What do Mike Doss, Will Allen, Donte Whitner, Kurt Coleman, and Vonn Bell have in common? They were or are safeties in the NFL and attended The Ohio State University. First rounder and possible top ten overall pick Malik Hooker will soon join the long line of successful Buckeye safeties in the next level. After only one year as a starter in the secondary, Hooker elected to enter the NFL Draft. He finished the season as the Buckeyes’ third-leading tackler with 74, four broken up passes, seven interceptions, and three touchdowns. His loss in the secondary will surely hurt, but surprisingly, the position should not be a cause for concern.
Senior Damon Webb is the only starter in the secondary to return from a year ago. After playing sparingly in 2014 and 2015, Webb started every game in 2016. He finished with 57 tackles, good for fifth-best on the team, along with three broken up passes, an interception, and a touchdown. There is no doubt that Webb has guaranteed himself a starting position.
Who will start alongside Webb? Currently, there appears to be two frontrunners – Jordan Fuller and Erick Smith. Fuller was the New Jersey Gatorade player of the year in his senior year of high school. A four-star recruit, he has the potential to develop into the next Malik Hooker. He primarily played special teams last year and finished with a total of 11 tackles. For Erick Smith, he unluckily has suffered numerous injuries that have kept him off the field. Smith was in the same recruiting class as Webb and highly touted from in-state Glenville High School. A torn ACL ended his season back in 2015 but he managed to find playing time last year on special teams with 16 tackles. With this being his final year of eligibility, Smith may be at risk of losing playing time to the younger, healthier crop of safeties that will be competing with him.
Wayne Davis was the 33rd-rated cornerback in the class of 2016. He took a red-shirt season and was moved to the safety position. Jahsen Wint, the 60th-rated athlete in the same recruiting class, also took a red-shirt season. Wint hails from Eramus Hall High School in Brooklyn, NY, and was teammates with running back Curtis Samuel.
Brendon White, the all-purpose true freshman, could also vie for snaps at safety. He has been practicing at the wide receiver position and his athleticism and talent could make him play anywhere from wide receiver to linebacker to safety.
In this year’s recruiting cycle, the Buckeyes elected to recruit only one true safety: Isaiah Pryor. Pryor attended powerhouse IMG Academy and was rated as a four-star prospect. As the 7th-rated safety and 59th overall prospect, he had 43 offers coming out of high school including Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia, among others. The Buckeyes hauled in the top two cornerbacks in Jeffrey Okudah and Shaun Wade, leaving Pryor as an afterthought. He should play on special teams right away and it remains to be seen if he will have meaningful snaps at safety.
In summary, Damon Webb provides stability and experience at one safety position. Jordan Fuller and Erick Smith appear to be the two contenders at the other safety position with redshirt freshmen Wayne Davis and Jahsen Wint providing depth. True freshman Isaiah Pryor rounds out the safety unit with Brendon White possibly joining the group. Looking ahead to next year, the Buckeyes currently have a commitment from the number three safety and 30th overall prospect in Jaiden Woodbey. Woodbey was teammates with Wyatt Davis, a five-star offensive lineman for the Buckeyes that committed for this year.
Other Positional Outlooks: