On an Ohio State roster that’s absolutely loaded with talent at wide receiver, Julian Fleming was the most highly touted recruit of them all.
Emeka Egbuka, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba were all five-star recruits, too. Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jayden Ballard were also top-100 recruits. Chris Olave might be the best wide receiver in college football this year. But it’s Fleming, who was ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect in the entire recruiting class of 2020, who was the most hyped prospect of all of them coming out of college football.
Fleming’s first season as a Buckeye came and went quietly, as he caught just seven passes for 74 yards as a true freshman. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, he didn’t have the full first offseason that he was supposed to have last year as an early enrollee. Making matters worse, Fleming was plagued all season by a shoulder injury that required him to undergo surgery this offseason.
He’s healthy now, though, and Ryan Day likes what he’s seen from Fleming this summer going into his sophomore campaign.
“That’s another guy that’s had an unbelievable offseason,” Day said of Fleming. “He’s strong, he’s healthy again really for the first time. He was dealing with that shoulder and it kept popping in and out last year, and he got that fixed. He looks great. He’s had a really great attitude. Been working really hard. So excited to see what he looks like this year.”
Because Ohio State’s wide receiver room is so loaded, and because Fleming was only a limited participant this spring while recovering from surgery, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect from him this season. Jameson Williams’ departure should open up a spot in the rotation for Fleming, but Olave and Wilson are likely to play the majority of snaps outside while Harrison also made a strong push for playing time this spring.
Fleming might have to wait until next year for his opportunity to be a starter for the Buckeyes, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still make a significant impact in Ohio State’s receiver rotation this year, and that’s exactly what Day is expecting him to do.
“I know he’s not hanging back in terms of the way he’s working right now,” Day said at Big Ten Media Days. “He’s busting his tail to play really, really well this year, and we’re expecting him to do that. So it’ll be fun to see how this season plays out for him.”
Day’s comments echo what Ohio State wide receivers coach Brian Hartline said about Fleming this spring, when he described Fleming as a “special individual” and “one of the toughest kids I’ve ever probably been around.” Hartline also said then that he believed Fleming had been “robbed of crucial development time” because of his injury and because of how the 2020 season was impacted by COVID-19.
This year, however, Fleming and the rest of Ohio State’s second-year players – including Smith-Njigba, who’s expected to start in the slot – have had the chance to have the full offseason on campus that they didn’t have last year, and Day expects that to pay big dividends for them this year.
“He’s busting his tail to play really, really well this year, and we’re expecting him to do that.”– Ryan Day on Julian Fleming
As the highest-ranked prospect in Ohio State’s 2020 class, Fleming should be as capable of having a breakout season as any of the sophomores.
“They missed six games last year, and I think you’re gonna be pleased with what you see when they’re out there,” Day said when asked about Fleming and Smith-Njigba. “They’re just gonna have to compete, and they’ll make mistakes, but they’ve put in a good summer. They gotta take care of themselves and put in the work. When you get into a game plan, a lot of has to be done in the classroom, a lot of work has to be done visualizing the plays, spending time on the field and working with the quarterback about all the details, the exact splits, the releases, the timing of all those things. And if they take that serious and they put the work in, they’re gonna have great seasons.”