Penn State recruiting mailbag: Justin Shorter prepared to compete in 2018; offensive line update
Have Penn State football recruiting questions? We have answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Penn State recruiting mailbag to discuss Nittany Lions recruiting. This week, we discuss the immediate potential of incoming receiver Justin Shorter and update the program’s search for offensive line talent.
Penn State recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have plenty to address here. Let’s get started.
Nittany Lions freshmen didn’t log a single start during the 2017 season, and only three saw game action. With that said, Justin Shorter is the best high school receiver in America.
That’s a sentiment I personally established last offseason while following his success on a widespread camp circuit. By National Signing Day, a national debate among analysts also reached the same conclusion. Shorter finished No. 1 among receivers and No. 8 overall in 247Sports’ 2018 composite rankings.
“Justin Shorter is as good a high school wide receiver that I’ve ever seen, on film and in person,” Penn State coach James Franklin said Dec. 20 after receiving his signed letter of intent.
Stephen, who asked this question during our weekly Facebook Live show (watch it here at 8 p.m. Wednesdays), expresses excitement I’ve repeatedly heard from Nittany Lions fans. An influx of talented freshmen — representing Penn State’s highest-rated recruiting class ever — heightens expectations for sustained success, and Shorter is among the marquee additions.
While putting together a superlatives pieces for the 2018 class last month, Shorter was my pick among Penn State signees to score a touchdown first. His size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), speed (4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and advanced technique at the position indicates Shorter is primed to be a factor each year he spends in State College.
Shorter will be in the mix for pass targets. The question of whether or not he’ll start is a bit more tricky.
Penn State says goodbye to all-time career receptions leaders at receiver (DaeSean Hamilton) and tight end (Mike Gesicki), along with one of college football’s great pass-catching running backs (Saquon Barkley), so a substantial volume of pass targets must be replaced. Land of 10’s initial projected 2018 Nittany Lions offensive depth chart — published in mid-February — lists Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk as projected starters.
Johnson broke out during the 2017 offseason and delivered a 54-reception campaign as a redshirt sophomore. Most similar to Shorter from a physical perspective, he again stepped up during 2018 winter workouts and should be entrenched as a go-to playmaker for Trace McSorley this fall.
Thompkins was efficient when called upon in the passing game last season, averaging 15.8 yards per reception, and starred as a punt returner. Polk, a former high school teammate of McSorley, may be the man to emerge as a slot weapon, though he’ll face competition from redshirt freshman KJ Hamler.
Hamler is one of three second-year receivers aiming to make moves up the depth chart. It’s also important to note Shorter is among three blue-chip receiver recruits arriving as freshmen, joining Jahan Dotson and Daniel George.
Shorter will be hard-pressed to supplant a reliable veteran such as Thompkins from the starting lineup. Still, it’s extremely difficult to envision him spending the 2018 season sidelined if he’s healthy.
“He makes it easy for the quarterback,” incoming Penn State quarterback Will Levis recently told Land of 10. “He makes you look good because no matter where you put the ball, he can get a hand on it, grab it and get some yards after the catch. Justin is just a freak of an athlete. It’s crazy to have his length, athleticism and explosiveness. It took a couple throws to get a rhythm, but after that it was incredible to see what he can do with his body and with the ball in his hands. He’s going to be amazing when he gets to Penn State.”
His performance during preseason camp and general acclimation into the Nittany Lions offense this summer will dictate what kind of immediate role Shorter can carve out by September. Beyond that, college football teams evolve, injuries happen, and there could be an open door for him to seize starting reps as 2018 progresses.
Once Shorter does assert himself as a Nittany Lions starter, don’t expect him to relinquish those duties until his college career ends.
Let’s turn our attention toward recruiting efforts in the trenches …
Ask and you shall receive, Will.
Recent weeks have brought some notable developments for Penn State when it comes to the pursuit of premier 2019 prospects along the offensive line. Let’s start with news from the No. 1 overall tackle in 2019 composite rankings: Devontae Dobbs.
The Belleville (Mich.) High School standout described Penn State as one of his “dream schools” during a discussion with Jeff Sentell, who covers Georgia recruiting for DawgNation, a Land of 10 affiliate. I spoke with Dobbs in January during Under Armour’s Future 50 event and he expressed interest in visiting Happy Valley again this spring, though no travel plans had been established to that point.
The 6-4, 270-pound prospect visited Penn State prior to the 2017 season. Dobbs intends to enroll early at the university of his choice. Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State are among other programs involved here.
Another coveted tackle confirmed Penn State’s contention in his recruitment on Wednesday. Quinn Carroll (Minneapolis), considered a top-10 prospect at the position, included the Nittany Lions on a top-6 list that also features Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Virginia Tech.
A pair of Penn State offensive line targets have a personal connection with players on the 2018 roster. Caedan Wallace (Princeton, N.J.) and William Putnam (Tampa, Fla.) played alongside defensive tackles Fred Hansard and Judge Culpepper, respectively, during their prep careers.
Xavier Truss (Warwick, R.I.) is a priority name to know in the New England region. The 6-7, 325-pound tackle continues to reciprocate interest from the Nittany Lions, including a Feb. 26 visit, but recent offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Nebraska and Southern Cal further broaden his recruitment.
Penn State is still searching for its first verbal commitment from a lineman in the 2019 cycle. The Nittany Lions signed four offensive linemen this winter, headlined by two top-10 tackles (Rasheed Walker and Nana Asiedu).
Have a question about Penn State recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10PSU and we’ll try to answer it in a future mailbag. Check to see if your issue already was addressed by reading previous Penn State recruiting mailbags here.