Ohio State Freshman Receivers ‘Better Than Expected’

Julian Fleming Ohio State Football Buckeyes Jaxon Smith-Njigba

Things went so well for Ohio State on the recruiting trail at receiver this past year that there are rumors they even had to tell one 5-star pass catcher who wanted to come aboard that the ship was full.

Of the seven highest-rated signees for the Buckeyes in their 2020 recruiting class, four of them were receivers.

Julian Fleming, the 5-star receiver who played less than two hours from Penn State, is the No. 1 receiver in the class overall. Texas prospect Jaxon Smith-Njigba is also a 5-star receiver, and the No. 5 player overall at his position. Gee Scott is the No. 10 receiver and came to Ohio State all the way from Washington. And despite missing his senior season due to transfer rules, Illinois receiver Mookie Cooper still found himself in the Top 100 prospects overall and ranked the No. 16 receiver in the nation.

“This is probably the strongest class I’ve seen in a long time that I can remember,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said on signing day. “Julian Fleming had an unbelievable high school career, comes in highly decorated, but he’s a great young man. And then Jaxon, talk about having an unbelievable season. The season he had down there at Rockwall is, again, one of the better ones I’ve seen in a long time. Again, I can’t wait to see him on the field.

“Gee Scott is one of those guys that every time you talk about Gee Scott, everybody has unbelievable things to say about him. Why? Because he’s not only a great player but he’s a great person. And then Mookie Cooper, didn’t get a chance to play this year because of an ineligibility situation in his school, but he’s more of a slot receiver. He is going to work inside a little bit, great short-area quickness, so I know he’s looking forward to getting back on the field and playing. But again, I think those are real weapons.”

Signing four receivers in a class may sound like a lot, but isn’t all that unusual. Ohio State did it in 2018 with Kamryn Babb, Blue Smith, Jaelen Gill, and Chris Olave. Cameron Brown was also part of that class, but quickly moved to cornerback over receiver. For a while, they even had four receivers in the 2017 class with Brendon White, Trevon Grimes, Ellijah Gardiner, and Jaylen Harris.

The gold standard of receiver classes of late was 2014, which featured Curtis Samuel, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon. That class, however, was stilted as Samuel began his career at running back, then spent a year backing up Braxton Miller in the slot before having one outstanding year and then bolting for the NFL. Campbell, McLaurin, and Dixon then began the productive portions of their respective careers when Samuel was gone.

The difference with this current class, however, is that they could all be on the same timeline when it comes to contributions.

“They’re talented,” Day said after the first day of practice. “They’re talented. What strikes me, with all the seven on sevens and all the things going on throughout America, they’re further along than maybe receivers were five to 10 years ago.”

Finally getting to see them in action over the first week of spring camp, there was an understandable excitement among the Buckeye coaches.

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson was asked on Wednesday about how Gee Scott’s spring was going, which he answered, but then quickly went into the other three freshmen as well because they had all been impressive.

“Really well. Really well,” he said of Scott. “Strong, good hands, good route runner. Jaxon’s fluid and natural, gonna be really good. Julian’s unbelievably dynamic. Mookie’s smooth in there. He’s considered an athlete. They’re all really good players. Really good.”

Even after just one spring practice on Monday, the freshmen were standing out to those in attendance. Smith-Njigba looked like a veteran. Scott made tough catches on the sideline. Cooper was finding open areas between the hashes. Fleming caught some slant passes while completely draped.

Usually this early on, coaches are careful with their words. Caution and reason are the order of the day, which is why when the head coach talks about being impressed, people might want to take notice.

“Certainly you can see a guy like Jaxon who has played in Texas, where they have those activity periods. They have so many reps under their belt, it just makes sense for them. You can see it today,” Day said. “You can see the talent of Julian and just his ability to get off of a line of scrimmage and make plays down the field and his size. Gee Scott really surprised me just how mature his releases were getting off the line of scrimmage. And then Mookie flashed.”

Back on signing day, Day said that all four would have a chance to get into the two-deep and be part of the rotation. He cited a lack of proven players returning as one of the reasons why. Having only sophomore Garrett Wilson and junior Chris Olave as proven veterans on this team means that the depth chart isn’t as daunting as it has been in the past.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy to get there, but so far this group appears more equipped to make it happen than any other before it.

“I think all four of them really have a chance to play and be successful,” Day said. “Now they have a long way to go, but for day one, better than expected.”

[Julian Fleming photo courtesy | Ohio State Football]