COLUMBUS — Three years ago Urban Meyer signed one of the greatest recruiting classes in Ohio State football history.
But one of the things that comes with signing a long list of great athletes is that eventually they have to be replaced, sometimes sooner than expected.
Six of the nine OSU underclassmen who have declared for this year’s NFL draft were part of the 2013 recruiting class.
In addition to a total of nine underclassmen going to the pros, the Buckeyes are losing seniors like offensive tackle Taylor Decker, linebacker Joshua Perry, defensive lineman Adolphus Washington, tight end Nick Vannett and receiver Braxton Miller.
A combination of the loss of that much talent, Ohio State’s recent success and a heightening of the rivalries with both Michigan and Michigan State has put even more focus than usual on OSU’s recruiting efforts this year.
Three days before Wednesday’s national letter of intent signing day, Ohio State has verbal commitments from 22 athletes, including Leipsic offensive lineman Gavin Cupp. Three more players could sign on Wednesday.
Recruiting analysts say there is one five-star athlete, 14 four stars and seven three stars among those 22 committed athletes.
Are there replacements among that group who could develop into players who can get to the level of 2013 recruits like Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, Darron Lee and Jalin Marshall?
The key word there might be develop. It’s easy to forget that Bosa is the only player in the 2013 recruiting class who was a starter as a freshman.
Bell probably should have been a starter earlier in an Ohio State defensive backfield that was a disaster zone, but he got his only start of 2013 in the Orange Bowl against Clemson.
Elliott backed up Carlos Hyde and got more than six carries in a game only once as a freshman. And that was against Florida A&M, easily one of the two or three worst opponents in the history of Ohio State football. Apple, Lee and Marshall were redshirted.
A great recruiting class is probably more about who will eventually become a star or a reliable starter than it is about finding immediate replacements.
The 2013 recruiting class will have more to say about how successful the 2016 season is at OSU than this year’s recruits despite all the early departures.
Starters like quarterback J.T. Barrett, defensive end Tyquan Lewis, offensive lineman Billy Price and cornerback Gareon Conley all were in the 2013 class. Players who are being counted on to move into the starting lineup, like tight end Marcus Baugh, linebacker Chris Worley and receiver Dontre Wilson were also in that group.
If you wanted to bet on who among this year’s recruits has the best chance of becoming a starter, it would be defensive lineman Nick Bosa, the only five-star recruit and Joey Bosa’s younger brother.
Defensive line is a position of need, and like his brother, he has the size, speed and strength to play immediately. The only negative is that he had surgery for a torn ACL in November.
Bosa (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas) is rated the No. 3 overall prospect in the 2016 recruiting class by ESPN.com and 247 Sports, which averages the rankings of the major recruiting analysts, rates him No. 8 overall.
Linebacker Jonathon Cooper (Gahanna Lincoln) is rated a five-star prospect by some analysts and is ranked No. 32 overall by 247 Sports.
Two of the top-rated players in the incoming class were longtime Maryland commitments from Maryland high schools who recently flipped to Ohio State – quarterback Dwayne Haskins and linebacker Keandre Jones.
Haskins is rated the No. 87 player nationally by 247 Sports and Jones is ranked No. 90.
Both ESPN.com and 247 Sports say Ohio State’s recruiting class ranks second nationally behind LSU. In the Big Ten, it is a two-team race, with OSU and Michigan far ahead of the rest of the league. ESPN.com ranks Michigan fifth and 247 Sports says it is fourth.
Seven of OSU’s recruits are already enrolled, which means their commitment is solid, not just a verbal commitment.
Wide receiver Austin Mack, running back Antonio Williams, linebacker Tuf Borland, offensive lineman Tyler Gerald, offensive lineman Michael Jordan, defensive tackle Malik Barrow and Cooper are already in school at Ohio State.
All the early departures set the bar even higher than usual for Ohio State’s recruiting this year. But at the time the juniors going to the NFL made their decision, Meyer said there are worse things that could happen to a coach.
“I’d rather be in this situation than have a bunch of not very good players,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.