The Good And The Bad Of The 2016 Recruiting Class
Another recruiting cycle has come to an end, and while Penn State once again brought in a top 20 consensus class that’s highlighted by five-star talent, any Nittany Lion fan who follows recruiting will look back on 2016 thinking just as much about the losses as they will the gains. In a way, it’s unfair to look back negatively on a class that truly will help the program move forward, but Penn State’s struggles down the stretch leave a bitter taste in even the most optimistic fan’s mouth.
Probably the biggest miss the Nittany Lions had with this class was at defensive tackle. Knowing that Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel, and Tarow Barney were all leaving — and knowing the lack of experience behind them — Penn State had to know how imperative it was to bring in an impressive haul. While JUCO Tyrell Chavis will help immediately and Ellison Jordan has Ollie Ogbu 2.0 written all over him, the group is underwhelming when considering what could have been. Losing former commitments Karamo Dioubate (Temple) and Michael Dwufmour (Michigan) stung, and failing to land Mike Panasiuk (Michigan State) and Amir Watts (Pitt) only made things even more underwhelming.
Penn State also struggled in the secondary, where it failed to hold onto cornerback Lavert Hill (Michigan) and safety Andrew Pryts (Stanford). And despite reportedly leading for players like Damar Hamlin (Pitt), Jordan Fuller (Ohio State), Khaleke Hudson (Michigan), and JUCO Kyzir White (West Virginia) at one point or another, the Nittany Lions went 0-for-4, missing on all four players. Landing Zechariah McPhearson is impressive, but again, when looking at who could have joined McPhearson in the defensive backfield, it’s difficult not to be disappointed.
That being said, this isn’t a bad class by any stretch of the imagination. Penn State signed a good recruiting class, and bettered itself in a number of ways. Adding a quarterback of Jake Zembiec’s caliber, someone who James Franklin identified very early in the process and will now have a chance to compete for the vacant quarterback job.
The Nittany Lions are also bringing in one of the best offensive line classes in the nation, headlined by Michal Menet, Connor McGovern, Will Fries, and Alex Gellerstedt. All four players were committed by June and despite losing offensive line coach Herb Hand in January, none of them wavered in their commitment. Following up on last year’s trio of Sterling Jenkins, Steven Gonzalez, and Ryan Bates, Franklin has quickly improved the talent along the offensive front.
Defensive end was another spot where Penn State did a ton of damage. Shane Simmons had offers from every program in the country, and was one of the leaders of the recruiting class. He might need a year to add some mass to his wiry frame, but due to his natural pass rushing instincts, Simmons will find his way into Sean Spencer’s rotation sooner rather than later.
Joining Simmons at defensive end is Daniel Joseph, who could be the most underrated recruit in the class. Playing at a small school in Illinois, Joseph didn’t get the recognition he deserved, but the 6-foot-3, 255-pound prospect played all over the field in high school, seeing time at linebacker and along the defensive line. The bottom line is that Joseph is a good football player, and another one who could break into the rotation as soon as next season.
And last but certainly not least, the Nittany Lions were able to hold off Pitt and Michigan State to retain five-star running back Miles Sanders. Joining Saquon Barkley in Penn State’s backfield next year, Sanders will have the chance to make Joe Moorhead’s rushing attack a two-headed monster. For an offense that was difficult to watch
some most of the time last season, Sanders’ big-play ability should only help spark the offensive attack.
Why Penn State stumbled down the stretch is anyone’s guess, but it’s probably fair to say the Nittany Lions’ 0-4 finish didn’t help matters. But looking at the bigger picture, there’s probably more to it than that. Franklin’s a dogged recruiter, but he’s known to try to wrap up the majority of his classes by the end of the summer, and then likes to spend the fall on the few key uncommitted prospects. On the surface it’s a fine philosophy, but if a program is unable to land those uncommitted prospects (see: Hamlin) and then begins to lose some within its class (see: Dioubate), that’s how recruiting classes go from being in the top five to just inside the top 20 come signing day.
Even the staunchest adversary of Franklin would admit that he won’t get outworked on the recruiting trail, so while this class is filled with thoughts of what could have been, it’s safe to say Franklin has already turned the page to 2017.