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Comparing The 2015 And 2016 Recruiting Classes

National Signing Day’s furious morning is over, and now that the dust is settled we can take a closer look at the official 2016 class. James Franklin’s biggest strength is that he’s an ace recruiter, and after two impressive recruiting classes, let’s take a look at how they compare.

At their most basic, 2015 saw 25 signees while 2016 has 20. 2015’s class was No. 15 nationally (second in the Big Ten), and 2016 is No. 18 (third in the Big Ten). According to 247Sports’ composite ranking, 2015 had 13 four-star recruits and 12 three-stars. 2016’s class has one five-star, seven four-stars, 11 three-stars, and one two-star.

Of 2015’s 25 players, only a handful saw significant playing time, which is the expectation for freshman classes and will likely be the case for almost all of the 2016 recruits. The top talents always win out though, and 2016 looks like it might be as impressive as last year in that regard.

The most notable signees from each class are the running backs. Saquon Barkley claimed the starting role a few games into the season and never looked back, as he set school freshman rushing records even while dealing with injuries. Now, he’ll be joined in the backfield by five-star recruit Miles Sanders. Barkley and Sanders‘ Hudl tapes are very similar, in the sense that their inclusion in high school games looks unfair. Barkley has already been declared a longshot Heisman candidate for 2016, and now Penn State has two of him. In that regard, Franklin and his staff may have solidified the rushing game’s future for a while.

Penn State signed one quarterback in each class: Tommy Stevens and Jake Zembiec. Along with Trace McSorley, the three will participate in a three-way battle to see who replaces Christian Hackenberg as the starter. Directly in front of them will be a mostly returning offensive line that can be supplemented with a few high-profile recruits if need be. Ryan Bates, Sterling Jenkins, Paris Palmer, and Steven Gonzalez signed in 2015 while Connor McGovern, Alex Gellerstedt, Michal Menet, and Will Fries signed this year. Palmer was the only player who saw significant playing time last season, and he looked overmatched at times. Jenkins and Bates were both top-five recruits in the state last year, so they should be ready after practicing all of this year. Three members of the 2016 class will also probably sit, but Connor McGovern has a chance to impress. He’s ranked as the nation’s No. 3 center, he’s almost at 300 pounds, and Angelo Mangiro’s graduation leaves a hole on the line.

Rounding out the offense is the wide receivers and tight ends. The receivers are arguably the best position on the team, as Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, DeAndre Thompkins, and Brandon Polk all saw plenty of playing time last year and are returning in 2016. Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles redshirted last year, and 2016’s lone receiver, Dae’lun Darien, will probably redshirt because there’s a ridiculous amount of talent in front of him.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is suddenly a position of need after three starters left. Garrett Sickels will probably be the best player on the line next season, and he’ll be helped out by players like Cothren, Cothran, and Brown, but all of them will need help from fresh faces. The 2015 class had five defensive linemen and the 2016 class has seven. No current members of the team saw playing time, and they’ll have their work cut out for them as they compete against a very talented 2016 class. Defensive end Shane Simmons was ranked as the best player in Maryland and is already one of the class’ leaders. He’s joined by Daniel Joseph and Ellison Jordan, who are both ranked in the nation’s top-20 at their positions. Penn State will have a young and thin defensive line for one year, but after its talent can be cultivated a little more, it’ll look like the Nassib-Johnson-Zettel days all over again.

The linebacking corps, like the receivers, is an area which doesn’t need immediate attention. Nyeem Wartman-White, Brandon Bell, and Jason Cabinda will start as upperclassmen, and as a result not many linebackers committed to Penn State in the last two years. Jake Cooper saw time as a freshman last year, but the gem of the group looks like 2016 signee Cameron Brown. The four-star, 6-foot-5 product of Maryland should develop into something special.

Last on defense is the secondary. In 2015, three safeties and two cornerbacks signed. In 2016, only two cornerbacks signed. Players like Marcus Allen, Malik Golden, and Koa Farmer have the safety spot locked up for the foreseeable future, but a trio of three-star commits from last year hint towards a possible deficit at the position one day. Fortunately for Penn State, the cornerbacks are in a completely different situation. Trevor Williams and Grant Haley already have the position in a good place, and 2015’s John Reid had a great true freshman season. Two more four-stars and a three-star will also be ready to play.

Last but (as Penn State fans know well) not least are the specialists. Sam Ficken’s graduation two years ago opened up the kicking spot for Tyler Davis and Joey Julius, who both played last year with mixed results. Franklin said on National Signing Day that there were four games in the last two years where field goals would’ve made a difference, so he recruited Alex Barbir. The kicker from Georgia should be an early favorite in the impending competition to start. Dan Pasquariello and Chris Gulla both spent time punting last year, and their performances inspired Franklin to sign Blake Gillikin, ranked by 247 as the nation’s second-best punter.

Overall, the main difference in the classes is size. The top-end talent looks similar, but the depth is different as 2016 brought in fewer players who are generally rated lower. Four freshmen saw significant playing time in 2015 (Barkley, Reid, Palmer, and Polk), and a similar number has potential to play right away from the newest class. James Franklin held true to his word — he delivered another great class and Penn State is one step closer to where it wants to be.

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About the Author

Doug Leeson

Doug is a sophomore and Onward State's Assistant Managing Editor. Dislikes: popcorn, Rutgers, and a low #TimberCount. Likes: "Frozen," Rec Hall, and you. Contact him via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @DougLeeson.

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