COLUMBUS — Urban Meyer went beyond the usual national signing day optimism on Wednesday when he described the 21 recruits joining Ohio State’s football program as “exceptional.”
“Really, deep down, I feel like this is going to be an exceptional class with a bunch of them playing,” Meyer said about OSU’s 2017 recruits, who include five 5-star players, 14 4-star athletes and two 3-stars.
Nearly everyone agrees with Meyer. The consensus ranking of OSU’s recruiting class is that it is second nationally behind Alabama.
Ohio State has become both a training ground for future NFL players and a destination for many of the country’s top high school recruits.
Six Ohio State undergraduate players declared for the NFL draft this season a year after nine undergrads left early, more than any other major college program has produced in the last two years.
The biggest hits have come in the defensive backfield, where OSU lost Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Bell last year and again this year, when Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore left eligibility on the table when they turned pro.
But that is an area where OSU might have one of its biggest infusions of talent coming in this year’s recruiting class.
Cornerback Jeffrey Odukah, of Grand Prairie, Tex., was rated the No. 1 cornerback recruit in the country. Shaun Wade, of Jacksonville, Fla., Trinity Christian, was ranked No. 2. Kendall Sheffield, of Blinn Junior College, was ranked the No. 1 junior college cornerback this year.
Cornerback Marcus Williamson (IMG Academy) was ranked the No. 27 cornerback nationally and Isaiah Pryor (IMG Academy) was rated the No. 7 safety recruit nationally.
“I guess we are now of the mindset that it (players leaving early) will happen. Prepare for it to happen. Recruit guys that are ready-made as much as you can,” Meyer said.
Having players leave early, especially when some of those decisions are surprises, forces Ohio State to adjust. “Imagine what this team would have looked like last year with those nine guys back. But that’s the way it is,” Meyer said.
But that turnover also plays a role in attracting elite replacements.
Nine of OSU’s 21 recruits graduated from high school early and enrolled in January. Several of them talked on Wednesday about how the chance to get to the NFL quickly played a role in their decision.
“It’s DBU (Defensive Backs University),” Pryor said. “That went into the decision a lot.”
Ohio State’s class has only seven players from Ohio, which Meyer said was lower than he would like to have most years. But it also included three of the top six players in Texas, three from Florida high schools, two from Las Vegas and one from California.
Wade said Ohio winters were no barrier to him or his teammates from warm weather states. And he dropped another mention of the NFL when he explained why they felt that way.
“The cold weather had nothing to do with it. If want to play in the league (the NFL) you have to play in cold weather. You might as well get used to it,” he said.
Being in such a highly rated class has given the newest Buckeyes an introduction into the level of expectations at OSU every season.
Williamson said, “I know there’s a lot of hype surrounding this class but we’re all starting the bottom. Hopefully when the time comes, we’ll be one of those classes that wins a championship.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau