2016 Season Preview: Ohio State's Unproven Wide Receivers, Tight Ends Set to Take Center Stage

By Tim Shoemaker on August 24, 2016 at 10:10 am
Dontre Wilson and Austin Mack take the practice field for Ohio State.
Eleven Warriors' Ohio State Football 2016 Season Preview

Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller, Jalin Marshall and Nick Vannett. Those were Ohio State's three starting wide receivers and starting tight end from last season. And by most accounts, all four had productive moments and careers for the Buckeyes. 

All four are also now gone and competing in NFL training camps. Thomas, Miller and Vannett were all drafted, while Marshall latched on in free agency and has impressed thus far in camp.

The list is a fond memory for some fans, but it also should serve as a reminder of exactly how much talent Ohio State must replace at both position groups in 2016. The Buckeyes will have an entirely different batch of pass catchers for quarterback J.T. Barrett as head coach Urban Meyer hopes to find more balance on offense.

What follows is a breakdown of Ohio State's wide receivers and tight ends: how the two units performed last season, what lies ahead for 2016 and much more.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends in 2015

With Ezekiel Elliott leading the way, the Buckeyes leaned heavily on the running game a season ago. Elliott racked up an average of 141.1 yards per game on the ground, and Ohio State totaled an average of 245.2 yards as a team. Because of that success, the Buckeyes often struggled in the passing game as they ranked just 100th nationally at 188.8 yards per game.

Thomas, Marshall, Miller and Elliott were Ohio State's top-four receivers in 2015 in terms of receptions. Thomas led the way with 56 catches for 781 yards and nine touchdowns. Marshall caught 36 balls, Elliott had 27 catches and Miller had 26. Vannett had 19 catches last season and, somewhat surprisingly, did not find the end zone.

The Buckeyes struggled all season to get into any sort of rhythm with their passing game and their constant shuffle at quarterback between Barrett and Cardale Jones almost certainly did not help that. Ohio State often used Elliott to aid with that inconsistency.

"That was a little bit of a crutch last year," Meyer said. "You had the best tailback in the country and when it doubt hand it to Zeke."

2016 Outlook

The question to which everybody wants an answer: Who is going to catch passes for Ohio State in 2016?

The leading candidate to be the Buckeyes' No. 1 option is redshirt sophomore Noah Brown. The Flanders, New Jersey native missed all of last year following a season-ending leg injury in fall camp, but Brown is the one player talked about by both teammates and coaches as a potentially dominant wide receiver for Ohio State. He'll have his shot this year.

Ohio State Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
PLAYER NO. HT. WT. YR. Hometown
A.J. Alexander 88 6-2 254 RS-FR Burke, Va. (Lake Braddock)
Marcus Baugh 85 6-5 258 JR Riverside, Calif. (John W. North)
Noah Brown 80 6-2 218 RS-SO Flanders, N.J. (Pope John XXIII)
Parris Campbell 21 6-1 208 RS-SO Akron, Ohio (St. Vincent-St. Mary)
James Clark  82 5-10 186 RS-JR New Smyrna Beach, Fla. (New Smyrna Beach)
Austin Clutter 33 6-0 200 SO Geneva, Ohio (Geneva)
Johnnie Dixon 1 5-11 198 R-SO West Palm Beach, Fla. (Dwyer)
Torrance Gibson 6 6-2 215 R-FR Plantation, Fla. (American Heritage)
K.J. Hill 14 6-0 200 RS-FR North Little Rock, Ark. (North Little Rock)
Austin Mack 22 6-2 215 FR Fort Wayne, Ind. (Bishop Luers)
Devlin McDaniel 23 5-11 190 SR Marion, Ohio (Pleasant)
Terry McLaurin 83 6-0 204 RS-SO Indianapolis, Ind. (Cathedral)
Joe Ramstetter 19 6-3 210 SR Cincinnati, Ohio (Elder)
Curtis Samuel 4 5-11 197 JR Brooklyn, N.Y. (Erasmus Hall)
Corey Smith 5 6-1 190 GS Akron, Ohio (Buchtel)
Alex Stump 87 6-3 210 RS-FR Avon, Ohio (St. Edward)
Binjimen Victor 9 6-4 185 FR Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Coconut Creek)
Dontre Wilson 2 5-10 195 SR DeSoto, Texas (DeSoto)

After that, however, is where things get interesting at wideout. 

Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson are a pair of hybrid running back/wide receivers who will both carry the ball out of the backfield and line up in the slot this season for the Buckeyes. It's still unclear exactly how each will be used, but they both figure to be heavily utilized offensive weapons. Samuel is the team's leading returning receiver as the junior hauled in 22 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns a year ago.

As far as outside receivers go, there's a long list of options. Sixth-year senior Corey Smith is the lone returner with any sort of significant experience, and behind him is a stable of young talent that has been waiting in the wings for a few years now. It's largely unproven at this level, but guys like Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, James Clark, K.J. Hill, Torrance Gibson, Austin Mack and Binjimen Victor were all highly-recruited players who are now currently battling for playing time.

At tight end, there's no real question who the No. 1 guy is there as Marcus Baugh will step in and replace Vannett. Baugh was the backup to Vannett at that spot a year ago and, now in his fourth year in the program, could enjoy a nice breakout season for the Buckeyes.

The more intriguing spot is the backup tight end. Ohio State has used more and more two-tight end sets over the years and right now it appears to be a two-horse race between redshirt freshman A.J. Alexander and true freshman Jake Hausmann. Meyer said recently Hausmann is slightly ahead of both of the other true freshman tight ends the Buckeyes brought in this year: Luke Farrell and Kierre Hawkins.

Final Word

Ohio State wants to be more balanced in 2016 and if it's going to accomplish that then a lot of unproven players are going to have to step into starring roles. The Buckeyes certainly feel they have the talent to do that, though.

It's going to be hard — nearly impossible, actually — for all of those names listed at wide receiver to see the field. There just aren't enough snaps in a game. Position coach Zach Smith said recently his magic number of guys he wants to play is six, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be the same six each week. There figures to be a constant battle throughout the season for playing time.

Barrett had an entire spring and now fall training camp to build up some rapport with his new batch of wide receivers and tight ends. We'll have to wait until Sept. 3 and beyond to see how it plays out.

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