Land of 10 writer Tyler Donohue breaks down a Penn State recruit every Monday. In this edition, we evaluate wide receiver target Julian Fleming. Be sure to check our recent analysis on receiver Justin Shorter, defensive linemen Judge Culpepper, Aeneas Hawkins and PJ Mustipher, running back Ricky Slade, tight ends Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz, linebacker Jesse Luketa, safety Isheem Young, edge rusher Micah Parsons and cornerback Keaton Ellis.
Penn State is one of several Power 5 football programs that didn’t hesitate to target Class of 2020 wide receiver Julian Fleming after his freshman season in high school. The Southern Columbia (Catawissa, Pa.) receiver lives less than two hours away from Happy Valley but a nationwide recruitment already is underway.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound standout picked up scholarship offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Syracuse and West Virginia before the end of the last school year. He added the Nittany Lions to this mix June 17 while on campus for a 7-on-7 tournament in which he warranted constant attention.
Fleming exudes confidence about his abilities on the field but brings humility to a recruiting process that continues to draw a larger crowd.
“I didn’t expect to have any offers, honestly,” he said after Penn State presented his eighth collegiate opportunity. “I didn’t think my freshman season was that amazing, and I feel like I can do a lot better.”
Before we get to his strong start as a sophomore, let’s look back at the 2016 campaign that created intrigue in recruiting offices across college football. Fleming, already exhibiting size and length coaches covet in senior prospects, overwhelmed opponents throughout his freshman foray.
He averaged 26.6 yards per reception while totaling 956 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns, according to MaxPreps. Fleming entered high school with an innate sense of how to toy with defensive backs, blending rare athleticism with surprisingly polished route running and excellent awareness of how to adjust or improvise his approach mid-play.
An aspect of Fleming’s early body of work that immediately stood out during offseason evaluation is his high-point consistency. He extends for the ball as it approaches his reach, regardless of where each pass is located. It’s a habit that too often evades even blue-chip receivers, and it provides a tremendous head start in eventual progression toward becoming a top-tier college target.
Many prep receivers gather the football near their chest plate or shoulder pads. Fleming snags it away from his body, tucks the ball and strides. He does this in such a seamless fashion that it makes proper angles of pursuit extremely difficult for nearby defenders, allowing him to surge beyond the secondary.
Fleming feasts on slant patterns, flashing breakaway ability that contributes toward bunches of yards after the catch. His career average per reception is more than 25 yards, despite many of these pass attempts occurring in the intermediate range. He also takes advantage of defensive lapses on bubble screens, using his size to shed initial contact or surge down the sideline untouched with instant acceleration.
Overall, he possesses incredible nuance for his age throughout the route tree. This is a huge separating factor between Fleming and other standout receivers in the 2020 recruiting class. Many remain raw athletes who simply outmatch opponents with advantages in speed or height.
Yes, Fleming has that combination, too, but it’s his attention to detail and awareness in the crux of competition that makes him a player you could easily mistake for a 5-star 2018 prospect.
He debuted at No. 5 overall in the initial 247Sports 2020 rankings on Aug. 11, behind only fellow Nittany Lions target Chris Tyree — a running back from Virginia — among skill players on either side of the ball. Though Fleming described that high of a ranking as “surprising,” it was certainly expected from my vantage point.
I have a hard time recalling an underclassman receiver who performed over the last five years at this level during every game and camp appearance. A lack of route refinement and general inconsistencies in capping off a completion often plagues young players at the position.
Those simply aren’t issues for Fleming, who is also comfortable in each phase of a passing attack. He can fight for space across the middle, glide downfield to beat single-man coverage deep and takes ownership of 50-50 balls in traffic.
His skill set is especially tempting to utilize near the end zone, as quarterbacks can serve up intentionally placed high throws and allow Fleming to do the rest. The video above provides an example of the edge he can provide when there is limited area for an offense to operate.
He registered a 32-inch vertical leap during testing at Penn State in June, when a 4.58-second 40-yard dash was also recorded.
Fleming is already building a legacy at Southern Columbia through just one full school calendar. He qualified for four events at the 2016 Pennsylvania spring track and field championships last spring, and he led the basketball team in scoring and rebounding as a freshman.
— 🃏0J4🃏 (@julian_040) January 22, 2017
Fleming could end up in the 6-4 range and nearly 200 pounds by his senior season, and if he remains healthy, recruiting-industry outlets will face a difficult task locating someone with greater potential for instant impact as a college freshman, regardless of position. I plan to attend a Southern Columbia game this season, so expect some more feedback on Fleming’s development following that trip.
His sophomore stats threaten to eclipse a monster freshman output. Through three games, he has 13 receptions for 292 yards and 6 touchdowns.
“I want to top every game from last year, improve on each of those performances,” Fleming said following a 3-score effort in his team’s Aug. 25 opener. “I’m just trying to work harder than ever and keep moving up those ranks.”