In the first recruiting cycle in the NIL era, the Ohio State freshmen class is walking into a prime position. As a relatively young squad in 2021, Ohio State went a meager 11-2, finishing with a Rose Bowl victory. The 2022 class finished as the fourth-best class in the nation and, obviously, the top class in the Big Ten.
According to 247Sports, this class features an average rating of 93.79 across its 23 signees; well, 21, and two transfers. Those 23 signees are the fewest of all of the top nine schools. For context, these are the top five classes (and the number of signees):
Texas A&M (33)
Ohio State (23)
If the Transfer Portal is full now, imagine the 2023 and 2024 exoduses. All of this movement could result in increased online casino spending. Regardless, the Ohio State freshman class has some serious quality and there are a few who will ascend the depth chart to make a difference in 2022.
3 Ohio State Freshmen Who Will Make an Impact in 2022
Each of these three Ohio State freshmen played in the Spring Game but Kye Stokes was, perhaps, the greatest surprise. With the usual safeties either resting or on a snap count, Stokes and Oklahoma State transfer Tanner McCallister were on the field the most. In what was a two-hand touch/thud/full tackle game, Stokes finished with nine tackles and a pair of pass break ups.
Heading into the Spring Game, Stokes was the first freshman to lose his black stripe, officially locking in his status as a Buckeye. In the game, Stokes was all over the field, forcing the Scarlett quarterbacks to fit the ball into small windows. and was able to crash downhill to snuff out any hope that a short pass would go anywhere.
Kye Stokes Spring Game Mix pic.twitter.com/9I6aHHeTSp
— Colton Denning (@Dubsco) April 17, 2022
Stokes comes into Columbus as a four-star athlete from Florida. It was there that he played safety, corner, and wide receiver all while also running track. Of those 21 freshmen, Stokes was the third-lowest-rated recruit and he entered a very crowded safety room. That room significantly thinned out, however, over the last six months. Amir Riep (who had his own legal issues), Craig Young, Jahsen Wint (same legal troubles as Riep), Bryson Shaw, Adre Turrentine, and Marcus Hooker have all transferred out.
Stokes has shot up the depth chart and will likely be second-string. With Jim Knowles’ defense, paired with Ohio States’ potent offense, Stokes is going to have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. Stud Sonny Styles will be in town in the fall, so the two will have to battle it out. Stokes’ extremely strong spring will help elevate him. Regardless, the duo of Stokes and Styles starting in 2023 will turn the position into a strength for this defense.
From the third-lowest-rated to the highest, C.J. Hicks provided just a glimpse of his athletic abilities at the Spring Game. Ohio State is going to play with a different defensive scheme starting in 2022, so Hicks will have plenty of time to impress. Hicks finished the Spring Game with seven tackles, 0.5 for loss. In just 30 snaps, Hicks made an impression.
Hicks joins the Ohio State freshmen as the top-rated player from Ohio, the top-rated linebacker in the nation, and the seventh-best recruit overall. He enrolled early and has already started to look like a collegiate linebacker. Hicks has good size and great athleticism. On the field against established Buckeyes, Hicks looked like he belonged already. When he’s able to play full speed, Hicks is a serious threat to unseat established linebackers.
With a new linebackers’ coach and new defensive coordinator, Hicks has a prime opportunity to get early playing time and develop into the next stud Ohio State linebacker. Knowles enjoys athletic, versatile linebackers and Hicks is just the man for the job. Look for defensive number 11 to slowly earn more playing time against the weaker out-of-conference opponents. Once Big Ten play begins, he will likely be a regular member of the linebacker rotation.
The final yet more difficult projection comes within the deepest and most talented unit on the Ohio State team: wide receiver. One could argue EDGE is deeper or stronger but not many units can lose a pair of first-round NFL Draftees and actually look like they could be better in the fall. Caleb Burton logged 36 snaps in the Spring Game, mostly with the backups and third-stringers. He turned five targets into two receptions for 17 yards. While that’s not much, the defense looks improved and Burton has started the spring buried on the depth chart.
Burton — not to be confused with Kaleb Brown — comes to Ohio State a four-star out of Texas. In what has become the norm recently, Ohio State loves poaching Texas receivers. Burton is a lengthy, versatile receiver who will, at the very least, get plenty of opportunities in the second half in mop-up duty. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr, and Emeka Egbuka seem to have the first wave of receivers locked down. It will be up to Burton to break through with Julian Fleming, Kam Babb, and Jayden Ballard holding down the second-team.
As a raw prospect, Burton certainly can. He’s a good route-runner with great body control. He is adept at catching the ball away from his body and has decent speed. Considering those are similar traits that Chris Olave came into Ohio State with, Burton has a great shot of making his mark as one of the Ohio State freshmen.