Jermaine Mathews, Jr. is Ohio State’s highest-ranked early enrollee in the 2023 class. He was ranked the No. 6 cornerback in the nation and the No. 51 player overall. Mathews is just the fourth cornerback Ohio State has signed in the last seven cycles who ranked in the Top 60 of the 247Sports Composite (2017, Jeff Okudah and Shaun Wade; 2021, JK Johnson).
Mathews came to Ohio State from Winton Woods High School in Cincinnati. He was a camp offer, and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles put him through his paces in order to earn that offer.
What To Like
Jermaine Mathews has been on OSU’s campus since the winter and made it through his first spring camp unscathed. There were ebbs and flows, but even the mistakes were positive steps moving forward. Spring is always a valuable experience, which helps to bring out the overall skill set of a player sooner than we might normally see.
When looking at Mathews, immediately you’ll see an intelligent and dynamic cornerback who excels in zone coverage. He understands where the ball is going and has the speed (4.35) and quickness to get there. And then when he does arrive, he treats the football as if it was intended for him.
Mathews has good enough size at 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds, but he will continue to get stronger. He will play mostly man coverage at Ohio State, and the Buckeyes certainly liked what they saw last June at camp in that regard.
Learning against Ohio State receivers can be a crash course in failure for some, but it’s a lot like being dropped in the foreign country of a language you’re trying to learn. Being immersed in it will bring about faster learning. And when you get to face the likes of Marvin Harrison, Jr. in practice, you’re gonna learn a lot more than just “where is the bathroom?”
Everything that Mathews did in high school will help him in college. In the clip below, you can see how well he triggers once the ball is thrown — and often before it. When given an opportunity, he can be a physical defender, but for the most part he is able to stay clean and still defend passes.
He also shows excellent timing against the slant, and is able to get his hand in without interfering or being flagged for using his off hand to pull at a receiver.
Jermaine Mathews, Jr. was the Division II Defensive Player of the Year last year because he put up offensive numbers on defense. He finished with 51 tackles, four forced fumbles, four fumble recovers, six interceptions, and three interception returns for touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass and returned both a kick and punt for touchdowns.
Nobody is expecting that kind of production at Ohio State, but it’s impossible to ignore his ability to make big plays. He finds the football and then does impressive things with it.
The Bottom Line
Watching how effectively Jermaine Mathews handles playing zone, combined with his ability to switch from defending one receiver to another in the middle of a play could make a person wonder if he might be a nickel candidate for the Buckeyes at some point.
Before that day happens, however, cornerbacks coach Tim Walton will find out if Mathews has a future as a starting cornerback. Given the athletic profile, the football awareness, and the playmaking ability, he sure looks like how you’d want a starting cornerback to look.
The Buckeyes aren’t in the market for a starter in 2023, but we would have said the same thing last year, and five different cornerbacks started games in 2022 — including a true freshman.
Jermaine Mathews, Jr. is a confident defender who is still learning what it means to be a college cornerback. Enrolling early and taking on the work load that he has means that those lessons are being put to good use.
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