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Penn State Football Locks Up 18 Recruits On National Signing Day

James Franklin had a successful early National Signing Day on Wednesday, securing signatures on 18 different letters of intent.

Seventeen of the newest Nittany Lions are rated as four-star prospects or higher by 247 Sports’ composite rankings. The standout member of the class is linebacker Brandon Smith — the lone five-star prospect signed by Penn State and the No. 2-ranked linebacker in the country.

Here’s a roundup of the class of 2019 and how the players may fit in next season.


Tommy Stevens seems like the likely candidate to take over the starting quarterback role to begin the post-Trace McSorley era in Happy Valley. Sean Clifford should back Stevens up, but the third-string quarterback option could be viable for one of the two dual-threat quarterbacks Penn State brought in.

Penn State’s current quarterbacking corps features freshman walk-on Grayson Kline, redshirt sophomore Michael Shuster, and freshman Will Levis beyond McSorley, Stevens, and Clifford. With McSorley leaving the team, Roberson and Johnson Jr. slot right into a potential battle for the third-string spot.

Running Back

Devyn Ford and Noah Cain will join to a not-so-certain running back situation in Happy Valley, especially if Miles Sanders elects to waive his final season of eligibility in favor of the NFL Draft.

If Sanders leaves, Ricky Slade is left as the de facto starting back. Slade had an up-and-down freshman year, showing some flashes of brilliance while battling minor injuries. He finished the year with 230 yards and six touchdowns in eight appearances.

Journey Brown would likely back up Slade if Sanders goes, but the running back picture is much less clear after that. The only other active, returning options at the position are CJ Holmes and Nick Eury, who have combined for a total of nine carries in their NCAA careers.

Both running backs have an opportunity to play key roles for Penn State next season, but the starting job is likely Ricky Slade’s to lose. If Miles Sanders stays in Happy Valley, don’t expect either to see the field much, if at all.

Wide Receiver

Juwan Johnson and Justin Shorter are probably the team’s two best rangy wide receivers, and the 6’2″ John Dunmore will also compete for time alongside players like KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, and Mac Hippenhammer.

Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne clearly tried to get his true freshman wideouts involved by utilizing Dotson and Shorter in 2018, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see Dunmore targeted next year.

Hamler, Johnson, and one of Shorter, Dotson, or Hippenhammer should begin next season as the group of starters, but Dunmore could establish himself as useful depth.

Tight End

Brenton Strange is unlikely to see the field much next season with Pat Freiermuth as the starter at tight end. Danny Dalton, Zack Kuntz, Nick Bowers, and Jonathan Holland provide plenty of depth at the position.

Offensive Line

Penn State’s offensive line should look very similar next season, leaving three of the team’s newest players in reserve roles.

Starters Connor McGovern, Ryan Bates, and Steven Gonzalez are all eligible to enter the NFL Draft, though it seems unlikely at this point. If one of these players leave Happy Valley early, it’d probably be McGovern, leaving the starting role at right guard open for contention. Mike Miranda saw playing time at guard in the absence of starting center Michal Menet, so he’s the most likely candidate to take his spot.

Defensive Line

Penn State’s defensive line is, to put it lightly, stacked. Yetur Gross-Matos broke out as a star for Brent Pry’s unit, and he could attract plenty of NFL attention if he continues his upward trend next year. Shareef Miller is another NFL Draft-eligible player on the roster who might not be back next year.

Shane Simmons is the natural pick to take over a starting role on the defensive line if Miller leaves. The redshirt sophomore was initially penciled into the starting role alongside Miller, but he never got it back due to a training camp injury and Gross-Matos’ impressive play.

Behind them, Shaka Toney and true freshmen Nick Tarburton and Jayson Oweh make it unlikely that Adisa Isaac and Hakeem Beamon will take the field much next season.


Penn State welcomed two more blue-chip linebackers to its program on national signing day, and both could be in for decent playing time next season.

Brandon Smith is a five-star prospect at middle linebacker, and he’ll join a position group that includes Jan Johnson, Ellis Brooks, and Jesse Luketa ahead of him. Brent Pry wasn’t afraid to rotate at linebacker this season, so Smith could take the field quite a bit as a true freshman.

Meanwhile, Lance Dixon is joining an outside linebacker group that will likely feature Micah Parsons and Cam Brown in starting roles next year. Jarvis Miller saw lots of playing time in a backup role last season, and Dixon could earn similar opportunity in his freshman year.


Penn State’s secondary is losing some of its consistent play-makers to graduation this offseason in Nick Scott and Amani Oruwariye, but adding quality depth to an already-deep part of the team.

State College’s own four-star signee Keaton Ellis might feature at cornerback a bit in 2019 if his stock continues to rise, marking his spot on the depth chart alongside players like Donovan Johnson and Zech McPhearson. Likely starters John Reid and Tariq Castro-Fields will limit the roles of the incoming group otherwise, with the lion’s share of rotational minutes expected to go to Johnson and McPhearson.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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