Penn State’s No. 1-ranked recruiting class for 2018 got even better Friday with the addition of 5-star running back Ricky Slade and linebacker Jesse Luketa.
The Nittany Lions now have 10 commitments, which is two more than BYU for the most in the nation and seven more than anyone else in the Big Ten. Penn State has eight blue-chip (4- or 5-star) prospects committed. The rest of the Big Ten has nine.
It’s very early in the process, and plenty of players around the nation will change their minds. Penn State’s needs in the 2018 class could change as well, based on attrition, graduation or players leaving early for the NFL.
There could be one big theme for the 2018 class, though: Balance. Penn State has been trying to plug holes in the depth chart for years in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions.
That’s not the case anymore.
“I think one thing we’re fortunate with right now is we’re pretty balanced across the board,” Penn State director of player personnel Andy Frank said on National Signing Day. “I think you’re going to see pretty even numbers [in 2018]. I don’t think there is one position that will jump at you like, ‘Oh wow, that’s a big number.’ It’s going to be pretty balanced.”
With that in mind, let’s take a position-by-position look at where Penn State’s depth chart might stand after the 2017 season and where the Nittany Lions might try to focus extra attention during this recruiting cycle.
Graduation losses: None
2018 commits: Justin Fields, No. 5 dual-threat
Trace McSorley was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten in 2016, and should be in 2017 as well. He’s also going to be around in 2018. Tommy Stevens, Jake Zembiec and Sean Clifford are all scheduled to be as well
Given the attrition rate of quarterbacks, there’s probably a good chance that at least one of them will transfer. Fields is a top-100 player from Kennesaw, Ga., who will receive plenty of attention from other programs between now and when he makes his final decision.
Graduation losses: None
2018 commits: Ricky Slade, No. 1 all-purpose
Saquon Barkley is almost a certainty to leave after 2017 for the NFL draft. Miles Sanders looks like the heir apparent, with Andre Robinson and Mark Allen providing depth. If Robinson or Allen see their role diminished, they could consider transferring. Allen, in particular, would be a graduate transfer possibility.
Slade is a 5-star prospect and one of the best backs in the 2018 class. Penn State doesn’t need another running back in this class, if it can hang onto Slade, but if the coaching staff thinks Allen or Robinson could leave, they might consider adding a second one.
Graduation losses: Saeed Blacknall, DaeSean Hamilton, Josh McPhearson
2018 commits: Justin Shorter, No. 9
Where the Nittany Lions go at wide receiver could depend on how much progress Irv Charles and Juwan Johnson make in 2017. Penn State just added three wideouts, so an early 2018 depth chart could include the three newcomers, Charles, Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins, Brandon Polk and Dae’Lun Darien.
Shorter is an elite prospect. Penn State will probably want at least one more wide receiver in the class.
Graduation losses: Mike Gesicki, Tom Pancoast
2018 commits: Zack Kuntz, No. 1; Pat Freiermuth, No. 7
This was going to be a huge priority even before Penn State failed to sign a tight end in the 2017 class. Nick Bowers and Danny Dalton will be the only tight ends on scholarship after the season ends.
Adding Kuntz and Freiermuth would likely be the best collection of tight end talent any team in the nation signs. Bowers and Dalton have no college experience, so it’s even possible that Penn State could look for a third prospect.
Graduation losses: Andrew Nelson
2018 commits: Chris Bleich, No. 25 tackle
Penn State is still going to be relatively young on the offensive line next year. There could be as many as four redshirt freshmen or sophomores in the starting lineup.
There are four offensive linemen in the 2017 class, and there could be 13 returning scholarship linemen for the 2018 season. That won’t stop Penn State from trying to add at least 2-3 more in the 2018 class, and there could be a few fringe players who look elsewhere after the season.
Graduation losses: Tyler Chavis
2018 commits: Micah Parsons, No. 2 defensive end
The Nittany Lions need to replace both starting defensive ends in 2017, but they could return 15 of 16 scholarship linemen after next season. Like other deep positions, it’s possible that a player or two will leave to find more playing time.
Parsons is the No. 5 player in the nation, and if the Nittany Lions can reach the finish line with him, it will be a huge coup for the program. They’ll look to add at least one defensive tackle and probably another end.
Graduation losses: Jason Cabinda, Brandon Smith
2018 commits: Charlie Katshir, No. 38 outside; Jesse Lekuta, No. 40 outside
Adding three linebackers for the 2017 season will improve Penn State’s depth. Manny Bowen could be on NFL draft watch, if he has a big junior season. Katshir and Lekuta have committed during the past two days, but the Nittany Lions probably aren’t done in the linebacker market for 2018.
Graduation losses: Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, Christian Campbell, Troy Apke
2018: Isaiah Humphries, No. 19 safety
There’s a scenario where Apke wins the starting strong safety job and John Reid declares for the NFL draft, which would leave Penn State to replace its entire starting secondary in 2018. That’s why the 2017 class, with four 4-star prospects, could make a huge impact. Lamont Wade will probably find a role next year, and the rest of them could figure prominently by 2018.
The two best uncommitted prospects in Pennsylvania are both defensive backs. Isheem Young from Philadelphia and Kwantel Raines from Aliquippa, Pa., could both be priority targets. Former Ohio State star Malik Hooker’s little brother, Marcus, is a top-10 player from Pennsylvania – and a 4-star cornerback as well.
Graduation losses: None
2018 commits: None
Tyler Davis, Joey Julius and Blake Gillikin should all be providing excellent special teams work through the 2018 season. Penn State added a preferred walk-on, kicker Carson Landis, in the 2017 class and still has kicker Alex Barbir from the 2016 class.