James Franklin is not typically aggressive in the transfer portal, but another year without beating Michigan or Ohio State may have finally brought the 10-year head coach of the Nittany Lions to a breaking point. Franklin added six players from the portal, many of whom were very highly-touted high school prospects from the state of Pennsylvania.
The Nittany Lions saw five players walk out the door into the portal and have lost even more talent to the NFL, so the pressure is on Franklin to fill those holes with his transfer class. Amongst that class are two SEC cornerbacks, a former Ohio State wide receiver, a former five-star offensive tackle, an edge rusher, and a kicker, but out of that pool of fresh talent, these three are the most important additions to the roster.
In 2020, Fleming was a five-star receiver that Ryan Day and the Buckeyes stole out of Pennsylvania. Now, after four underwhelming seasons in Columbus, Fleming has returned to his home state to play for the Nittany Lions in his final season of eligibility.
2022 was Fleming’s most productive year at Ohio State, catching 34 passes for 533 yards and six touchdowns, but he was constantly overshadowed by the bevy of first-round receivers on the Buckeyes roster. It was hard to stand out amongst players like Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and fellow PA native Marvin Harrison Jr.
It’s not clear if Fleming has the talent to be a dominant No. 1 receiver. At Ohio State, his primary utility was as a run-blocker, which he excelled at, but Drew Allar needs a No. 1 target and in a way, Fleming may be the player who most determines if Penn State can win the Big Ten.
If he blossoms with the increased opportunity in Happy Valley, then the Nittany Lions can win the conference, and maybe even make noise in the College Football Playoff, but that’s a big if. Fleming is crucially important to Penn State’s season, and if you’re relying on an Ohio State castoff to finally beat the Buckeyes, then you probably won’t.
James Franklin needed to do more at wide receiver this offseason because Fleming, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, and Harrison Wallace III are not enough to win a national championship. No matter how much Allar improves from Year 1 as a starter to Year 2, he isn't the type of player who can carry an offense above its limitations.