CHICAGO — The Ohio State football program saw 14 players selected in the 2016 NFL draft, and that number included five of the Buckeyes’ top six pass catchers from the previous season.
Heading into 2016, H-back Curtis Samuel is Ohio State’s top returning receiver – he had 22 catches for 289 yards and two touchdowns last year – but the experience behind him and sixth-year senior Corey Smith is extremely lacking. Even Smith caught just five passes last year before breaking his leg against Indiana.
With players like Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott, Braxton Miller and Nick Vannett moving on, Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett will be leaning on unproven players to emerge as his main targets. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, as both Barrett and head coach Urban Meyer stressed Tuesday at Big Ten Media Days that there is plenty of talent still around in Columbus.
“Receivers, top to bottom, are as good as we’ve had talent wise and speed wise,” Meyer said.”
Barrett even said he already has a favorite target: sophomore Noah Brown.
“He has like suction cups on his hands,” Barrett said of Brown. “You throw it anywhere around him, throw it around Noah, he’ll get it.”
Brown was projected to be a starter last season after contributing as a true freshman in 2014, but he broke his leg during fall camp. A year later it seems like his progress was put on pause instead of moving backwards.
Along with Brown, fifth-year senior center Pat Elflein said Smith is back and ready to play and Samuel should be a key contributor once again.
“Noah Brown is getting healthy and running around pretty good,” Elflein said. “Corey is healthy. Those guys are going to play key roles for us on the edge. Curtis Samuel is having a good summer, he’s probably going to cough the ball a lot more.”
Behind the expected starters like Brown, Smith and Samuel are a group of almost completely unproven pass catchers for the Buckeyes. Barrett said freshman Austin Mack started fast in the spring before hitting a rough patch, but he’s had a good offseason since. Elflein had some praise for Mack as well, and noted that redshirt freshman Torrance Gibson “had a good spring.”
With all the talent apparent to those who have seen the Buckeyes work since the 2015 season ended, Meyer said the key for the wide receivers going forward will bet to perform consistently, and having a veteran quarterback could help that process along.
“That’s where J.T. is going to be so critical because you’re going to see a lot of wide eyes,” Meyer said.