Penn State Can Wait On Top 2017 Targets With Majority Of Class In Place
James Franklin and his staff have already assembled the majority of their 2017 recruiting class, which features 15 commits heading into the season and is ranked No. 21 in the nation, according to 247Sports.
Though positions like quarterback and all the spots along the offensive line are already wrapped up, the Nittany Lions have yet to land a verbal from a defensive tackle. That will undoubtedly be the biggest concern moving forward for Franklin and defensive line coach Sean Spencer, as more recruits weigh their options and eventually make a college decision, either before or after taking official visits this fall. Let’s take a look at how Penn State is set up at each position in 2017.
Elite 11 four-star quarterback Sean Clifford became Penn State’s first commitment for this cycle way back in July, 2015 and has since grown into the headliner of the class and one of its most outspoken recruiters. Clifford was solid all summer long on the camp circuit and performed well enough to qualify for Nike’s The Opening in Beaverton, Ore., this past July, where he was joined on Team Mach Speed by future classmate Derrek Pitts, who had yet to announce between Penn State and West Virginia. With Clifford onboard, the Nittany Lions are done going after 2017 signal callers.
Running back is where things get interesting, as Penn State is absolutely loaded with talent at the position on its current roster, but doesn’t hold a commitment in its current class. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if the Nittany Lions were to go without one this coming February, as four-star D’Andre Swift has long been their lone target for a while now and Georgia looks like the favorite, but stranger things have happened.
Interestingly enough, Swift’s cousin — four-star Mark Webb — is one of two receivers Penn State’s been going after with vigor for quite some time despite holding verbals from Cameron Sullivan-Brown and Mac Hippenhammer. Webb is likely a package deal with Swift and holds the Bulldogs in high regard, while it looks like Oregon and Michigan State are the main contenders for four-star KJ Hamler. With such a deep receiving corps on campus, featuring no seniors, the Nittany Lions wouldn’t be that disappointed if they were to sign only two.
Tight ends coach Ricky Rahne missed out on four-star Matt Dotson, who picked Michigan State at The Opening, and three-star Jenks, Okla., native Reese Leitao committed to Nebraska this past Saturday, leaving the cupboard pretty bare at the position in 2017. Penn State recently pulled in a huge pledge from 2018 four-star Pat Freiermuth out of North Andover, Mass., so it would rather see how things unfold than take a guy out of desperation.
Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover has his four guys lined up in guards C.J. Thorpe and Michael Miranda and tackles Robert Martin and Desmond Holmes. Though it missed out on four-star Robert Hainsey, who went with Notre Dame, this is another impressive haul for the Nittany Lions in the trenches.
Penn State received early commitments from two of its top defensive targets in middle linebacker Dylan Rivers and defensive end Yetur Matos, both of whom hail from Virginia, which certainly helped in building a deep class behind them. Derrek Pitts and four-star Canadian transplant Jonathan Sutherland make for a versatile duo at safety, while Fairburn, Ga., product D.J. Brown is the lone corner committed to the Nittany Lions at this point.
Position coach Terry Smith still has two big names on his board — Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields. Wade long had Ohio State atop his list, but it looks like Penn State has gained some serious ground on the Buckeyes, who probably won’t even have room for Wade and his blue-chip services in their ultra-loaded, top-ranked class. Castro-Fields played some of his high school ball with true freshman Zech McPhearson at the Riverdale Baptist School in Upper Marlboro, Md., and is also strongly considering offers from Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and the home-state Terrapins.
Defensive coordinator Brent Pry has a trio of commitments to work with at linebacker in Rivers, Brailyn Franklin, and Brelin Faison-Walden, but shoring up depth at the thinnest spot on Penn State’s roster could mean there’s room for another commit before National Signing Day. Four-star Nathan Proctor is thought to be focusing on the Nittany Lions, Virginia Tech, and Maryland, according to 247Sports, and the Indian Head, Md., standout would almost certainly be a luxury take provided there’s room in the class when he decides.
Matos and three-star Harrisburg High product Damion Barber make for a solid defensive end tandem off the edge, but without a defensive tackle commitment, Spencer and Franklin need to go to work on the recruiting trail in order to get some talented tackles to schedule an official visit. Penn State was an early favorite for Elijah Conliffe, but Alabama has surged in his recruitment of late and has a strong chance of earning the Hampton, Va., native’s commitment. Three-stars Dalyn Wade-Perry and recent offer Ben Hutch out of Nashville (Hillsboro) are arguably the staff’s top options at the position. The 6-foot-3.5, 300-pound Hutch has an official visit to State College locked in for Oct. 8 against Maryland.
Special teams coordinator Charles Huff has no interest in offering a scholarship specialist this cycle, as Blake Gillikin and Alex Barbir are part of the Nittany Lions’ most recent 2016 recruiting class. Plus, Gillikin’s already won the starting punter job as a true freshman.