NCAA Football: Ohio State at Wisconsin

Julian Fleming is not a solution to Penn State's problems, but he should be a valuable addition to a Nittany Lions receiver room that could use a boost. Fleming, who spent the last four seasons with Big Ten rival Ohio State, committed to the Nittany Lions on Wednesday after entering interest from other Big Ten programs, including Nebraska

In his four years with the Buckeyes, Fleming didn't live up to the billing as the No. 3 overall player and No. 1 wide receiver in the 2020 recruiting class. He finished his time in Columbus with 79 receptions for 963 yards and seven touchdowns as a piece that got a bit lost in the shuffle of Ohio State's overly crowded receiver room.

He'll now find himself in far different surroundings. Penn State entered the 2023 season with high expectations. Many believed quarterback Drew Allar would be the difference maker on offense to help the Lions ascend the mountain and possibly surpass Michigan and Ohio State. He wasn't. While there's plenty of blame to go around, and Allar must shoulder some of it, Penn State didn't have a player on the roster who was consistently capable of stretching the field vertically.

Fleming will not provide Penn State with one, either -- at least, he hasn't shown an ability to do so to this point. 

It's possible Fleming was simply filling a role with Ohio State, but most of his work in the Buckeyes offense was near the line of scrimmage. Of his 79 career receptions, 61 came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage or behind it. Nine of them came between 11 and 15 air yards.


Ohio State targeted Fleming 25 times on throws of at least 16 air yards in his career, and he caught only nine of the attempts. Blaming former quarterback Kyle McCord has been a popular option among Ohio State fans for the offensive problems in 2023, but Fleming only caught six of 16 such targets when C.J. Stroud and Justin Fields were throwing him the ball.

Since 2020, Fleming's catch rate of 36.0% on targets of 16 air yards or more ranks No. 202 of 276 Power Five receivers with at least 25 targets. His 1.99 yards per route rank No. 257. It seems pretty clear at this point that he's not a deep threat.


But while he won't solve that problem, he'll have plenty of other uses. He has had some drop issues at times. According to TruMedia, Fleming has a drop rate of 5.6%, which feels high compared to his fellow Ohio State receivers but is slightly better than the national average for wideouts during his college career. However, he's an effective and reliable target on shorter routes. He'll also bring leadership and a pro mentality to a Penn State receiver room that is going through a lot of transition this offseason. Dante Cephas, the big add in the portal last season, is back in the portal. The future of Keandre Lambert-Smith, who led the Nittany Lions in receiving last season, is up in the air. The room will look different next season and Fleming's presence will be important.

There's also an aspect to Fleming's game that is all too often unappreciated at the receiver position: He blocks his ass off in the run game. Penn State is bringing in a new offensive coordinator in Andy Kotelnicki from Kansas, and anybody who has watched Kansas' offense over the last few seasons will know that Jayhawks receivers blocking on the perimeter was a key to the team's rushing attack. Fleming will bring that from Day 1, which will help the offense transition to a new playbook and style.

So, no, Fleming will not solve Penn State's issues in the passing game. He will not be the No. 1 alpha receiver many projected him as as a high school prospect. But he will be a solid addition to the Penn State offense and somebody the Nittany Lions will be happy to have on the field next fall.