Have Penn State football recruiting questions? Land of 10’s Tyler Donohue will answer a Recruiting Question of the Day every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You can ask him your questions on Twitter or on Facebook. Find our previous questions and answers here.
Our latest Penn State Nittany Lions Recruiting Question of the Day comes from Jack Goodman (@Jackgoody24) on Twitter.
Penn State bid farewell to featured offensive weapon and all-time running back talent Saquon Barkley after the 2017 season. His departure would deal a substantial blow to any college football program, but the Nittany Lions backfield definitely isn’t devoid of options in his absence.
A blend of team veterans and young, emerging athletes creates a compelling competition as spring practice continues through April 21. It’s a group that will add yet another intriguing component in June when top-ranked 2018 all-purpose back prospect Ricky Slade enrolls in school.
This means Penn State will open preseason camp with a pair of former 5-star recruits vying for touches out of the backfield. Slade joins junior Miles Sanders, who was the No. 1 overall talent in Pennsylvania’s 2016 class and steadily entered the spotlight as Barkley’s perceived heir apparent.
Jack’s question is a fair one, as this factor presents an “issue” nearly every perennial College Football Playoff contender must face while balancing roster-building and recruiting efforts. Does too much of a good thing at one position become a deterrent when attempting to sell high school standouts on your program?
Look across college football, and it’s clear this dynamic is far from exclusive to Penn State.
Despite the presence of former 5-star quarterback recruit Jacob Eason — a rising sophomore last winter — the Georgia Bulldogs welcomed Jake Fromm to campus in January 2017. Alabama reeled in another acclaimed 2017 quarterback prospect in Tua Tagovailoa the same month, even though Jalen Hurts helped lead the team to a National Championship Game appearance during his freshman season.
One year later, it was Fromm facing off against Tagovailoa in the late stages of a thrilling national title showdown. The moral of the story here: premier college football programs don’t wait for roster problems to find possible replacements. Annual attempts to reload and replenish depth, represented by players who likely would have encountered an “easier” depth chart climb elsewhere, occur each year for such programs.
Penn State clearly is moving in the right direction when it comes to roster construction. Upon James Franklin’s arrival in 2014, the Nittany Lions simply needed to rely on freshmen to contribute. Last season, only three of 21 scholarship freshmen saw action, and none registered a start.
This progressing depth chart prowess is becoming particularly evident in the offensive backfield. Penn State is selling the accomplishments of Saquon Barkley and its willingness to utilize elite talent in multiple roles hard on the recruiting trail, based on several conversations with running back targets and their high school coaches.
“Obviously I’m not Saquon, but I think I can bring in tools that Penn State would be missing [without Barkley],” Slade told Land of 10 earlier this month. “I think I can bring in tools that he had — in the receiving game, the kick-return game and definitely the running game.”
Slade didn’t shy away from the subject of Sanders and Co., who have a sizable head start in the race to replace Barkley. Along with his parents, he paid serious respect to Penn State’s established talent at the position.
But here is the thing about elite recruits: more often than not, they carry a can-do mentality when it comes to making an immediate impact. That’s clearly the case with Slade and Penn State’s perceived top running back target in the 2019 class, Devyn Ford.
Great athletes drive each other, especially when competing for opportunities.
“[We would] play off each other’s strengths,” Ford said about the potential of teaming up with Slade at Penn State. “I feel like he has better hands than me, and that would make me mad because I want to have better hands than him. He has better quick twitch than me, so of course I would want to improve myself. But I believe I have more power than him, so I think I’d push him [regarding] strength.”
That’s exactly what you want to hear from a top-tier prospect, and it’s been a common response during conversations with running backs who are on the Nittany Lions radar, including those in the 2020 recruiting class. The presence of successful peers at this position undoubtedly presents a challenge in the path to playing time, but don’t expect it to serve as a deterrent.
As Franklin noted at the start of spring practice, this situation is indicative of a healthy roster.
“I mean, I can’t imagine that there is a better player for Miles to come up under than Saquon Barkley,” he said. “You could make the argument, maybe he could have went to some other schools and played as a true freshman, but I don’t know if his development would have been to the point where it is now. I think being behind really good players and being able to study them and grow and be challenged by them is really important. No different than going and recruiting the next guy to come in and push them from behind.”
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