College football recruiting has turned into a never-ending cycle of prospects visiting schools and — as James Franklin says — building relationships, one that serves as a 24/7 job for coaches. 2017 recruiting is already in full swing for schools around the country and although it just put the bow on its 2016 class, Penn State’s recruiting staff is back on the trail. The Nittany Lions already have two verbal commitments, one from quarterback Sean Clifford and one from linebacker Dylan Rivers, and with Penn State’s “Junior Day” coming up on February 27, you can expect a couple more recruits to join Clifford and Rivers in Happy Valley.
The number of spots Penn State has in its 2017 class remains to be seen. The current number looks to be around 15, but that should only grow from here with transfers, players leaving early for the NFL draft, and just other forms of natural attrition. Taking everything into account, it would be surprising if the Nittany Lions didn’t take another class of 20 or so prospects.
Let’s take a position-by-position look at some of the prospects Penn State covets the most.
James Franklin and Joe Moorhead already have one quarterback committed in Clifford, but it looks like Penn State would like to bring on a second quarterback if possible. The Nittany Lions attempted to do just that in 2016, making a late push for Pennsylvania native Brandon McIlwain, but talented dual-threat passer opted to stick with South Carolina, leaving Penn State with Jake Zembiec as its sole quarterback commit.
The difficulties of bringing in two quarterbacks in one class are obvious. As Penn State saw with Michael O’Connor and Trace McSorley, only one of them will play, leaving the other to usually transfer away from the program. While there’s something to be said regarding a player’s willingness to stick it out and compete for a job, there’s also common sense, which is why it’s so rare to be able to haul two top-tier quarterbacks at the same time. Still, the Nittany Lions will at least kick the tires with other quarterbacks, with some of the top names being Kasim Hill (Baltimore, MD), Jonathan Lewis (Jersey City, NJ), and Jack Coan (West Sayville, NY).
After signing Saquon Barkley, Andre Robinson, and Miles Sanders in back-to-back classes, Penn State will again try to add another highly-ranked prospect to what’s becoming a loaded backfield. At the top of the list for the Nittany Lions is D’Andre Swift (Philadelphia, PA), a five-star running back from St. Joe’s Prep. Swift has offers from just about every program in the country so he won’t be an easy pull for Penn State, but James Franklin and Charles Huff have made a good first impression. The key in Swift’s recruitment is if the Nittany Lions can sell him on playing time being available, especially if Sanders has an impressive first season.
Outside of Swift, Penn State also extended offers to Anthony McFarland (Hyattsville, MD) and Bo Melton (Egg Harbor Township, NJ) — both of whom are talented in their own rights, but Franklin and Co. will have to make a hard sell to earn their letters of intent. McFarland seems to be favoring Georgia, while Melton’s parents graduated from Rutgers, making the Scarlet Knights an attractive destination for the South Jersey product.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The wide receiver and tight end positions remain a question mark for the Nittany Lions in 2017. Legitimate prospects seem to be few and far between, leading one to believe it’ll be a light class for the pass-catchers. Leading the way is Mark Webb (Warminster, PA), one of the handful of wide receivers who holds an offer from Penn State. Webb has been a regular visitor to Happy Valley over the past year-and-a-half and looks like a good bet to eventually end up in the class. The Nittany Lions’ stiffest competition appears to be North Carolina.
After Webb, K.J. Hamler (Farmington, MI) is probably the other wide receiver to keep an eye on. He visited Penn State for camp in the summer, and should make his way back to State College at some point during the winter or spring. He also happens to attend the same high school as Rob Bolden and Allen Robinson.
At tight end, the Nittany Lions appear to be zoning in on Jake Marwede (Wilmette, IL), if they take one at all. After taking Mike Gesicki, Nick Bowers, Jonathan Holland, and Danny Dalton over the previous three seasons, the need for a tight end may not be there. Still, Marwede may be too good to pass up, and the interest seems to be mutual.
Penn State has taken at least four offensive lineman in the previous three classes, and I don’t expect that to change too much going forward. Franklin has made it a point to say offensive line is the toughest position group to project for college programs, so while the quality of the recruits is obviously most important, the quantity is significant too.
Franklin has also discussed the value of versatility in the past on the offensive line. He wants guys who can play more than one position — tackles who can play on the left or right, guards that can kick out to right tackle, and centers who can move over to guard if need be. To this point, Franklin’s practiced what he preached, brining in guys like Ryan Bates and Michal Menet — two players who could legitimately play four different spots along the offensive front. Two players who could fill those types of roles in 2017 are Robert Hainsey (Monroeville, PA/Brandenton, FL) and C.J. Thorpe (Pittsburgh, PA). Both are probably best suited for guard positions, but each are athletic enough to move all over the offensive line. In the very early going, Penn State is in a good spot with both prospects.
At tackle, keep an eye on Micah Clark (Holmdel, NJ) and Carter Warren (Paterson, NJ). Clark is the more highly-touted prospect, but Warren is no slouch himself. Both players have tremendous length — standing 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, respectively — and are great athletes for their size. Both have also made trips to Happy Valley this past season for games, and should be coming for another visit in the coming months.