The 2006 recruiting class for Penn State is the program’s gold standard in the 21st century, and the group the 2018 class will most likely get compared to.
Penn State had a huge season in 2005, winning 12 games, a share of the Big Ten championship and a dramatic Orange Bowl against Florida State. Combine that with a new offense that featured freshmen playmakers, and the Nittany Lions had all kinds of ammunition on the recruiting trail.
Having both a 5-star prospect (Derrick Williams) and a former walk-on (Deon Butler) in starring roles from the DMV (Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia) helped attract even more talent from the area. Penn State has often gone south and collected talent from the region, but the 2006 haul was an incredible raid.
The Nittany Lions landed seven of the top 11 players from Maryland and two of the top seven from Virginia. They also added an unheralded two-sport star from Northern Virginia who went on to set the school’s career rushing record.
Penn State actually had more players from Maryland than Pennsylvania in this 21-person class. It is the highest-ranked group for Penn State in the 247Sports composite era, and was the No. 1 class in the Big Ten that year.
Penn State’s 2006 recruiting class
247Sports composite rank: No. 7 (No. 1 in the Big Ten)
Five-year record: 47-18, one Big Ten co-championship
Bowl games: 2006 (won Outback Bowl); 2007 (won Alamo Bowl); 2008 (lost Rose Bowl); 2009 (won Capital One Bowl); 2010 (lost Outback Bowl)
All-America honors: Aaron Maybin (first team, 2008); Jared Odrick (first team, 2009); NaVorro Bowman (second team, 2009)
All-Big Ten honors: Maurice Evans (2007); Aaron Maybin (2008); NaVorro Bowman (2008, 2009); Jared Odrick (2008, 2009); Evan Royster (2008, 2009, 2010)
NFL draft picks: Aaron Maybin (2009, first round); Jared Odrick (2010, first round); NaVorro Bowman (2010, third round); Andrew Quarless (2010, third round); Evan Royster (2011, sixth round)
Maurice Evans, DE, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Position: No. 1 strong-side defensive end
State: No. 1 in New York
National: No. 28
Evans had a fantastic sophomore season in 2007, racking up 12.5 sacks and first-team all-Big Ten honors. Then he got caught with marijuana and was suspended for the first three games in 2008. He finished the season with 3 sacks, and then declared for the NFL draft.
Aaron Maybin, the guy who replaced him in the starting lineup, was the No. 11 pick. Evans went undrafted. He spent time with four NFL teams in two seasons but never became more than a practice squad player.
Head of the class
NaVorro Bowman, LB, District Heights, Md.
Position: No. 15 inside linebacker
State: No. 10 in Maryland
National: No. 221
Bowman was not one of the highest-rated players in the class, but he became a disruptive force and leader for back-to-back 11-win teams in 2008 and 2009. He redshirted, then played sparingly in 2007, but racked up 33.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks and 3 interceptions in the next two years.
Had he stayed for a fifth year, Bowman likely would have finished with more tackles for loss than any linebacker in school history. He dropped to the third round of the NFL draft, but is a four-time All-Pro for the San Francisco 49ers.
J.B. Walton, OG, Indian Head, Md., and Antonio Logan-El OG, District Heights, Md.
Position: Nos. 7 and 8 guards
State: Nos. 3 and 5 in Maryland
National: Nos. 74 and 84
These two prospects were going to be future anchors of the offensive line, but it didn’t work out for either guy. Walton needed a year at a prep school, so he became a member of the 2007 class. Academics continued to be an issue and he was off the team by 2009.
Logan-El flipped to Penn State on signing day during a live ceremony, which sounds like normal business now but it was a very big deal back then. He didn’t last long at Penn State.
Other prospects filled the void, but the Nittany Lions had a pair of 4-star interior offensive linemen with huge potential and got very little out of them.
Evan Royster, RB, Fairfax, Va.
Position: No. 26 running back*
State: No. 14 in Virginia*
*Rankings from Rivals.com
Royster could have been a college lacrosse star but ended up at Penn State to play football instead. He emerged as a future star during his redshirt freshman season, and then racked up back-to-back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
A complete back, he was a great fit for Penn State’s “Spread HD” offense. A late draft pick by the Washington Redskins, he finished his NFL career with 81 carries. He’s got at least a few more months as Penn State’s all-time leading rusher, but there’s a good chance Saquon Barkley could catch him late in the 2017 season.
This class had seven top-100 players and 11 top-200 prospects. Several of them became impact players.
The depth of the class came from Maybin, Bowman and Royster, who were not blue-chip prospects but became elite college football players. There were solid players beyond the stars, like cornerback A.J. Wallace and linebacker Bani Gbadyu,
It proved to be an excellent class, and it could have been even greater. There’s plenty of “what could have been” with Evans, who looked like a future first-round pick in 2007.
The quarterback in the class, Pat Devlin, transferred to Delaware and became an NFL player. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor transferred to Baylor and became a first-round pick.
Will the 2018 class, currently ranked No. 2 in the nation, be able to measure up to this group? The 2006 crew was the highest-rated for Penn State this century, and those players delivered in State College.