It’s now been one week since 5-star quarterback Justin Fields ended his six-month commitment to Penn State. Though Fields hasn’t shut the door on a return to the Nittany Lions’ 2018 recruiting class, coach James Franklin continues to explore alternative options at the position.
It hasn’t exactly been a recruiting frenzy these past seven days, though a commitment on Sunday from 4-star defensive end Dorian Hardy helps to ease some of the sting. That pledge brings Penn State’s total this cycle back to 13 players in a class considered No. 4 overall in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Hardy is a huge addition to the defensive front seven, where signs point toward more impending additions in the coming months. However, assessing the hunt for a quarterback requires a bit more patience and the ability to “read between the lines” on the recruiting trail.
Based on public comments, Land of 10 conversations and social media developments, we’ve gained some insight as to where things could be headed. Here’s a look at four passers, including one Penn State fans are very familiar with, who warrant attention on the program’s radar.
3-star QB Jace Ruder
High School: Norton (Norton, Kan.)
Size: 6-foot-3, 205 pounds
247Sports composite ranking: No. 17 dual-threat quarterback, No. 465 overall
Jace Ruder is the lone 2018 quarterback recruit to pick up a Penn State offer since Fields de-committed June 6. That scholarship arrived Saturday, according to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.
This continues an upward trend for the dynamic standout. Baylor, Florida State, Georgia, North Carolina and Ole Miss also have offered Ruder since the start of May, and he de-committed from Tulsa on May 20.
“It’s been very exciting, to say the least, for a kid from a small town in Kansas to have a lot of these big-time schools coming out to see me,” Ruder told Gardner Royce of KWCH 12 News. “At the same time, it’s very overwhelming because it’s a lot to think about.”
With so much thrown his way in a brief span, this is a recruitment that features plenty of unknowns. The first order of business for Franklin and Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is to schedule a campus trip, though there surely is substantial competition in that department.
“Time is limited during the summer, so I have to be careful about where I choose to go and visit,” Ruder told Royce.
He is expected to visit Florida State, Georgia and North Carolina this week. An upcoming commitment to any of those programs isn’t out of the question, and Penn State could be left looking elsewhere within weeks of issuing this offer.
Ruder threw for 1,598 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, adding 746 yards and 16 scores on the ground. His athleticism is further evidenced by a 2017 state championship in 300-meter hurldes and a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash, according to Wiltfong.
3-star QB Quincy Patterson
High School: Solorio Academy (Chicago)
Size: 6-4, 232 pounds
247Sports composite ranking: No. 16 dual-threat quarterback, No. 451 overall
This Virginia Tech commit received a Penn State offer the same day as Fields. They both attended camp in State College in July 2016 and returned home as new targets on the Nittany Lions’ 2018 recruiting board.
Quincy Patterson pledged to the Hokies in late February, nearly three months after Fields became the face of Penn State’s offensive class. Attention quickly turned to him in the aftermath of Fields’ de-commitment.
Until Ruder received an offer this past weekend, all other 2018 quarterbacks offered by the Nittany Lions – aside from Fields – were members of another recruiting class. Patterson clearly heard the noise on social media and likely received a few inquiries from Penn State reporters, leading to this declaration on Twitter:
Just to be clear … I am 100% committed to Virginia Tech University !! VT is home nothing can change that !! With that being said… pic.twitter.com/NWHYIKJaHw
— Quincy Patterson II (@quincy_qb1) June 7, 2017
The photo, depicting him next to former Virginia Tech QB Tyrod Taylor, who currently starts for the Buffalo Bills, remains pinned atop his Twitter account. It’s an indication that Patterson isn’t interested in a change, though his presence in Big Ten territory and rushing ability is likely to keep the Penn State staff attentive to this situation.
He collected 1,359 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air as a junior, according to Bob Narang of the Chicago Tribune. His most impressive efforts occurred beyond the pocket, as Patterson rushed for 1,146 yards and 20 scores.
Patterson, like Fields, is a member of the 2017 Elite 11 class.
4-star QB Devin Leary
High School: Timber Creek (Sicklerville, N.J.)
Size: 6-2, 192 pounds
247Sports composite ranking: No. 14 pro-style quarterback, No. 323 overall
Devin Leary, a North Carolina State commit, doesn’t routinely torch opponents with his feet as other members of this list do, but he is a superior passer. He posted the top score among 25 competitors during Elite 11 pro-day drills in Los Angeles last month, and he has heard from Florida, Georgia, Louisville and Penn State since the competition.
“Devin is supremely talented,” Elite 11 coach Quincy Avery told Land of 10. “He was spitting nothing but fireballs out his arm the whole entire time. You walked away from his pro-day performance and knew exactly why he was there. It was impressive to watch.”
It’s no surprise, considering the performances Leary has pieced together on the spring camp circuit. He appears to be building off a sensational 2016 season, in which he set single-season New Jersey passing records for yards (3,688) and touchdowns (48) while leading Timber Creek to a state title.
Leary possesses enough mobility to evade pass rushers and throw on the run, but he won’t be counted on to take over contests as a dual-threat athlete. Penn State outreach has come in the form of contact from Franklin, Moorhead, offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis, and 2018 Nittany Lions commits Pat Freiermuth and Jesse Luketa since Fields’ de-commitment.
Leary is the only prospect on this list who doesn’t yet hold a Penn State offer, but things could be progressing in that direction. His older brother is a Penn State graduate, and Leary actually was in Franklin’s office last summer when offers were handed out to Fields and Patterson.
Pledged to the Wolfpack since early April, Leary admits a Nittany Lions offer could shake things up.
“That would be huge for me,” he told Land of 10. “If Penn State extended an offer to me and finally sees my ability to play quarterback, that’s something I’d really respect and like a lot.”
5-star QB Justin Fields
High School: Harrison (Kennesaw, Ga.)
Size: 6-3, 221 pounds
247Sports composite ranking: No. 1 dual-threat quarterback, No. 6 overall
You didn’t think we were already done discussing Justin Fields, did you?
As we addressed last week, reconciliation isn’t typical on the recruiting trail, and there’s a stronger likelihood that he and Penn State stay their separate ways than reunite. However, it’s important to note the Peach State playmaker continues to mention the Nittany Lions among top options.
That includes comments made last weekend during the Rivals 5-Star Challenge in Indianapolis.
— Mike Farrell (@rivalsmike) June 9, 2017
Florida State is one of several schools that could land Fields, who also is under constant watch from Auburn, Florida, Georgia and LSU. Though he carries more than 40 scholarship offers and lives nearly 800 miles away from Happy Valley, it appears his collegiate exploration will continue to include the Nittany Lions.
“The reason I de-committed is because I wanted to make sure Penn State was the fit for me,” Fields told Adam Gorney of Rivals.com. “I knew that when I committed, but this is my second go-around to make sure they are the best fit for me.”
That sounds as though he is open to circling back to the Nittany Lions at a later date. However, the question becomes whether or not Penn State will pick up a replacement by then.
Fields threw for 2,770 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior, while rushing for 1,176 yards and 15 scores.