Only twice in the internet era of recruiting have four of the top 16 receivers in a class signed with the same school.
Alabama was the first to do it with a 2017 class of Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs, and Tyrell Shavers. Those four were actually all ranked among the top 12 receivers in the nation and each of the four was a top 100 player.
Half of that Alabama class is now headed to the NFL early as Jeudy and Ruggs are projected first rounders. Smith is returning for his senior season after posting a team-high 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns this past year. Shavers only has one catch to his credit so far, but all told, the 2017 receiving class has posted over 6,500 receiving yards and 73 touchdowns.
Ohio State became the second school to sign four of the top 16 receivers this year when they signed Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott, and Mookie Cooper. Like the Tide, each of OSU’s four receiver signees were top 100 players as well.
Given the lofty recruiting rankings — as well as the immense production of the only other class similar to this one, the Buckeye freshmen receivers know the expectations being placed on them. They also know they want to leave Ohio State as the best receiving class in a very long time.
“One-hundred percent,” Fleming said last month. “I’m sure everybody in the group has their own thoughts and expectations that they want to live up to, but as a group, I would say we do want to go out as one of the best wide receiver classes. There’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of commitment that’s going to have to be put in to get to that point because Ohio State has put out a ton of great wide receivers. And you know it’s Zone 6, so we’re gonna have to work our way up.”
Fleming is the No. 1 receiver in the nation. At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, he has good size, great speed, and the kind of versatility that could land him at any of the receiver positions. Smith-Njigba (6-0 196) is the other 5-star receiver in this class. Ranked the No. 5 receiver in the nation, he will start out in the slot and look to fill some of the void left by the departed KJ Hill.
Scott is the biggest of the four at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. He has drawn comparisons to former Buckeye Michael Thomas, which is why it’s not much of a surprise to see Scott choose to wear jersey No. 13, which is what Thomas wears in the NFL. Cooper is the smaller, quicker, explosive slot receiver who does his damage in close quarters.
It’s a diverse group, which is another reason their potential is so high.
“Knowing what we can do and where we can get, we all play different positions, none of us are really the same,” Cooper said. “You can expect different things out of all of us. But one thing you can expect from all of us is we all work hard. We all have been grinding. We all have been learning plays together. We all help each other out. So I feel like we can really do big things.”
The rankings say that this is an impressive group of pass catchers, but they’re even impressing each other.
“Watching a person’s film and then watching them in person is a completely different case,” Fleming said. “And I know watching them in person is just like, ‘Wow they catch a lot better than I thought, they’re a lot more fluid than I thought, they get in and out of their breaks better than I thought, they run better than I thought.’ And that was the case with all of them. They’re all great receivers and all very different styles of receiver. We’re all a little bit different with our styles and everything like that. It’s a good, diverse group.”
The good news about the diversity is that they can all play on the field together. They don’t all play the same position. They aren’t stockpiled. Instead, they are spread out all over the field. And eventually, that’s going to be very bad news for opposing defenses.
“Merging together, we all got different talents. We’re all better at one thing than the other,” said Smith-Njigba. “So coming together, I just feel like we honestly could be one of the best groups to ever come through Ohio State, and I’m very serious about that. The older guys push us to do that as well, and definitely Coach [Brian] Hartline and Coach [Keenan Bailey].”
And don’t worry, as Smith-Njigba said, they are being pushed to be great. They don’t simply expect it to happen because of their recruiting rankings. Recruiting rankings have never caught a back-shoulder fade or thrown a block for a teammate. Rankings don’t have to wake up at 5 in the morning for workouts or practice and then go to class before coming back to the football facility for some film work.
As a group, they are fully invested in reaching their goals both as a group and as individuals, and they know that will only happen with the kind of work they are being put through right now. The focus is on the work, not on any future accolades.
“When we’re inside the meeting rooms or training we don’t think about that too much,” Scott said. “We’re thinking about ‘How hard can I go on this rep?’ Or ‘How hard can I go on this drill?’ We just take it a rep at a time. Speaking for myself, I just play it by ear and work my hardest.”
In working together and pushing each other for a common goal, the four receivers have already formed a close bond. One that Gee Scott believes will last a life time.
“Friends for life, really,” Scott said. “I feel like we’re going to grow together. That’s one of the things I’m excited about. If I walk into a program that isn’t very good and the talent isn’t really on that level, I might be able to have more room to slack. But these guys keep me on my ‘A’ game. We’re continually pushing each other.”