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Traffic Light Breakdown For 2016 Recruiting Class

James Franklin and his staff slot incoming players into one of three “traffic-light” categories during the first few practices of preseason camp each summer — red, yellow, or green — signifying the impact they’re likely going to have in the fall.

Let’s take an early look at which Nittany Lions from the 20-member Class of 2016 could see their names called upon as soon as they arrive, and which are in line for a potential redshirt.

Red Light

  • Jake Zembiec | Quarterback | Rochester, N.Y.
  • Connor McGovern | Center | Larksville, Pa.
  • Ellison Jordan | Defensive tackle | Baltimore, Md.
  • Shaka Toney | Linebacker/Defensive end | Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Dae’lun Darien | Wide receiver | Baltimore, Md.
  • Will Fries | Offensive tackle | Cranford, N.J.
  • Alex Gellerstedt | Offensive tackle | Dublin, Oh.
  • A.J. Johnson | Cornerback/Safety | Euclid, Oh.
  • Antonio Shelton | Defensive tackle | Westerville, Oh.

With Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens battling for the starting quarterback job, Zembiec can sit back and absorb the nuances of Joe Moorhead’s uptempo, spread attack working with the scout team. Plus, the New York Gatorade State Player of the Year, who enrolled early for the spring semester, played his senior season at Aquinas Institute nursing an injured throwing shoulder. He’s one heck of a talent, though, and should make plenty of strides over the coming year.

McGovern, another early enrollee, spent part of the spring working at right tackle, showcasing his innate athletic ability and quick footwork, but his long-term home is definitely inside at center. He’s already got the frame to tangle with Big Ten defensive linemen, standing 6-foot-5, 306 pounds, but the mental side of the position takes time and McGovern would be best suited to learn from Matt Limegrover before being thrust into the fire.

Gellerstedt and Fries are both projected as tackles given their prototypical size, but as Franklin’s noted in the past, this staff prefers to let their offensive linemen take things slow while sitting out their first two years on campus. Jordan, an Under Armour All-American, is somewhat undersized for a defensive tackle at 6-foot, but he plays with a relentless motor and could be a special pass-rush specialist in a few years. Shelton has more size at 6-foot-3, but unless the Nittany Lions are in a pinch with injuries, expect him to take a redshirt to refine his handwork and flexibility.

Toney led Imhotep Charter to a perfect 15-0 record and a PIAA AAA State Championship as a senior, terrorizing opposing backfields as a dominant pass rusher. It’s still somewhat up in the air whether he’ll stick at defensive end or migrate to a depth-depleted linebacker corps, but whenever he ends up hitting the field, Toney will create headaches for offensive coordinators once more.

Darien and Johnson were late additions to Penn State’s 2016 recruiting class, but both have significant upside down the road given their impressive statures. Darien will become the third 6-foot-4 Nittany Lion wideout, joining redshirt freshmen Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles, while Johnson could eventually move from corner to safety with his lengthy 6-foot-3 frame.

Yellow Light

  • Michal Menet | Offensive guard | Reading, Pa.
  • Danny Dalton | Tight end | Marshfield, Mass.
  • Shane Simmons | Defensive end | Hyattsville, Md.
  • Daniel Joseph | Defensive end | Lake Forest, Ill.
  • Cameron Brown | Linebacker | Burtonsville, Md.
  • Zech McPhearson | Cornerback/Returner | Upper Marlboro, Md.

The consensus top-ranked player in Pennsylvania for 2016, Menet is a downright freak of an athlete, dunking all over opponents on the hard wood when football season was through. He could potentially end up an any of the five offensive line spots, but likely projects as a left guard — the role he played for Team Armour at the prestigious Under Armour All-America Game. Limegrover has said the best five will be his starters, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Menet immediately checks that box, or at least finds his way into the rotation midway through the year.



Dalton looked solid during Blue-White, hauling in a team-high two catches for 23 yards for the White squad, and has a good chance of cracking the rotation given Penn State’s somewhat limited depth at tight end. Simmons, who joined Menet as Penn State’s lone five-star prospects in the final 247Sports Rankings, has everything you look for in an elite edge rusher. The DeMatha Catholic standout will be quick to add muscle this summer once he gets going with the weight and nutrition programs and could be too talented to sit. If Torrence Brown and Evan Schwan can hold down the fort opposite Garrett Sickels, though, Simmons might have the luxury of developing behind the scenes for a season.

Joseph was somewhat of a surprise commitment this past summer, as Michigan and Michigan State were the perceived leaders, but the Nittany Lions are thrilled he’s coming to University Park. The 6-foot-3 defensive end could eventually grow into a tackle, but his natural ability is unquestioned and could be put to the test this coming fall if need be. Both Brown and McPhearson somewhat fall into the same boat, as the linebacker picture looks rather thin after the top five, and if Penn State can’t find a long-term solution in the return game, McPhearson has proven himself in that capacity during his prep career.

Green Light

  • Miles Sanders | Running back | Pittsburgh, Pa.
  • Blake Gillikin | Punter | Atlanta, Ga.
  • Alex Barbir | Kicker | Cumming, Ga.
  • Tyrell Chavis | Defensive tackle | Richmond, Va.
  • Brenon Thrift | Defensive tackle | Monroeville, Pa.

Despite Saquon Barkley’s dazzling emergence as a true freshman, Sanders is too good to keep off the field and there’s a strong chance Joe Moorhead uses them both heavily this coming fall. The five-star talent finished his high school career as the all-time leading rusher at WPIAL power Woodland Hills and was considered the top running back prospect in the nation this past recruiting cycle. Just imagine the kind of possibilities with Barkley and Sanders in the same backfield.

Gillkin and Barbir were considered two of the premier specialists in the country and the Peach State duo, who trained together in the past, will likely be asked to start from day one given Penn State’s ineptitude on special teams of late. Chavis and Thrift are both JUCO signees who joined the boat as late additions to the 2016 class, but with the depth concerns at defensive tackle, each has an excellent shot to see extended time this coming season. Chavis has two years to play two, while Thrift, who played his high school ball at cornerbacks coach Terry Smith’s old stomping grounds (Gateway) will have three years to play three. The staff might as well see what they’ve got in Chavis and Thrift from the get-go.


There’s obviously a lot of time before the season opener on Sept. 3 against Kent State, and all but four of the aforementioned players won’t arrive until this summer anyway, but it will be interesting to see Franklin’s traffic-light system take shape during camp. Which players do you think will see the field right away? Let us know in the comments.

About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected]


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