Filling In The Remaining Holes For Penn State Football’s 2020 Recruiting Class

Penn State football head coach James Franklin has already secured 25 verbal commitments in his recruiting class of 2020, but his work is nowhere near complete.

There are currently less than three months until the Early Signing Day takes place on December 18 before the 2020 recruiting cycle officially slams shut on February 5, 2020. At the time of publication, seven of Penn State’s 25 verbal commitments are four-star prospects, while the rest of the class is made up of three-star recruits.

Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of how many players are in Penn State’s current class of incoming recruits:

  • Quarterback: 1
  • Running Back: 2
  • Wide Receiver: 4
  • Tight End: 1
  • Offensive Line: 5 (three tackles, two guards)
  • Defensive Line: 7 (four ends, three tackles)
  • Linebacker: 2
  • Cornerback: 1
  • Safety: 2

As the numbers indicate, Penn State has focused on beefing up the depth of its lines on both sides of the ball. Whether it’s a lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks or poor protection of Sean Clifford’s pocket, the Nittany Lions’ play in the trenches has left something to be desired for both the offense and the defense so far this season.

With that in mind, here are three areas that James Franklin’s program may need to address in the final few months of the current recruiting cycle.

Defensive Back

Earlier this season, head coach James Franklin described defensive back as the “earliest” position for a young player to contribute. In other words, underclassmen and less experienced players tend to play more at cornerback and safety than they do at any other position, and that’s been on full display through three games this season.

Garrett Taylor, Lamont Wade, and Jonathan Sutherland have taken the lion’s share of snaps at safety this season, and first-year Nittany Lion Jaquan Brisker has also seen the field quite a bit. Meanwhile, players like freshman Keaton Ellis and redshirt freshman Trent Gordon have gotten their fair share of looks behind veterans John Reid and Tariq Castro-Fields at cornerback.

Reid is a fifth-year senior who definitely won’t be back in Happy Valley next year, and Castro-Fields’ return to the team isn’t guaranteed, considering he has the chance to test the NFL Draft waters if he chooses. I’d like to see the Nittany Lions add to three-star prospect Joseph Johnson — the only cornerback in Penn State’s current recruiting class — before the cycle ends.

Fellow three-star Elijah Gaines would be a nice option to go for. He’s listed as an athlete by 247Sports, but his Hudl tape showcases his skills at cornerback. He made his official visit to Penn State for the Pitt game on September 14 after unofficially visiting Happy Valley during the summer.

The safety position shouldn’t be as much of a concern for the Nittany Lions — especially considering the fact that Penn State has a verbal pledge from blue-chip prospect Enzo Jennings.

Blue-Chip Offensive Lineman

Penn State has landed a pair of four-star commitments on the defensive line in the form of Cole Brevard — the No. 1 player from Indiana — and Coziah Izzard, a top-25 player at the defensive tackle position. However, the offensive line currently boasts five three-star commits and hasn’t been beefed up by a blue-chipper yet. Matt Limegrover’s primary objective should be changing that before the current cycle ends.

Four-star prospect Grant Toutant was the team’s top offensive line prospect, but he flipped his choice to Ohio State on June 9. Toutant’s decision combined with Aaryn Parks and RJ Adams’ decommitments leave Penn State with only three-star players committed on the offensive line.

Those players probably aren’t picking Penn State again — especially after Parks’ commitment to Oklahoma on September 19 — so Limegrover will have to look elsewhere for a standout prospect. There aren’t too many options left, though, so the Nittany Lions may ultimately elect to stick with the five recruits they have at offensive line right now.

Adams hasn’t picked a new school yet, so he might ultimately be the best bet as far as adding one more offensive lineman would be concerned.

Tight End

Any discussion about Penn State adding an elite tight end prospect to its recruiting class of 2020 should start and end with Theo Johnson Jr.

The No. 3 tight end and top prospect from Ontario, Canada has been on Penn State’s radar for a long time now. He’s also being pursued heavily by Georgia and Michigan, so Penn State has plenty of competition to work against for Johnson Jr.’s verbal pledge.

At 6’6″ and 240 pounds, Johnson Jr. has the prototypical, Mike Gesicki-esque size needed to effectively play tight end. He’ll be in town for the White Out on October 19 after taking visits to Happy Valley on July 27 and for Penn State’s game against Buffalo on September 7.

Although there’s plenty of depth at tight end, star sophomore Pat Freiermuth won’t be around forever. That, combined with Tyler Warren being the only listed tight end in Penn State’s 2020 recruiting class, makes landing Johnson’s commitment and eventual signature an absolute must for James Franklin.

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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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