a bunch of highly rated flameouts from all over the map, I have been wary of recruiting too heavily from too far away. However, given the changing landscape of recruiting and the competitive battleground Ohio has become, sometimes it is just necessary to stretch into new areas. It's a calculated risk, but we've seen how it can pay off as well. Of course, we also learned from the Tressel years that relying too heavily on the ebbs and flows of talent in Ohio can leave a team vulnerable when it is time to play for it all. With no spring football in Ohio, sometimes it is easier to evaluate players from other states sooner, too.
Svoboda: I believe the staff when it says that Ohio is always the No. 1 focus, and there are 12 new Buckeyes from Ohio in this class. But there has been no hesitation in expanding outward to fill holes in the Ohio talent since Meyer and Co. arrived, and the thing I like the most is they do it from where they are most comfortable. Think about where the Buckeyes got players -- Florida, where Meyer and many of his assistants have ties; Georgia, which has become a strong Buckeye area the past few years; Michigan, where Kerry Coombs has almost taken up a second residence; the DMV area, where Larry Johnson and Zach Smith are familiar; Utah, where Meyer once coached; and Arkansas, where Chris Ash has ties. I think one of the keys to maximizing a recruiting class is getting honest evaluations from high school coaches, and there can't be much doubt the Buckeyes are getting that from their out-of-state pickups.
6. The SEC dominated the top of Scout's rankings again. With that in mind, how do you think the Big Ten fared overall in comparison?
Ginn: Not well. I will give credit to Penn State and Michigan State for hauling in some solid classes (watch out for Mark Dantonio with four-stars), but programs like Nebraska (No. 33) and Wisconsin (No. 31) have to do better. Purdue signed 28 kids and somehow came away with no four-stars and just 14 three-stars. The 12th-best SEC class includes two five-stars … the 12th-best Big Ten class belonged to Big Ten coach of the year Jerry Kill, who inked signed zero four- or five-star prospects.
Williams: The Big Ten still has some work to do. Efforts by Penn State (No. 13) and Michigan State (No. 17) are encouraging, but it's simply not enough for the league to develop the necessary depth to remain nationally competitive outside the top two or three teams. It's just one year, but the fact that 12 SEC teams had higher rated classes than the fourth-best Big Ten team (Wisconsin at No. 31) is not great work form the conference. Teams like the Badgers and Nebraska should not be falling so far behind middle-of-the-pack SEC teams like Tennessee and South Carolina, but such is the state of recruiting in 2015.
Hartman: Michigan State, Penn State, Illinois and Wisconsin all checked in with classes ranked higher than their average going back to 2002 when the Scout rankings begin, so it has to be considered a pretty solid cycle for them. Of course getting into the top 10 is the next step for the Spartans and Nittany Lions, but you have to start somewhere. It's not enough to declare the conference on its way back to being among the best in the country from top to bottom, but it's a start.
Svoboda: Look, the bowl season was great. The SEC fell flat on its face and the Big Ten finished strong, leaving fans and even some national pundits declaring the league's dominance dead. But here's the deal: Research by our own Jamie Newberg shows that more NFL-level players come from those states and more of them come from SEC schools (just look at the draft results for that). So in general, there's just going to be more talent in the Southeast. That's the reality of the situation, so the SEC isn't going anywhere. That being said, I think the classes at Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State were legitimately very good, and Michigan's average star rating shows they're getting some talented players, too. Add in some decent years for schools like Wisconsin and Illinois and it was a solid day for our home league, but the SEC is not dead by any stretch.