Ohio State football: Evaluating the defense after NFL decisions, transfers

With the deadline for NFL draft decisions having come and gone Monday, college football teams know who they are going to have on the roster for 2023 (at least until the transfer portal opens again after spring practice).

Ohio State had five players enter the 2023 draft with eligibility remaining (not counting players who have a fifth or sixth season available because of the COVID-19 pandemic), and so far a handful have transferred out.

Some were a surprise while others were long expected.

After evaluating the picture at quarterback and on offense as a whole, here is a look at the defense:

Defensive line

For the second consecutive year nobody left early from this group, though that might not be a good thing in the grand scheme of things. For years, Ohio State was known for having a game-wrecking lineman NFL teams coveted, but that has not necessarily been the case since Chase Young went No. 2 overall in 2020.

Zach Harrison and Taron Vincent had solid senior seasons, but the Buckeyes’ best pro prospect up front appears to be J.T. Tuimoloau, who is not eligible to enter the draft until next year.

Even after senior Javonte Jean-Baptiste transferred to Notre Dame, coach Larry Johnson still has 12 scholarship players to work with this spring (pending player health) so numbers aren’t a concern, but production is.

Linebacker

This is where the biggest decisions to return happened.

Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers should be senior leaders coach Jim Knowles needs to lean on to continue his task of fixing an Ohio State defense that has struggled for three straight seasons.

Their return does make finding snaps for C.J. Hicks, a sophomore-to-be from Alter High School who was Ohio State’s top recruit last winter, more of a challenge, though.

Cornerback

With the exception of senior Cam Brown, this group had no one who was draft eligible, but JK Johnson left via the transfer portal after starting five games last season.

Coach Tim Walton still has returning starter Denzel Burke, who had an up-and-down sophomore season, back along with junior Jordan Hancock and second-year players Ryan Turner and Jyaire Brown. Jermaine Mathews joins the group as a four-star freshman from Cincinnati this spring.

Safety

Ronnie Hickman announced his decision to go pro prior to the Michigan game, but he seemed to be a better fit in the previous defensive scheme than the one Knowles installed last year.

Hickman’s exit could clear the way for senior Lathan Ransom to move to the “Adjustor” or middle safety, which may be his more natural position compared to the “Bandit” (boundary safety) role in which he had some ups and downs last season.

Two safeties transferred, but hopes are high for sophomore Sonny Styles to be ready to make an impact (possibly at Bandit), and classmate Kye Stokes flashed potential last spring.

Ja’Had Carter arrived this month as a transfer from Syracuse, where he was a three-year starter, and could be an answer at the nickel position.

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