One month from now, the Ohio State football program will send another cornerback into the first round of the NFL Draft. When Denzel Ward gets selected in the top half of the first round on April 26, that will give the Buckeyes five first rounders in the past five years. It’s a number that is unmatched in NFL history.
Heck, OSU’s four in four years was unmatched as well.
But it’s not like Ohio State isn’t accustomed to having first-round cornerbacks. In the 21 NFL Drafts before Urban Meyer arrived (1991-2012), the Buckeyes had seven cornerbacks selected in the first round.
In 1997, 1999, 2000, and 2001, Ohio State sent Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Ahmed Plummer, and Nate Clements into the first round.
Things then went relatively quiet under Jim Tressel. Tressel signed three cornerbacks who would eventually become first rounders, and that’s not counting Chris Gamble, who was signed as a wide receiver in the 2001 class. Those three do, however, include Ted Ginn, who was the nation’s No. 1 cornerback prospect, yet never spent a moment on the defensive side of the ball at Ohio State.
The other two? Three-star prospects Malcolm Jenkins and Bradley Roby. Jenkins was ranked the No. 58 corner in the nation, while Roby was seen as the No. 49 prospect at the position.
When current Ohio State cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson came back to the Buckeyes after a six-year hiatus coaching at Arkansas, Purdue, and Temple, he pretty quickly noticed that the talent level of the Buckeye cornerbacks was different than it was his first time around.
“There is a different level. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “Coach Meyer and his staff have done a great job of getting more of the talent. I don’t know if coach Tressel when he was here the first time if he had the numbers of guys that were talented. We had some talented guys that developed, but I think guys come here talented and then also get developed, and that’s why this place is going through the roof.”
Jim Tressel’s recruiting style differed greatly from that utilized by Urban Meyer. Tressel had a smaller-scale approach, only bringing in the bare minimum for official visits. His staff would also look for players who could be developed into cornerbacks, like Bradley Roby, who was a Vanderbilt receiver commit at one point.
In Ohio State’s 2005 class alone, the Buckeyes signed Donald Washington, Malcolm Jenkins, Andre Amos, and Jamario O’Neal. O’Neal was the 5-star prospect, but never became a starting cornerback. Washington and Amos were 3-star wideouts, and Jenkins simply proved himself at OSU’s camps that he could play somewhere.
Urban Meyer, however, will cast as wide a net as necessary to land the kind of cornerbacks that his defense needs. Sometimes those players will come from Cleveland and Massillon, like with Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley, but it’s best to keep as many borders open as you can.
According to Taver Johnson, however, it’s not just the wider net that has impacted Ohio State football recruiting under Meyer.
“I think not just the branching out, but I think coach Meyer and his staff have done a great job of adjusting how you recruit today’s athlete,” he said. “Before we were writing notes a lot and doing a lot of different things that way. But how many times are players opening up mail?
“So Coach has done a great job of evaluating what the recruits are really interested in and really hitting those points with the recruits and the parents and adjusting with the times of the players. I think they’ve hit it on the nail with a lot of it, and with the parents, and that helps with getting more talented guys here.”