When it comes to the Ohio State football team, one of the most talked about position groups over the past three years has been the wide receivers — and for good reason.
This has been a historically great group over the past few seasons, and the future seems to be just as bright. Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams just went to the NFL in the first round of the draft, Jaxon Smith-Njigba is almost certainly going to the NFL in the first round next season and guys like Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka look primed to break out in a huge way in 2022.
However, for those that follow the team, the name Julian Fleming is one that people are waiting to break out, and this could be the season.
Fleming came to Columbus as highly touted as any receiver they have had come through. He was the No. 3 overall recruit in the class of 2020, and the No. 1 wide receiver prospect in a class that also included Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who was the fifth-ranked at the position. He hailed out of Southern Columbia High School in Catawissa, PA. Coming out of high school, the 247Sports player comparison for Fleming was Julio Jones. That is an incredibly high bar to clear.
So far in his collegiate career, Fleming has 19 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown through two seasons. In the Rose Bowl game against Utah, a game that was a showcase of the young talent at receiver the Buckeyes have with Olave and Wilson sitting out, Fleming had a modest five catches for 35 yards. It wasn’t the 350 yards Smith-Njigba had or three touchdowns that Harrison Jr. had, but it was enough to show that in a precursor of future talent, the Buckeyes still consider Fleming to be apart of that plan.
“He’s amazing,” the sophomore receiver Harrison Jr. said about Fleming this Spring after practice. “He’s a freak athlete. He’s playing every position right now. Slot, outside, so we’re going to use him a lot, you know? He’s very versatile in what he can do. He’s a great blocker. Probably the best run blocker we have. He’s going to be a great asset to the team for sure.”
One thing to remember is stats are not the only way to make an impact. As Harrison said, Fleming has been one of the best, if not the best, overall blocker in the receiving unit, and has helped the running and passing games in that respect immensely.
Fleming has been hurt also by other’s successes. Most people though Olave would be heading to the draft after the 2020 season, but he returned for one more go at it for 2021. Smith-Njigba progressed much faster than most people anticipated and become a invaluable member of the receiving crew by the middle of the 2021 season.
It is undeniable that Fleming is still an incredible talent, and the projections of him being a first round pick can still be real. All he really needs is one great season. With the losses of Wilson and Olave to the NFL, there are plenty of spots to fill since the Buckeyes will want to maximize the skills of CJ Stroud. Harrison Jr. is likely to step into the second spot behind Smith-Njigba.
Another reason this could be Fleming’s year is that this is the first true spring he has gotten to compete in. In his first season, the spring was decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and nobody had any real spring training or practices. Last season, he was dealing with numerous injuries that kept him limited.
“This is my actual first real spring ball, especially coming through everything,” Fleming said after a spring practice this season. “So I mean, it’s been a steady grind and I’ve changed a lot of my habits, inside and outside of the Woody. Just trying to constantly make sure my body’s right and maintain it and avoid those little injuries that I’ve had. So it’s been good though. I feel better than I ever have.”
Fleming said he is, “110 percent” healthy now and ready to roll into the summer and season.
“It was definitely disappointing, just the shoulder and then all the other stuff that I’ve had. All the little tweaks and things here and there,” Fleming said. “But like I said, my routine’s changed a lot and I feel like those obstacles have made me stronger as a person and just stronger as a player just seeing as I overcome them and constantly just make my way back into things. But to be the player I want to become, I’ve got to put my body first, I’ve got to put my mind first and I’ve just got to continue to improve day in and day out.”
Early prediction? Expect big things from Fleming this season. Big things.