Jelani Thurman was the No. 3 tight end in the 2023 recruiting class and was ranked the No. 104 player in the nation overall by the 247Sports Composite. He chose the Buckeyes over the likes of Alabama and Clemson, and enrolled at Ohio State in January. Thurman went through spring ball for the Buckeyes and quickly earned praise from his coaches and teammates.
As a senior at Langston Hughes High School in Fairburn, Georgia, Thurman caught 36 passes for 582 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games. He was a teammate of current 2024 Ohio State quarterback commit Air Noland.
What To Like
Jelani Thurman has prototypical size at 6-foot-6 and 253 pounds. He added weight before arriving at Ohio State, which is something that most freshman tight ends have to work on once they arrive.
Thurman will obviously continue to get stronger, but by enrolling early and coming in heavier than what he played at, he is substantially ahead of the game for a typical freshman.
A tremendous athlete, Thurman can use his size against smaller defenders, but then get open against larger defenders should a defense choose to go big. He was an aggressive and oftentimes dominating blocker in high school, but is still working his way to that level in college, as you can see in the clips immediately below from last month’s spring game.
It is easy to see the red-zone capabilities of Jelani Thurman, which were also shown in a couple of spring scrimmages this year.
Though, to be fair, everywhere was the red zone for Thurman back in high school.
Every freshman that comes to Ohio State is technically a developmental player. None have been finished products, but some are more advanced than others. Physically, Jelani Thurman is as advanced as any Ohio State freshman tight end possibly ever.
Technique will come, as will a greater understanding of the playbook. Tight ends coach Keenan Bailey will need to smooth out Thurman’s weaknesses, but so much of that comes with time and repetition.
Thurman is already stepping up and showing an ability to learn quickly and handle added responsibilities. It doesn’t seem as though much has fazed him to this point, especially as he continues to learn from his mistakes and why they occurred.
As seen in the spring game highlights above, Jelani Thurman is still working on being a consistent blocker. That’s no different than any other tight end who has ever played at Ohio State. But to be able to make mistakes in the spring and learn from them before fall camp is significant.
The Buckeyes are pretty deep this year at tight end. There are six scholarship tight ends, with Thurman being the youngest of the group. He was already mixing in with redshirt sophomore Sam Hart and redshirt freshman Bennett Christian this spring, but playing time may be hard to come by this year because of the veteran trio of Cade Stover, Gee Scott, Jr., and Joe Royer.
A year or two of prep should get Thurman back to his high school days as a blocker.
The Bottom Line
Jelani Thurman is the highest-rated tight end recruit to come to Ohio State since Jeremy Ruckert (No. 37 overall) in 2018. Ruckert played in 12 games as a true freshman but caught just one pass. It wasn’t until his sophomore year that he began to get more involved in the offense.
This entire season should be a learning experience for Thurman, but don’t be surprised when he shows a few flashes in his limited opportunities late in games this year.
Barring injuries, the Buckeyes could very likely get away with redshirting him, but does anybody at Ohio State expect Thurman to be there for five years?
This season is going to be a great learning experience for him, but his real impact will likely not be felt for another couple of years because of the depth. But with how quickly Thurman was already making waves in the spring, it’s probably not best to doubt anything about him.
Jelani Thurman is a complete tight end prospect. He is a threat in the passing game and shows tremendous ball skills. He has moves after the catch, and his size and reach means he’s almost always open. And before too long, he’s going to be a 260-pound run blocker who will carry a defender as far as needed — and then two steps further.
Pass blocking at this point is a bit of a mystery, but it’s a skill that he will acquire. He may not have to put it to much use as a Buckeye, especially if he proves to be an effective pass-catching option.
Previous Closer Look editions
Offensive Lineman Vic Cutler | Offensive Lineman Luke Montgomery | Wide Receiver Brandon Inniss | Defensive Tackle Kayden McDonald | Cornerback Jermaine Mathews, Jr. | Cornerback Davison Igbinosun | Safety Ja’Had Carter