Payton Pierce Ohio State Buckeyes Linebacker

Closer Look: Payton Pierce Could Be The Future At Middle Linebacker

The Buckeyes landed linebacker Payton Pierce out of Lovejoy High School in Lucas, Texas where he was a finalist for the 2023 High School Butkus Award. He earned an invite to January’s All-American Bowl following a senior season where he finished with 181 tackles and 40 tackles for loss.

A tackling machine, Pierce signed with Ohio State over offers from Texas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, LSU, Michigan, Florida State, and dozens of others. He was ranked the No.5 linebacker in the 2024 class by ESPN, and the No. 9 linebacker according to Rivals.

What To Like

Payton Pierce enrolled early but was held out of spring while dealing with a right ankle injury that he suffered in his final game as a senior. The good news is that he got right to work in the weight room and has been buried in the Buckeyes’ defensive playbook.

When he is healthy and finally able to get after the ball, he won’t be shy about contact. Pierce is a physical defender and should fit in just fine with what Ohio State wants from its linebackers. With the Buckeyes running a 4-2-5 defense, both linebackers play inside. Ideally, the Will (weakside) linebacker can also play the Mike (middle) linebacker spot, as fifth-year senior Cody Simon has done during his career.

Pierce looks like he is capable of something similar.

The Potential

Payton Pierce is a high-volume tackler, even notching 131 tackles as a junior despite dealing with injuries. With over 300 tackles the past two season and 60+ tackles for loss in that span, Pierce is clearly able to find the ball — but more importantly, he actually stops it.

It’s one thing to find the ball, it’s another thing to stop it. When Pierce fills a gap, it stays filled. In the clips below, you’ll see a strong linebacker who uses leverage to stop the ball carrier in his tracks. There aren’t many extra yards to be had.

The backs and blockers will get bigger and faster, but so will he. If Pierce can continue to keep clean of blockers, the tackling should continue as well.

The Expectations

Every linebacker should be able to make an impact at the point of attack, and Payton Pierce does that very well. However, you’re never going to run into an offense that only stays between the tackles. Pierce has the ability to get through traffic outside the tackles, as well as the speed to run down the line of scrimmage and tackle the ball carrier.

Offenses are only going to get more complicated for him, which will put him in conflict constantly. With the Run-Pass Option game, linebackers are always going to be put into unwinnable situations. So they need to be able to win the situations that they can — and that’s tackling the ball when it’s on the ground.

The Bottom Line

Payton Pierce is a redshirt candidate this year because the Buckeyes are three deep at middle linebacker right now. Fifth-year senior Cody Simon, redshirt sophomore Gabe Powers, and true sophomore Arvell Reese will likely keep Pierce on the bench this year.

However, as Reese showed last year, a linebacker can burn his redshirt on special teams without ever seeing a snap on defense. Pierce coming off of an injury makes a redshirt season even more likely, though he would still have four regular season games and every postseason game in which to play.

When he does finally get out there for some regular defensive snaps for the Buckeyes, he will need to be able to defend the pass if he wants to be more than a two-down player. Fortunately, he has experience in that world as well, including as a blitzer.

Previous Closer Look Editions

Quarterback Will Howard | Running Back Quinshon Judkins | Tight End Will Kacmarek | Center Seth McLaughlin | Safety Caleb Downs

Go to discussion...