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 an incoming 5-star duo on offense and look beyond recent official visits for top targets.
Penn State recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have plenty to address here. Let’s get started by doubling up on our first part of this discussion.
I paired these questions together because both Justin Shorter and Ricky Slade figure to be among the most discussed Penn State freshmen next summer. These 5-star prospects are longtime Nittany Lions pledges and will put the finishing touches on their respective recruitments soon.
Nils and Pat proposed their questions during our weekly Facebook Live show, which you can view here at 8 p.m. Wednesdays. While they are the latest to inquire about Shorter and Slade, there has been a steady stream of interest in how this pair might ultimately impact the Penn State offensive attack.
First, the basics.
Shorter is a 6-foot-4, 215-pound receiver who attends South Brunswick (N.J.) High School. He helped lead the program to a state championship this season, warrants consideration as the top talent at his position in the 2018 recruiting cycle and is listed 15th overall nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings.
Slade, a 5-9, 185-pound running back at C.D. Hylton (Woodbridge, Va.) High School, is an all-purpose playmaker. He tallied 2,700 yards as a senior, doing damage as a rusher, receiver and kick returner while accounting for 40 total touchdowns. Slade, the No. 24 overall recruit in composite rankings, earned Virginia’s Gatorade Player of the Year honors earlier this week.
Despite widespread interest from coaching staffs across college football, both standouts have been stalwart in their commitments to the Nittany Lions.
Shorter picked Penn State on Aug. 6, 2016, and is the program’s longest-standing pledge. Slade joined the class Feb. 3 and remained unwavering in his decision following the recent departure of Nittany Lions running backs coach Charles Huff.
While their health and physical preparedness for collegiate action is paramount regarding early opportunities at Penn State, I believe both players have the skill set to contribute as freshman. Neither is expected to enroll early this winter. That will prevent them from participating in spring camp, which can serve as a springboard for newcomers.
It’s also worth noting this roster is far different from the one James Franklin went to work with upon his arrival in 2014. Back then, the staff really needed to rely on freshmen and even walk-on players to fill roles across the depth chart. This is no longer the case, thanks to the restoration of scholarships and increased recruiting success.
The fate of an impressive 2017 class serves as evidence of these new dynamics. Among the 22 players who signed with Penn State last winter, it appears only three — defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos and cornerbacks Tariq Castro-Fields and Lamont Wade — will avoid a redshirt.
This means Shorter and Slade will face competition from redshirt freshmen as well. Running back Journey Brown has Olympic-level speed and spent his first collegiate campaign observing the work habits of Saquon Barkley. Receivers KJ Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer likely would have experienced substantial snaps this fall with a majority of Big Ten programs.
Still, both position groups are preparing to lose all-time Penn State performers. Receptions leader DaeSean Hamilton is a senior, while Barkley is widely expected to depart early for the 2018 NFL Draft.
Veterans and motivated young players alike will attempt to take on increased volume as a result, but discount Shorter and Slade at your own risk. I’ll refer to my notes from recent scouting reports on both prospects below, also including senior-season video highlights for your viewing pleasure.
Shorter’s size presents matchup issues before his route is even run. That length is augmented by tremendous extension that often eludes other top-tier high school receivers, who tend to wait on the football. Shorter attacks each pass at its highest point, ensuring well-placed darts will be difficult for any defender to claim. He uses above-average speed and large strides to get behind opponents, and then further complicates the situation by going airborne to cap off the completion.
On Ricky Slade:
His speed — laser-timed 40-yard dash of 4.48 seconds — and agility routinely shine, and those attributes are what initially draw your attention when watching him compete. But while observing Slade for extended stretches, it becomes clear how vital his vision is for sustained success. This innate ability to forecast downfield developments and react accordingly separates elite running backs from the rest.
Let’s now turn our attention toward top recruits who’ve yet to determine their college destination…
Fear not, David; I have reasons for you.
As I explained leading up to a monumental official visit weekend (Dec. 8-10), there was no reason to anticipate Penn State would secure a pubic pledge from its three visiting targets during or immediately after the experience.
Those three uncommitted blue-chip recruits are offensive tackle Rasheed Walker, and defensive ends Micah Parsons and Tyreke Smith. Each member of this trio is a top-10 talent at his respective position, and they’re all seriously considering the Nittany Lions.
Why is patience required for David and his fellow Penn State fans? Well, to start, Parsons and Smith have established decision dates.
Parsons, who plans to wrap up his official visit schedule this weekend with a trip to Georgia, is scheduled to announce the morning of Dec. 20. This coincides with the start of college football’s new early signing period, so expect the 5-star Harrisburg (Pa.) High School edge rusher and former Penn State pledge to solidify things fully.
Smith intends to reveal his choice Jan. 4 during the Under Armour All-America Game. That’s also when/where we’ll learn where fellow Nittany Lions defensive end target Jayson Oweh is heading to college.
— Tyreke Smith™ (@T_23_baller) December 11, 2017
Meanwhile, Walker wants to explore other universities on official visits. His next trip is set for this weekend, when he’ll spend a couple of days at Virginia Tech. Ohio State and Maryland are also in the mix, and we may need to wait until the U.S. Army All-American Bowl (Jan. 6) or perhaps later to find out if Penn State is his destination.
So, David, I would label the lack of a new commitment as “expected” rather than “concerning”. But if that still doesn’t alleviate your lingering worries, than perhaps you’ll appreciate what Nittany Lions class leader Jesse Luketa told me Monday night.
“The guys who are uncommitted left State College with a new No. 1, and I’m sure of it,” he said. “This weekend it was all about welcoming them home because we’re not letting them go anywhere else.”
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.