Ohio State signed four of the nation’s top 15 receivers this past recruiting cycle.
In fact, four of the top six signees for the Buckeyes last month were wide receivers.
The haul has helped make Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline the top-ranked recruiter in 247Sports’ recruiter rankings.
Hartline himself bristles at the label of recruiter, as he places his focus on building long-term relationships with recruits. In only his second year on the job, it is clear that his approach is working quite well.
The Buckeyes played the 2019 season with four senior receivers in KJ Hill, Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, and CJ Saunders, which is one of the reasons they went out and signed four receivers in the 2020 recruiting cycle.
Those four signees — Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Gee Scott, and Mookie Cooper — all possess different body types and skill sets, but like the group that is leaving, they all complement each other as well.
Fleming and Scott are the bigger receivers who fit more of the Victor and Mack mold, while Smith-Njigba is similar to Hill in that he could play inside or outside. Cooper is the most unique of the four. At 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds, he will begin in the slot, helping to fill the void expected to be left by Saunders and Hill both.
“Smaller guy but really stocky,” Hartline said of Cooper on signing day. “When he goes to block, he tries to knock you out and that’s one of the biggest things I love about him. Can do some speed sweeps, plays down the field, he does a lot. I think that he played a little more running back maybe than receiver at times. There might be a transition there.”
Cooper sat out his senior season of high school ball due to a transfer, and in enrolling early he will be trying to catch up as much as he can in preparation for the 2020 season.
He isn’t the only early enrollee among the receivers, however. In fact, all four are already on campus and getting ready for winter workouts.
“These guys where I can’t speak enough about is how coachable they come off and how much of a dire need they want to be great and how they talk about contributing to the room,” Hartline said. “And that’s where I fall in love.”
The skills and stats and the highlights would be enough to entice any position coach, of course, and there is still plenty of that.
Especially when it comes to Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who posted over 2,000 yards receiving last season.
“Going through I always start kind of negative, I think that’s just the kind of NFL approach I have,” Hartline said. “What can’t he do? Where’s his weaknesses? And he’s just one of those guys. It’s really hard to maybe find. I think that he plays great competition. Runs great routes. He’s a smart guy. I think he understands the offense.
“You don’t really know until you get your hands on them. He feels really coachable. Again, there’s a lot of unknowns with that part of it, but he’s a playmaker. He plays at a different speed. He’s got a lot of good twitch. He tracks the ball really well. I think one thing you’ll notice about these guys, they’re are all elite pass catchers. They really do well tracking the football. And I think that that’s paramount when it comes to receiver play, and Jaxon epitomizes that.”
Tracking the ball is key, as are the ball skills that all four receivers play with. After all, tracking the ball is only half of the equation. These receivers are also able to come down with the ball, making them reliable future targets for whoever is throwing them the ball down the road.
“Julian Fleming from PA. He’s 6-2, runs really well. Really fast. Ran track as well. Really great ball skills. Very physical in the run game,” Hartline said. “You know what’s great about Julian is, is he runs in a kind of a wing-t offense, a heavy run offense, so the expectation on targets should be pretty low.
“So when he gets here hopefully he’s not like, ‘Hey man, I need the ball.’ You didn’t get it a whole lot in high school. But with that said, he’d get like three targets and it would be two touchdowns and whatever else. So that’s good. I expect a great blocker. He sends me all of his blocking film before he sends me any kind of catch, so he loves it.”
Of course, speaking of the physicality of this group of receivers, Hartline can’t go too long without speaking on the 6-foot-3 and 207-pound Gee Scott out of Seattle, Washington and his possibilities.
“He is a bigger body guy. He’s like 6-3 or 6-4, runs pretty well,” he said. “You know, he’s big and physical and a great blocker. Does a great job in the run game. I would say he tracks the ball. He swallows the ball. He’s got huge hands and every time there’s a high point I feel like he goes and gets that ball. So great jump ball guy. Pretty polished, has a pretty good top end. He’ll tell you too, one thing will be to get him to Coach Mick and work his tail off seeing how fast he could potentially get. And at that point, I don’t know what he can’t do. So he’ll keep working on that.”