Following another stellar season that culminated in a 12-1 record and a Fiesta Bowl win, Ohio State will see more turnover in 2016 than just about any program in the nation. After sending 12 players to the first four rounds of the NFL draft, the Buckeyes return just 24 percent of their 2015 production on offense and defense. That’s lower than all but one team in the country (UMass), according to SB Nation.
And so it’s time for new faces to step up – as they often do at Ohio State, the Midwest’s best program at recruiting talent and then turning it over to the NFL. All of the starters and role players will have their importance, but some will carry far more than others.
Each day at noon (ET) through July 21, we’ll count down another one of the 10 most important players to Ohio State in 2016. Because it’s still early, we’ll be making some role projections. With only 10 spots, we’ll leave off some crucial players, too. That’s part of the game.
Here’s our list so far:
Here is our spotlight for today:
No. 4: Noah Brown, redshirt sophomore wide receiver
On a team that returns fewer offensive and defensive contributions than all but one school in the country, the newcomers are going to matter a lot at some point. Only Mike Weber has held a spot on this top-10 list so far without having proven what he could do on the field, and now Brown joins it.
Perhaps no new face has quite the talent he does, yet none has the responsibility either.
A four-star athlete coming out of high school in New Jersey, Brown showcased his potential importance to the team last year, when he missed the entire season with a broken leg. The injury followed a monster spring and drew mass frustration from Urban Meyer, who could probably see the schematic effect that would result.
After Devin Smith left for the NFL following a school-record and NCAA-best 28.2 yards per catch on the way to a national championship, Michael Thomas was left as the only legitimate outside threat the Buckeyes had, and he was mostly limited to medium-length routes.
An offense that returned nearly everybody but Smith fell to the 100th-ranked passing game in the country with far fewer explosive plays. That lack of a passing game cost the Buckeyes another crack at a national championship.
Brown hasn’t shown anything on the field in a game yet that suggests he’ll be as unguardable as he was prior to last year’s leg injury. But on a team that returns a third-year starting quarterback in J.T. Barrett but no other starting wideouts or tight ends, someone will need to step up out wide to both stretch the field for the running game and produce a passing game that can lift Ohio State in close games.
That player could very well be Brown, a possession player with respectable speed at 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds. The question is going to be how well he has recovered from the broken leg – and if his skills can help diversify the Ohio State offense, which didn’t happen in his absence last season.
Brown’s presence this season may define the gap between great and elite for this Ohio State program.