'Really raw' Jayden Ballard shouldn't be overlooked as potential star receiver

Spencer Holbrook05/18/21
Jayden Ballard 7 by Birm-Lettermen Row
Jayden Ballard is quietly working to get better as a young wide receiver. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

COLUMBUS — Ohio State recruited three elite receivers in the class of 2021.

Emeka Egbuka made headlines when he picked the Buckeyes just days before national signing day. The five-star Washington native is the No. 1 receiver in the class and has already turned heads in camp and during his impressive spring game performance.

Marvin Harrison Jr. draws attention because of his physical tools, his high school teammate Kyle McCord, who is currently battling for the starting quarterback job at Ohio State — and of course, his NFL bloodlines. Harrison was one of the breakout stars of spring practice.

But the Buckeyes also earned an early commitment back in summer 2019 from four-star receiver Jayden Ballard, a quiet prospect who rarely ever spoke to media, attended camps or did anything a top recruit usually does. Ballard went through his recruitment quietly, and he went through spring camp quietly. And while Harrison and Egbuka continue to receive most of the attention, Ballard is working to become a better player.

“Jayden’s really good, too,” star Ohio State wide receiver Chris Olave said. “He’s really athletic, really raw. Once he learns how to become a receiver, he’s going to be really good.

“I’m really proud of those guys and how they keep developing. They work so hard, they keep their head down and they don’t really say much. Those are the type of guys you want. They’re going to be really good in the future.”

Ballard was recognized early in his recruitment by Brian Hartline and Ohio State. He was offered in the summer between his freshman and sophomore season at Massillon Washington High School. He committed the next summer without drama, and his recruitment was officially over. Even as the Buckeye stockpiled talent in the wide receiver room, Ballard stayed committed and signed in December.

Jayden Ballard-Ohio State-Ohio State football-Buckeyes

Jayden Ballard made plays during the Ohio State spring game. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

As an early enrollee, Ballard already finished his first spring in the Buckeyes program, a key for his development.

“It’s been huge,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I think they’re much further ahead than they would be if they got here in the summer. All three of them are very talented, and they’re learning quickly — but we’ve still got a long way to go.

“The more we can put them in live situations, the better. Bright futures for all three of them.”

Ballard, Harrison and Egbuka are all friends. They are roommates with McCord. All three talented wide receivers are building relationships with their quarterbacks on the Buckeyes roster after a successful first spring.

While Harrison and Egbuka both lost their black stripe, symbolically making them official members of the team, Ballard didn’t lose his this spring.

He certainly made plays and worked his way onto the field for meaningful reps. But as Harrison and Egbuka continue to receive the attention from nearly every angle, Jayden Ballard is working to get better, doing so quietly, just as he has for years during his recruitment.

“The sooner guys can come along, the more depth they can provide, they’re only going to help the older guys get stronger,” Day said. “Give them a break at some point in the game so then in the fourth quarter, they’re at their best. I’m impressed by all the young guys. I think Marvin, Emeka and Jayden have all shown they have the ability to play this season.

“Now, they’re nowhere near where they need to be, they have a lot of room to improve over the next couple months, but bright future there I think.”