Each month until National Signing Day, I’ll project the 2018 Penn State recruiting class on both sides of the ball. The Nittany Lions’ collection of offensive prospects enters the spotlight here.
Penn State hasn’t added a player to this group since Aug. 4, so the foundation remains unchanged compared to our September edition. There is limited space remaining in the Nittany Lions class overall, and a majority of interest seems directed toward defensive ends Jayson Oweh, Micah Parsons and Tyreke Smith.
Still, a few primary offensive concerns remain on the 2018 target board. The removal of 4-star defensive end Dorian Hardy from Penn State’s class last week places the pledge total at 22 players nearly two months shy of an inaugural early signing period (Dec. 20-22) and less than four months away from the traditional National Signing Day (Feb. 7).
This newly unclaimed scholarship slot may create room for an additional offensive recruit or two. Nittany Lions legacy Solomon Enis, a receiver from Phoenix, and 4-star tackle Rasheed Walker of Maryland, are long-term prospects of interest who remain undecided about their collegiate destination.
Jahan Dotson, an in-state standout who landed on Penn State’s target list early in his high school career, pledged to UCLA on Sept. 4. Though he spoke highly of the Nittany Lions during this past offseason, a lack of space in this class may have ultimately led him to look elsewhere.
Led by receiver Justin Shorter and running back Ricky Slade, the Penn State class includes four top-100 recruits who compete on offense. The group includes six players considered top-10 prospects at their respective position.
Now that you’re up to speed on recent developments, here is how I envision Penn State’s offensive class when things are finalized Feb. 7.
Quarterback (1): 3-star Will Levis (Middletown, Conn.)
Penn State didn’t spend too long searching for a replacement at quarterback in this class. Less than six weeks after 5-star talent Justin Fields backed off a six-month verbal pact to the program, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin elected to offer Will Levis during a campus visit.
Levis announced his commitment to Penn State the morning of July 15, when Lasch Bash festivities overtook team facilities. He worked through several drills in front of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead the night before.
This 6-foot-4, 222-pound passer provides excellent athleticism at the position, evidenced April 30 when he posted the best Nike test rating among all participants at The Opening’s regional camp in New Jersey. Now five games into his senior season at Xavier High School, Levis has 14 total touchdowns and has elevated his completion percentage.
There won’t be a rush to get him onto the field in Happy Valley. Penn State is in position to return starter Trace McSorley and highly-respected backup Tommy Stevens next season, while freshman Sean Clifford has impressed through his first months on campus.
Running back (1): 4-star Ricky Slade (Woodbridge, Va.)
Ricky Slade gained at least 100 yards rushing in all but one of his games last season, so it’s no surprise to see him supply sustained production again as a senior at C.D. Hylton High School. However, his rate of success on offensive opportunities is now in another realm.
Through seven games, Slade is averaged 13.8 yards per carry en route to 1,146 yards and 16 scores, according to DigitalScout.com. He’s added 16 receptions for 170 yards and 4 scores, returned 3 kickoffs to the end zone, and even thrown a touchdown pass this season. That’s 24 total touchdowns this fall, and we’re still two weeks away from Halloween.
An interesting battle awaits in the Nittany Lions backfield next year if Saquon Barkley departs early for the NFL. Despite the experience of others, don’t count out Slade when it comes to immediate contention for touches.
Receiver (3): 3-star Shaquon Anderson-Butts (Harrisburg, Pa.), 4-star Daniel George (Oxon Hill, Md.), 5-star Justin Shorter (Monmouth Junction, N.J.)
Now that Jahan Dotson is officially out of the picture, the only mystery remaining for Penn State at receiver seems to be whether Nittany Lions legacy Solomon Enis will end up in this class. The son of former Penn State running back Curtis Enis, he attended the April 22 spring game and maintains communication with staff members.
Despite the family tie and potential room created by the departure of Hardy, I anticipate Enis will end up spending his college career in the Pac-12. This leaves the current commitments in place, and it’s a promising trio.
Justin Shorter, a 6-4, 220-pound playmaker, dominated the best of his peers throughout a busy offseason camp circuit. He earned 5-star status along the way and may be the most college-ready prospect in this class.
Daniel George, who also doubles as a shutdown defensive back at Oxon Hill High School, joined the class July 16, just one day after Shaquon Anderson-Butts.
Anderson-Butts is also playing a pivotal role as recruiter. He is a teammate and close friend of 5-star defensive end Micah Parsons, repeatedly expressing confidence he’ll convince Parsons to rejoin this class.
It’s important to note 2017 Penn State receiver signees KJ Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer are slated to redshirt this season. Both freshmen have the skills to compete for key roles in the coach Josh Gattis’ rotation next fall.
Tight end (2): 4-star Pat Freiermuth (North Andover, Mass.), 4-star Zack Kuntz (Camp Hill, Pa.)
A midseason review of senior performances cement my feelings that Penn State carries college football’s best tight end duo in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz, both longtime members of this class, continue to grow as pass targets and present a bright future beyond the upcoming departure of All-America tight end candidate Mike Gesicki.
Both players are considered top-10 tight end recruits in 2018 composite rankings. Freiermuth is more balanced at this point because of his size (6-5, 250 pounds) and blocking ability, but Kuntz’s freakish athleticism is impossible to ignore.
The 6-7, 221-pound Camp Hill High School star surpassed 2,000 career receiving yards earlier this fall, and he also earned a state track-and-field title in hurdles. Kuntz expects to enroll early at Penn State, placing him in a pivotal offseason weight training program and boosting his chances for an early offensive role.
— Coach Cleezy (@EdOBrienScout) September 4, 2017
Offensive line (5): 4-star Nana Asiedu (Stafford, Va.), 3-star Bryce Effner (Aurora, Ill.), 4-star Antwan Reed (Muskegon, Mich.), 4-star Fredrick Scruggs (Erie, Pa.), 4-star Rasheed Walker (Waldorf, Md.)
This arguably would be the most impressive offensive line class Penn State has signed this century. For the sake of transparency, I am far less sure about placing Rasheed Walker on this list than I was in August or September. The 6-6, 300-pound tackle once previously seemed to be an imminent member of the Nittany Lions class, but things have cooled off a bit since mid-summer as scholarship availability dwindled.
My initial thought upon the removal of Hardy from this class was that it may ensure Penn State is able to bring aboard a fifth offensive lineman. As I’ve said since August, that spot appears to be Walker or bust. Maryland and Ohio State are strong contenders to bring him elsewhere in the Big Ten but I’ll still give Penn State a slight nod here. That could change by the time we put together November recruiting class projections.
Even without Walker, this is still a talented group. Nana Asiedu, Bryce Effner and Antwan Reed are each considered top-50 tackles, while Fredrick “Juice” Scruggs is among the country’s premier interior offensive line recruits. Asiedu and Scruggs are both top-200 overall talents.