One of the biggest concerns about hiring Jim Tressel from Youngstown State back in 2001 was the concern that Tressel would not be able to effectively recruit the upper echelon talent necessary to compete with other college football powers.
Not only has Jim Tressel shown that he can recruit top talent to Ohio State, but I would argue that Tressel and his staff have shown a tremendous ability to scout and develop players who may not have been highly ranked by recruiting analysts into NFL-caliber talent.
As anyone who has read my blog knows, I have not, nor will I ever, put too much stock into the beliefs of recruiting analysts. My reasoning is quite simple - the recruiting analysts do not have to win or lose with the talent that is recruited, while the coaching staff does. If the coaching staff loses enough, they will soon be out of a job, so it is absolutely imperative that the coaching staff does their homework on the players they recruit.
Below you will see how I would rank the various recruiting classes Jim Tressel and his staff have brought to Ohio State over the past decade. I am sure there will be disagreement on how I ranked these recruiting classes, but I am open for any and all discussion.
TBD: The recruiting classes of 2008, 2009, and 2010 are still playing. To be fair to these players, I will rank them as still to be determined. It is entirely possible that these classes could rank as Tressel's best when Jim Tressel's career at Ohio State has concluded.
7. The 2003 class: Small in the number of players, and surprisingly bad for a recruiting class, considering Ohio State had just won the national championship. This class had a number of academic casualties, injuries, and off the field issues (remember Louis Irizarry and Ira Guilford?).
Highly touted player from the class: TE Louis Irizarry
Players who emerged from this class: WR Anthony Gonzalez, OT Kirk Barton, DB Donte Whitner, DB Ashton Youboty, DL David Patterson
6. The 2004 class: A large class, but when you read through the list of names, many of the players did not wind up contributing as much as some of the other recruiting classes Jim Tressel landed in his first decade. Several of the players transferred (Chad Hoobler, SirJo Welch, Erik Haw, Brandon Underwood), while others battled injuries (OT Jon Skinner, OT Kyle Mitchum).
Highly touted player from the class: WR Ted Ginn, Jr.
Players who emerged from this class: Ginn, RB Antonio Pittman, LB Marcus Freeman, QB Todd Boeckman, DE Vernon Gholston
5. The 2001 class: Jim Tressel was hired on January 18, 2001, so he only had a few weeks to try and keep this class together after John Cooper was fired. Another class that was not relatively large, but several of these players were key contributors to the 2002 national championship team. Probably the two best players were players not highly rated ~ PK Mike Nugent and WR Chris Gamble.
Highly touted player from the class: RB Maurice Hall
Players who emerged from this class: Hall, DE Simon Fraser, DB Dustin Fox, PK Mike Nugent, WR/DB Chris Gamble
4. The 2007 class: Small in number, with a few players (RB Daniel "Boom" Herron, DB Nate Oliver, DL Evan Blankenship) still maintaining eligibility for the 2011 season. This class suffered attrition early, with the departures of DB Eugene Clifford and DB James Scott. An excellent example of Jim Tressel's talent development from this class was WR Dane Sanzenbacher, who had scholarship offers from Iowa and schools in the MAC.
Highly touted player from the class: DB Eugene Clifford
Players who emerged from this class: Sanzenbacher, DL Cameron Heyward, RB Brandon Saine, DB Jermale Hines, LB Brian Rolle
3. The 2006 class: I will rank this class highly, as this class had several players who were not highly touted yet developed to become key members of the team throughout the 2006-2010 seasons. Players such as LB Mark Johnson, DE Walter Dublin, and QB Antonio Henton left Ohio State.
Highly touted player from the class: RB Chris Wells
Players who emerged from this class: Wells, DB Kurt Coleman, TE Jake Ballard, CB Chimdi Chekwa, DE Thaddeus Gibson, LB Ross Homan, DT Dexter Larimore, OL Bryant Browning
2. The 2005 class: I have written about this excellent class before, in terms of its overall productivity. Quite possibly, this class represents what I wrote up above about player development. The highly ranked players (OT Alex Boone, DB Jamario O'Neal) were contributors, but this class is remembered for the less-heralded players (LB James Laurinaitis, DB Malcolm Jenkins, WR Brian Robiskie) who turned into standouts.
Highly touted player from the class: OT Alex Boone
Players who emerged from this class: Boone, Laurinaitis, Jenkins, Robiskie, DB Anderson Russell, DT Doug Worthington, WR Brian Hartline, LB Austin Spitler
1. The 2002 class: Jim Tressel's first complete recruiting class, and this class provided the backbone for the successful seasons of 2002-2006. Highly rated by recruiting analysts, while also providing numerous contributors. In another example of player development, two of the players (QB Troy Smith, LB A.J. Hawk) were not highly touted but were essential to Jim Tressel's program developing into a championship contender.
Highly touted player from the class: RB Maurice Clarett
Players who emerged from this class: Clarett, Smith, Hawk, LB Bobby Carpenter, OL Doug Datish, OL T.J. Downing, DB Nate Salley, DL Mike Kudla, DE Jay Richardson, DL Quinn Pitcock, OL Rob Sims, C Nick Mangold, WR Santonio Holmes
Part 1: The Speech