Each month until National Signing Day, I’ll project the 2018 Penn State recruiting class on both sides of the ball. The Nittany Lions haven’t added a commitment since our August edition, though the outlook has shifted a bit due to developments.
The focus is on offense for now, while the defensive group will be addressed Thursday. Just as they were last month, scholarships are limited with 23 players pledged to Penn State. The Nittany Lions staff undoubtedly has held several conversations about how best to allocate these spots, with position coaches making a case for why their room requires more talent.
Barring unforeseen de-commitments, this offensive class is just about complete. Penn State picked up a quarterback and two receivers during one weekend in mid-July, while in-state standout Fredrick “Juice” Scruggs gave the Nittany Lions four linemen with his commitment on Aug 4. Many key pieces have been in place since the 2016 season.
I was tempted to include 4-star slot receiver Jahan Dotson in the August projection but ultimately left him out because of a sense that things had cooled between him and Penn State. The Nazareth (Pa.) High School standout pledged to UCLA on Sept. 4 following an official visit to Los Angeles.
Junior college tackle T.J. Bradley, a 6-foot-9, 300-pound prospect offered by Penn State in April, was also mentioned as a possibility last month. However, after spending this season at Lackawanna (Pa.) College, the Virginia native plans to enroll at Maryland. He announced his decision Aug. 19.
Now that you’re up to speed, here is how I envision Penn State’s offensive class when things are finalized Feb. 7.
Quarterback (1): 3-star Will Levis (Middletown, Conn.)
This was a spot previously occupied by No. 1 overall recruit Justin Fields, who spent six months pledged to Penn State prior to his de-commitment on June 6. The search for his replacement lasted more than a month, leading up to Will Levis’ arrival for a camp on July 14.
Levis became an increasingly coveted commodity early this summer, securing offers from schools such as Florida State, Ole Miss and Syracuse. Levis landed an offer from the Nittany Lions following that camp and went public with a commitment the next morning.
The 6-foot-4, 222-pound passer brings plenty of athleticism to the backfield, as he posted the best Nike test rating among all participants at The Opening’s regional camp in New Jersey on April 30. He totaled 1,972 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in 10 games as a junior, per MaxPreps. Levis tosses 3 touchdowns in his senior-season opener Sept. 8, according to Jimmy Zanor of the Norwich Bulletin.
Penn State could return both of its top two quarterbacks — Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens — in 2018, while freshman Sean Clifford earned the No. 3 job in training camp.
Running back (1): 4-star Ricky Slade (Woodbridge, Va.)
Ricky Slade joined the class Feb. 3 and hasn’t wavered in that decision despite interest from programs across the country. Considered the No. 2 all-purpose back in 247Sports 2018 composite rankings, he is capable of creating issues for defensive game plans as a rusher and receiver.
Slade has surpassed 100 rushing yards in 12 of 13 games dating to the start of his junior season. His most recent performance featured a 96-yard scoring sprint as he collected 185 offensive yards and 2 touchdowns in a 41-0 victory over Osbourn, according to InsideNoVa.
There will be a crowded group of talented ball carriers vying for reps if/when Saquon Barkley bolts for the NFL after this season, but Slade’s versatility gives him a chance to contribute early.
Penn State commit Ricky Slade Jr. juked a linebacker and celebrated with a flip at The Opening! 👀 pic.twitter.com/MalF11Yzic
— SB Nation (@SBNation) July 2, 2017
Receiver (4): 3-star Shaquon Anderson-Butts (Harrisburg, Pa.), 4-star Solomon Enis (Phoenix, Ariz.), 4-star Daniel George (Oxon Hill, Md.), 5-star Justin Shorter (Monmouth Junction, N.J.)
As I alluded to earlier, Jahan Dotson was a prospect who crossed my mind here last month, but I opted instead to list Solomon Enis. That projection is further cemented by Dotson’s commitment to UCLA and Enis’ upcoming official visit to Happy Valley.
The 6-4, 190-pound North Canyon High star is the son of former Nittany Lions running back Curtis Enis. They attended the spring game together and Solomon has planned to use an official visit for Penn State’s game against Indiana on Sept. 30.
He would give this group even more size, joining forces with the 6-4, 214-pound Justin Shorter, who may be America’s premier prep receiver. Shorter racked up 165 total yards and 3 touchdowns in his senior-season debut Sept. 8, according to Greg Tufaro of MyCentralJersey. He attended Penn State’s first two home games this season.
Shaquon Anderson-Butts and Daniel George are both in the 6-1 range and provide Penn State with smooth pass targets downfield. If Enis opts to head elsewhere, perhaps to a Pac-12 program, the Nittany Lions could stick with three commitments here and allot a scholarship elsewhere. Freshmen KJ Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer appear on track to receive redshirts this season, so they’ll likely return next season with four years of eligibility.
Tight end (2): 4-star Pat Freiermuth (North Andover, Mass.), 4-star Zack Kuntz (Camp Hill, Pa.)
Based on my review of prospects at the position, I believe Penn State carries college football’s best tight end duo in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz both pledged to the Nittany Lions in 2016, and they’ve become class leaders.
These top-10 tight ends have developed a bond while working together at camps, and both were in Beaver Stadium for Penn State’s season-opening win over Akron. They are capable of helping the Nittany Lions replace All-America candidate Mike Gesicki, a senior with 4 touchdown receptions through two games.
Ronny Torres, The Opening’s director of player personnel for tight ends, told me this spring that Freiermuth may be the most “college-ready” 2018 prospect at his position. He is a balanced talent, offering excellent blocking skills and polished route running. The 6-5, 250-pound playmaker caught 24 passes for 527 yards and 6 scores in 2016, according to David McKinney of Rivals.com.
Kuntz is an athletic freak at 6-7, 221 pounds. He won a 2017 state track and field championship in hurdles and attacks defensive secondaries like a wideout. He entered his senior campaign with more than 100 career receptions and tallied a 200-yard game on Sept. 1.
— Coach Cleezy (@EdOBrienScout) September 2, 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.)
Fredrick Scruggs represented one of Penn State’s final primary recruiting concerns on home turf and the Nittany Lions took care of business when he committed Aug. 4. Projected as a top-tier interior lineman, he joins a group that features three top-50 tackle recruits.
Asiedu, considered a top-10 talent at tackle, leads the pack. He committed while on campus for the 2017 spring game, as did Antwan Reed. Effner, an underrated prospect in my opinion, provided a somewhat surprise pledge two weeks later, putting the Penn State offensive line class in excellent position midway through spring.
Rasheed Walker should still be on the board for Penn State despite dwindling spots in this class. The 6-6, 300-pound U.S. Army All-American spent significant time with Nittany Lions commits during Lasch Bash festivities in July, and he’s also close with recent defensive tackle pledge PJ Mustipher.
With T.J. Bradley heading to Maryland, it may be Walker-or-bust for Penn State in the pursuit of additional offensive line talent.