Penn State leads all Big Ten football programs in 247Sports’ 2018 composite recruiting class rankings, but coach James Franklin remains focused on filling the remaining scholarship slots with elite talent. Wide receiver is proving to be a particular area of intrigue, as the Nittany Lions claim just one pledge at the position.
Still nine months from National Signing Day, there are several candidates to join 4-star WR Justin Shorter in the class. Although he is the lone Penn State WR commit in this cycle, fans should be thrilled about his potential as a No. 1 collegiate target.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound South Brunswick (N.J.) High School junior just enjoyed a tremendous week. He earned the title of “fastest man” with a 4.50-second 40-yard dash on Sunday, April 30, at The Opening’s New Jersey regional. He also won event WR MVP honors and an invitation to The Opening finals, held this summer in Beaverton, Ore., at Nike’s world headquarters.
“Ever since I went to the [The Opening regional camp] last year, I’ve been focused on earning this chance,” Shorter told Land of 10 that day. “Once I got there, I was just focused and made sure I caught every single ball and hit every single drill hard. This is an awesome opportunity, but now I need to stay humble and keep working.”
Just three days later, he welcomed an invitation to compete in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
Ronny Torres, The Opening’s director of player personnel for tight ends and wide receivers, later shared with Land of 10 that Shorter was sick leading up to the regional camp. There were discussions with his father about potentially placing him in the circuit’s next stop (Charlotte, N.C.), but Shorter clearly rallied.
“To come out like he did after not feeling well definitely jumped off at me right from the get-go,” Torres said. “He looks like he could be out there playing linebacker because he’s such a physically imposing kid. It was impressive to see him move like he did in drills at that size and then dominate in 1-on-1s.”
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) May 1, 2017
Long story short, expect Shorter’s placement in the 2018 composite rankings — currently No. 16 among WRs and No. 79 overall — to rise upon post-camp ranking alterations across the industry.
“Shorter should be up there with the top 10 guys at his position nationwide based on what we’ve seen,” Torres said.
The Nitany Lions landed a top prospect here, and his commitment seems just as strong as when he initially announced it in August 2016. Still, Franklin needs to find reinforcements at the position.
Torres, who played tight end at New Mexico State before transitioning to coaching, previously helped us analyze blue-chip Penn State tight end commits Zack Kuntz and Pat Freiermuth, a piece we highly recommend you examine for a better understanding of this potentially dominant duo. Now let’s shift gears again with him to put the spotlight on a few WRs of interest.
4-star WR Jahan Dotson, The Peddie School (N.J.)
247Sports composite ranking: No. 15 WR; No. 73 overall; No. 2 prospect in New Jersey
247Sports crystal ball leader: Penn State (82 percent)
As we documented in a feature on Jahan Dotson last week, the 5-11, 165-pound playmaker may be just a month or two away from announcing where he’ll play college football. His focus is on three Big Ten teams: Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.
Dotson admitted that the Nittany Lions are probably pushing harder than any other program, though he hopes to visit all three favorites again before reaching his decision. A scintillating offensive and special teams weapon, Dotson suffered two broken bones in his right leg midway through his junior season.
The injury cut short a campaign that included 503 receiving yards, 251 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns in five games, according to MaxPreps.
“In terms of route-running, ‘smooth’ is the one word I keep coming back to when I see him on tape,” Torres said. “He was actually one of the more impressive underclassmen we saw last year, and I don’t think I had him too far behind [5-star California WR] Jalen Hall when looking at this 2019 group at the time.”
In terms of physicality, Torres compared Dotson to 2017 4-star Illinois WR Jeff Thomas, who earned Under Armour All-America Game Offensive MVP honors and signed with Miami.
Dotson scratched his testing results from The Opening’s New Jersey camp, but he tends to torch opponents with sudden quickness rather than straight-line speed.
TD came back due to holding but I'm not NOT going to share this move by 2018 WR @JaHeisman_5…
Offers include Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson pic.twitter.com/8LUf6nJFR0
— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) October 8, 2016
“He’s the kind of guy whose game speed is just completely different from what he’ll do in a 40-yard dash or shuttle run,” Torres said. “He’s just one of those guys who glides out there. There were definitely some shining moments in his 1-on-1s, and at the same time I’m sure there’s still some rust because it was probably one of his first times in a competitive situation since suffering that injury last season.”
During a discussion with Land of 10, Dotson shared that Penn State receivers coach Josh Gattis has plans to use him as a multi-faceted offensive weapon in Happy Valley.
“Coach Gattis talks about getting me the ball in a lot of different ways, so that would be cool for me,” he said.
4-star WR Shaquon Anderson-Butts, Harrisburg (Pa.) High School
247Sports composite ranking: No. 55 WR; No. 320 overall; No. 9 prospect in Pennsylvania
247Sports crystal ball leader: Penn State (100 percent)
Shaquon Anderson-Butts is a high school teammate of top-ranked 2018 DE Micah Parsons, who de-committed from the Nittany Lions last month. These two were on campus together in State College on April 22-23, just hours before Parsons announced a “fresh start” for his recruitment.
It remains to be seen how Parsons’ evolving relationship with Penn State could impact the pursuit of Anderson-Butts, who hinted Sunday night a commitment could come next month.
Torres feels there’s plenty to appreciate about the athletic makeup of this 6-1, 202-pound prospect.
“Right off the bat, he definitely looks the part,” he said. “Shaquon is a big, physical kid, but definitely a raw athlete. There’s a lot of potential of what he can become.”
Torres observed Anderson-Butts didn’t stand out as a “rep monster” like Shorter, who always appeared to be next in line during The Opening’s regional drills.
“I still really like what that kid can become, especially based off his junior season tape,” Torres said. “And in those few reps that shined for him [April 30], you can see those big-time traits that could make him a major target at the next level.”
Anderson-Butts recorded 38 receptions for 779 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior, according to Brian Linder of PennLive.com.
4-star Daniel George, Oxon Hill (Md.) High School
247Sports composite ranking: No. 37 WR; No. 189 overall; No. 8 prospect in Maryland
247Sports crystal ball leader: Penn State (100 percent)
Like our past two examples, George is projected to sign with the Nittany Lions by a vast majority of experts. However, there won’t be room in Penn State’s class for every wide receiver target.
George took another step toward reaffirming his affections toward the university by releasing a new top 10 list Sunday night:
TOP 10 ! pic.twitter.com/brvvWkrpWK
— Daniel George (@11DanielGeorge) May 8, 2017
He hasn’t been shy about talking up Penn State in recent weeks.
“The 107K [Beaver Stadium capacity is 107,000] is definitely a big part,” George told Land of 10 during The Opening’s Washington, D.C., regional camp last month. “It’s a stable coaching staff, and they’re all really good guys. I like the way the whole school is set up, and I like the fans. I like the way they use the receivers and the running game.”
Torres also gained an up-close glimpse at that regional, which was held in Centreville, Va.
“Going into the D.C. camp, he was definitely that top-notch wide receiver talent we wanted to watch,” he said. “He had one of the best [Nike Football] ratings [at the 2016 D.C. regional] and did really well in 1-on-1s last year as an underclassman, so our eyes were on him again.”
George maximized his opportunities for pass targets as a junior, turning 29 catches into 498 yards and 11 touchdowns, per MaxPreps. That translates to reaching the end zone on 38 percent of receptions.
Torres said George’s style of play is similar to Shorter, despite giving up some size in that comparison (George is 6-2, 201 pounds).
“He really tries to impose his will on opponents during 1-on-1 drills and uses good strength,” he said. “Daniel isn’t quite that smooth route-runner, but he’s a chiseled 201 [pounds] and it was fun to watch him basically try to run through kids downfield.”
— ((( Jacob Bogage ))) (@jacobbogage) April 27, 2017
George should be in the conversation to join Shorter at The Opening finals when camp staff assigns final roster spots.
“I’d say he was about as close as you can get to The Opening invite on-site,” Torres said. “We wish we would’ve seen a little bit more out of him as a true route-runner — which he can definitely develop into — but that’s something he’ll work on and continue to improve at the next level.”
Just as George is in consideration for The Opening finals, Penn State is under strong consideration for his commitment.
“Penn State is pretty flashy,” he said. “It’s a big name like the Alabamas and Ohio States, but it kind of has that small feeling when you go there. You won’t just get lost.”
Writer’s note: Alternative Penn State WR targets such as Solomon Enis (who will attend The Opening’s Oakland regional May 21) and Darryle Simmons (who dealt with an ankle issue at The Opening’s New Jersey regional) were not included here due to limited in-person assessment for Torres.