Penn State has been accomplishing plenty of firsts in the program’s modern recruiting history since James Franklin and his staff arrived in 2014.
On Wednesday, the Nittany Lions welcomed the 2017 recruiting class, which is No. 15 in the 247Sports composite team rankings. Penn State has finished 15th, 20th and 15th in the country in the past three years, which is the first time the Nittany Lions have had three straight top-20 classes in the 247Sports composite era (see the note below for an explanation).
Now the focus shifts to the 2018 recruiting class, and Penn State has an opportunity to have a really special class.
The Nittany Lions added their eighth commitment in the class Thursday, which is tied with BYU for the most in the country. Seven of the eight prospects are blue-chip (4- or 5-star) prospects, which is also the most in the nation.
There are a bunch of “firsts” that Penn State could accomplish with its 2018 recruiting class.
NOTE: The “247Sports composite era” is referencing 2005-present. It is the unofficial recruiting rankings of record dating back to about 2005, which is when there was enough data from rival websites to Rivals, which was once the lone site with comprehensive recruiting rankings.
Other sites certainly tout their rankings, and all of the major ones have improved greatly in their evaluations. The 247Sports composite averages all of the top sites together for a comprehensive ranking.
Here’s a look at some of those potential “firsts” …
A top-5 class
Penn State’s best finish in the 247Sports composite era is No. 7, in 2006. That class included future stars Navorro Bowman, Aaron Maybin and Evan Royster, along with other impact players like Jared Odrick, Andrew Quarless and A.J. Wallace.
That is the only year since 2005 that Penn State has finished higher than No. 10. We’re still 12 months away from the finish line, but the Nittany Lions are currently No. 1 in the 2018 team rankings.
The coaching staff is also now able to sell recruits on coming to play for the 2016 Big Ten champions. Penn State will also be a top-10 team in all of the major polls and preview magazines. That’s valuable equity on the summer recruiting trail.
A top-5 defensive tackle
Odrick was the No. 6 defensive tackle in the country in 2006, and he’s the highest-rated player at the position Penn State has signed this century. It’s hard for teams outside the SEC to sign elite defensive tackles. That position, more than any other, is where the SEC has dominated college football in the past decade.
The SEC’s grip on the top defensive tackles has loosened recently. Four of the top five in 2017 signed elsewhere — No. 1 Marvin Wilson at Florida State, No. 2 Aubrey Solomon at Michigan and two others at Southern Cal. The top three in 2016 signed at Michigan, Clemson and Houston. This came after the SEC signed 11 of the 15 top-5 defensive tackles from 2013-15.
One reason for optimism here for Penn State is the early recruiting momentum in the class, but a bigger one is geography. The rankings (and possibly where the kids play) will change plenty between now and signing day, but as of today the top five defensive tackles in the country currently play in schools located in:
- Bradenton, Fla.
- Ramsey, N.J.
- Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Hyattsville, Md.
- Owings Mills, Md.
The No. 1 defensive tackle, Taron Vincent from IMG Academy, is originally from Baltimore. So all five of the top-five defensive tackles are absolutely in Penn State’s geographical sweet spot.
The No. 1 tight end
Adam Breneman was the No. 2 tight end in the nation in 2013 when he signed with Penn State, behind only Alabama’s O.J. Howard (he turned out to be pretty good). He’s the highest-ranked tight end Penn State has had in the 247Sports composite era.
It is a 2.1-mile walk from Breneman’s high school, Cedar Cliff, to Zack Kuntz’s high school, Camp Hill. Kuntz is the No. 1 tight end in America in the 2018 recruiting class. He is also committed to Penn State.
So the Nittany Lions need to keep him on board to the finish line (his two older brothers played at Penn State) and Kuntz needs to remain the No. 1 tight end. Penn State also has a commitment from the No. 7 tight end, Pat Freiermuth from North Andover, Mass.
Three 5-star players
The 247Sports composite rankings typically finish a cycle with 32 5-star players (to mimic the first round of the NFL draft). Penn State has signed a total of six 5-star prospects since 2005.
Miles Sanders was the most recent in 2016. Penn State added two in 2005 — Derrick Williams and Justin King. Penn State has never signed three in one class.
It’s not easy to do, obviously. In 2017, only Alabama (six), Ohio State (five) and Florida State (four) signed more than two 5-star talents. Those three schools snatched up nearly 50 percent of the 5-star prospects.
Penn State currently has one 5-star player committed for 2018. That’s Micah Parsons, the No. 5 player in the country and No. 2 defensive end.
Right now, there are only 28 players designated as 5-star talents in the 2018 class. Again, lots can change. Jaelan Phillips, who just finished as the No. 1 player in the 2017 class, was No. 375 less than 18 months ago.
Looking for candidates to join Parsons as 5-star players in Penn State’s class? Any of those top-5 defensive tackles could end up as a 5-star kid. Vincent is now.
Ricky Slade, the No. 1 all-purpose back, goes to the same high school that former Penn State star Deon Butler did in Northern Virginia and will likely be a top priority for the Nittany Lions in the class.
There is a long way to go with the 2018 recruiting class, but it could certainly be an exciting cycle with new territory forged for Penn State’s coaching staff.