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Player to Watch: Is it Julian Fleming’s turn in the spotlight?

With Harrison Jr. and Egbuka taking the attention, can Julian Fleming break out this season?

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Ohio State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

While all eyes will be on Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka this season, there is another receiver for the Buckeyes that can make some noise nationally: Julian Fleming.

Fleming is a name Ohio State fans were excited about when he got to Columbus along with Jaxon Smith-Njigba. However, he has been hampered by multiple injuries throughout his career and, with these injuries, saw other Ohio State receivers replace him on the depth chart.

It was a while ago, but it is hard to believe where Fleming landed on the recruiting pages coming into Ohio State. Of all the talented and NFL-ready receivers that have come through Columbus over the past five years, Fleming was the highest-rated out of all of them.

The 6-foot-2, 200 pound receiver from Southern Columbia High School in Catawissa, Pennsylvania, held a perfect 100 rating and was a five-star prospect. He was the No. 4 overall player in the 2020 class, the No. 1 receiver, and the No. 1 player in the state of Pennsylvania.

In the 2020 class, the only players ranked higher than Fleming were Quarterbacks Bryce Young and DJ Uiagalelei and Defensive End Bryan Bresee.

Also, there were four Ohio State players ranked in the top 30 in the 2020 class, according to 247Sports. Fleming was No. 4, Paris Johnson Jr. was No. 8, Jaxon Smith-Njigba was No. 15, and CJ Stroud was No. 29. Johnson Jr., Smith-Njigba, and Stroud were all first-round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft.

This is what the recruiting experts were saying about Fleming when he came to Columbus.

“A terrific combination of size, strength, and leaping ability,” 247 Sports Director of Football Recruiting Steve Wiltfong said at the time of Fleming’s recruitment. “Easily separates. His speed and physicality make him elite after the catch, and ball skills are exceptional. A game-changer on special teams as well with another gear once he sees the seam or daylight to the end zone. A difference-maker in the red zone. There may be a few receivers faster, but nobody nationally with the tool bag Fleming has at the position. Also, a standout basketball player, a scoring machine playing above the rim who also dominates on the glass. An elite long jumper in track. An instant impact player and projected future first-round draft pick.”

The comparison Wiltfong gave was Julio Jones.

Obviously, the main cause for concern is health, but also, with Harrison Jr. and Egbuka returning as arguably the top two receivers in football and Carnell Tate and Brandon Inniss stepping onto campus seemingly ready to play day one, Fleming could live in an interesting middle ground that hurts his opportunities.

However, he is a more proven entity than any freshman, so he will come in as one of the top three receivers on the team and will have his chances early on in the season. Whether it is Kyle McCord or Devin Brown that is ultimately the starting quarterback, Fleming will likely be a large part of the offensive plan as a trustworthy weapon as the new quarterback gets settled in.

In his three seasons thus far, Fleming has a total of 53 catches for 693 yards and seven touchdowns. He averages 13.1 yards per catch. His best season was by far last year, where he recorded 34 catches for 533 yards and six touchdowns. He started off the season strong but slowed down and struggled a little bit towards the end of the season.

The Buckeyes have another explosive offense with many mouths to feed. Not only do they have six receivers who could play Week 1, they also have five running backs and two tight ends, so Fleming will have to show early that he is still the talent they expected him to be when he is healthy.

I do think there is logic behind the idea that Fleming could see more opportunities because teams are going to have to work so hard taking Harrison Jr. and Egbuka out of the game plan. And he has already shown that when given the chance he can make big time plays. He has a unique combination of speed, athleticism and strength that makes him incredibly dangerous, no matter where he lines up on the line of scrimmage.

The first few games will be important. They will blow out everyone up to the Notre Dame game and blowouts mean padded stats. If Fleming can have a solid start to the year, he can gain the trust of new play caller Brian Hartline and the new quarterback and ride that momentum the rest of the season.