Jordan Fuller was a three-year starter at safety for Ohio State, replacing All-American Malik Hooker quite well. This past season he was the last line of defense for one of the best Buckeye defenses ever, and whoever replaces him this coming season will have just as much pressure on him as Fuller did in replacing Hooker.
Fuller played high school ball at Old Tappan in Westwood, New Jersey where he was ranked the No. 6 athlete in the 2016 recruiting class and the No. 134 player overall. He was the No. 4 player in New Jersey, behind Michigan signees Rashan Gary and Kareem Walker, as well as future Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
Fuller came to Ohio State as a corner, but was quickly moved to safety in camp and pretty soon after that earned a job as Hooker’s backup as a true freshman.
That experience was parlayed into a starting job in 2017 as Ohio State’s deep safety. Fuller finished with 70 tackles that season, which was two behind linebacker Jerome Baker for the team lead. He also added in a pair of interceptions and three tackles for loss.
As a junior in 2018, Fuller moved closer to the line of scrimmage, which was possibly a schematic mistake by defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. No longer the last line of defense for the Buckeyes, they gave up big plays on the regular. Fuller did tie Malik Harrison for the team lead in tackles, however (81).
With a new defense implemented by defensive coordinators Jeff Hafley and Greg Mattison in 2019, Fuller was once again the last line of defense for the Buckeyes and he responded in terrific fashion. His tackle numbers dropped, however, because there were fewer plays that actually got to him in 2019.
Still, he showcased on a number of occasions how important his role as the quarterback of the Buckeye defense is, and how difficult he is going to be to replace.
Backing up Fuller this past season was sophomore Josh Proctor, who played in 11 games and finished with 13 tackles, one interception, and three pass breakups. Prior to the season last year he earned comparisons to former Buckeye great Malik Hooker.
Marcus Hooker, who is the younger brother of Malik, began making his way onto the field here and there as the 2019 season went on. He played the most snaps of any safety not named Fuller or Proctor last season.
The Buckeyes signed two safeties in the 2019 class. Ronnie Hickman (nicknamed “The Rocket”) arrived with an injury and never saw the field. Bryson Shaw played in three games and redshirted. Both will be competing for a spot in the two-deep with Hooker.
Ohio State has — or will be — signing two safeties in the 2020 class in Lathan Ransom and Cameron Martinez, but this job has too many responsibilities for a true freshman.
There is also the possibility for a cornerback like Tyreke Johnson to make the move to safety. After two years at corner, maybe he’ll get a look at safety?
Expect Proctor to open with the ones. While this will be his junior season, he will still need as many reps as he can get in order to show that he can handle everything that the job entails. Marcus Hooker will likely also get some run with the ones because he wasn’t too far behind Proctor on the depth chart last season and did see minutes in more than just blowouts.
Redshirt freshmen Bryson Shaw and Ronnie Hickman will get their most important reps since they became Buckeyes. Hickman was injured all of 2019, including spring and fall camp, so this will be a very big spring for him (assuming he’s healthy).
Proctor has openly said he is ready for the job and is talking like it’s his. Obviously, he still has to win it, but right now he is the best bet to open the 2020 season as Ohio State’s deep safety.
There is no question about his range and his ability to anticipate. Clemson showed that he still has some work to do when it comes to tackling elite players, but the good news is that the work is always happening.
There have also been some good words said about Hooker, so it will be interesting to see if there will be a legitimate push for the job in both spring and fall camps.