2016 Season Preview: Ohio State Turning to Noah Brown to Succeed Michael Thomas as Top Receiving Option

By Eric Seger on August 22, 2016 at 8:35 am
Ohio State is depending on Noah Brown to replace Michael Thomas as its top receiver.
Eleven Warriors' Ohio State Football 2016 Season Preview

Noah Brown isn't one to make comparisons, whether it be about his game, his body or personality.

"I'm Noah Brown. Just Noah Brown," the redshirt sophomore wide receiver said Aug. 14 at Ohio State Media Day. "I think I can do a little bit of everything."

Brown's teammates and coaches raved of his development at this time last year, a process that had him comfortably as the team's No. 2 receiver behind Michael Thomas. Then he broke his leg in practice 12 days before Ohio State's opener against Virginia Tech, ending his season before it began.

"He was right there with Mike," Urban Meyer said of Brown at Big Ten Media Days. "Mike was our best receiver, but a guy that was right below him was Noah. He would have for sure been a starter."

Now, the Buckeyes turn to the man with only one career catch for nine yards to head their receiving corps on a young but loaded roster.

"I'm hoping he has an All-Big Ten year for us," Meyer said. "My expectation for him is really good."

Thomas' 56 catches for 781 yards and nine touchdowns earned him third-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015. He certainly was one of the best receivers in the conference though his numbers didn't always reflect it. That is more a result of Ohio State's uncertainty at quarterback than anything he did.

When Thomas got his hands on the ball, however, he made plays and found the end zone (his nine scores were tied for second-most in the Big Ten in 2015). As a result, the New Orleans Saints selected him 47th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft. That move is already paying dividends for Drew Brees and the passing game in the Big Easy.

Brown's size is comparable to Thomas — he is listed at 6-foot-2 and a trim 218 pounds, while Thomas is 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds — has great hands and feet. His leg injury just kept him from showing his entire skill set last year after earning some snaps as a true freshman in 2014.

"My best attribute is probably my route running and my hands but I can also stretch the field a little bit," Brown said. "Freshman year, my blocking got me on the field so that is definitely something I'm going to continue to take pride in is the blocking part of the game. I think I can bring a little bit of everything to the table."

Nearly all of Ohio State's defensive backs talk about Brown like they did Thomas last season. Both players make a significant impact on the outside.

"Especially coming back from injury, he’s been doing a real good job in practice," Denzel Ward said of Brown. "Noah, he’s pretty hard to cover because he’s physical."

J.T. Barrett feels the same way. The quarterback didn't have Brown to work with during spring practice as he rehabbed from his leg injury but has faith in him due to the receiver having "suction cups for hands."

Michael Thomas, Devin Smith, Noah Brown
Ohio State believes Noah Brown is its next top receiving option.

"There's one football on the field and like I said last year we're trying to formulate plays for specific people to get the ball whereas this year if you're open, I'm going to try and get it to you," Barrett said. "Don't want to force it really because unless you're Noah where I got a little more trust in you I can throw it up when you're covered."

Ohio State had great success the past two seasons with Thomas on the receiving end of passes with a defender blanketed all over him. The belief now is Brown can step in and lead Zach Smith's largely unproven wide receivers room like Thomas did before him. He is 100 percent and getting back into game shape and hasn't missed a beat in training camp.

"As he gets older, he definitely will be one of those Michael Thomas receivers," lead cornerback Gareon Conley said. "He has it right now and you can see the potential. He just has to get experience right now."

"I think Noah Brown is going to have a great year," center Pat Elflein added. "He got hurt and didn’t really have a chance to play last year. I think he’ll have a good year."

Curtis Samuel is Ohio State's top returning receiver with 289 yards and two touchdowns last season. The guys above him — Thomas, Jalin Marshall and Braxton Miller — all are in the NFL. But only Thomas is a big, strong and outside wide receiver who became a security blanket for Cardale Jones during Ohio State's 2014 national title run and someone the Buckeyes counted on to create separation and move the sticks in high-pressure situations.

Brown is next in line to get that opportunity, whether he likes talking about it or not.

"I see myself as a consistent guy as far as hands go and 3rd-and-8, I'd like that to be my opportunity right there," Brown said. "I feel like I'm a consistent receiver. I can take the top off the defense, I can go run a short route. That is definitely my type of situation."

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