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Our latest Penn State Nittany Lions Recruiting Question of the Day comes from Shannon Johnson on Facebook.
Excitement is building for the campus arrival of Penn State’s complete 2018 recruiting class. Nittany Lions coach James Franklin, along with staff and players, hasn’t hesitated to provide positive feedback regarding six members of the group who enrolled in January.
Those newcomers are battling for early consideration as freshmen contributors. Top-ranked signee Micah Parsons, mentioned by Shannon in this question, is in the mix for starting middle linebacker duties. He is joined on campus by fellow 2018 Penn State prospects Trent Gordon (cornerback), Isaiah Humphries (safety), Zack Kuntz (tight end), Jesse Luketa (linebacker) and Nick Tarburton (linebacker).
Three of these six — Kuntz, Luketa and Parsons — were considered top-10 recruits at their respective positions in 247Sports composite rankings, and 12 of Penn State’s 23 incoming freshmen fit that bill. This is, after all, the Nittany Lions’ highest-rated recruiting class ever, so upside reigns supreme across the field.
Shannon, who proposed this topic during our weekly Penn State football recruiting show on Facebook Live (8 p.m. Wednesdays here), wants to look beyond the headliners while gauging potential. He asks to push aside Parsons and top-rated receiver prospect Justin Shorter for now. We’ll oblige, and add fellow 5-star talent Ricky Slade to that list, though Land of 10 recently documented the all-purpose similarities between him and Nittany Lions legend Saquon Barkley.
For the sake of conversation, let’s shift the focus toward Penn State’s big men. Both the defensive and offensive lines are about to gain a boost when 17 more freshmen arrive in May and June.
Franklin opened spring practice by pointing to increased depth across the Nittany Lions roster, and that impact should especially be felt in the trenches. Penn State signed eight linemen this winter, including top-10 talents at center (Fredrick Scruggs), defensive end (Jayson Oweh) and tackle (Nana Asiedu and Rasheed Walker).
Walker, who became the final addition to this class on National Signing Day, is 6-foot-6, 295 pounds and competes with a “finisher’s mentality”. Asiedu continues to rapidly expand his frame and is approaching 6-7, 290 pounds with a 4.8-second 40-yard dash on his athletic résumé.
Both of these bookends possess the blend of power, athleticism and attitude to push for playing time early in their college careers, though Penn State has enough key veterans in place to make any immediate climb into the two-deep very difficult. The same can be said along the offensive interior, where Scruggs — probably the best player on both sides of the ball for Pennsylvania state champion Mercyhurst Prep (Erie) — will battle to become a force.
Defensively, Judge Culpepper is a dynamic threat who can compete in an array of roles. He is projected to compete at tackle, though Franklin assessed his versatility during the early signing period by stating Culpepper also could have done quite well for himself as a tight end prospect.
He’ll be joined in positional drills by fellow freshmen Aeneas Hawkins and PJ Mustipher. Hawkins is the son of former longtime NFL defensive back Artrell Hawkins, while Mustipher may be as a physically prepared for college as any Penn State signee. He expects to arrive on campus at approximately 6-5, 290 pounds, and Mustipher told Land of 10 he is in the “best shape of my life” after securing a second straight Maryland state wrestling title.
In my opinion, no players in Penn State’s class and few across America present a higher “ceiling” than Oweh. The 6-5, 240-pound pass rusher debuted on a high school field in 2016 and quickly emerged as one of college football’s most coveted defensive recruits.
Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame are among programs that chased Oweh, who also warranted serious consideration at tight end from a few Power 5 schools. Oweh’s senior season at Blair Academy (Blairstown, N.J.) featured 13 sacks in fewer than five full games, while his physical testing numbers, including a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and 4.29-second agility shuttle at a July 2017 camp in State College, were largely off the charts.
Penn State has stockpiled impressive talent at skill positions, possibly easing the pain of losing stars such as Barkley, safety Marcus Allen, tight end Mike Gesicki and receiver DaeSean Hamilton. Still, so many games are won or lost in the trenches. An influx of high-upside talent there bodes well for the Nittany Lions’ foreseeable future.
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