The belief was that Penn State head coach James Franklin could fill the few spots he had remaining in the Nittany Lions’ incoming class of 2019 by bringing in more talent to the offensive and defensive lines.
However, with the season’s first national signing day Wednesday, it doesn’t appear that the Lions will be adding to the 17 committed players who are expected to put their names to national letters of intent, unless someone makes a surprise pledge to the coaches.
Brian Dohn, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, said the Nittany Lions lost a key piece on the offensive line when three-star guard Jakai Moore of Nokesville, Va., committed Monday to South Carolina.
“I think what it came down to is South Carolina just offered him first, was on him earlier, and he remembered that,” Dohn said. “But that’s a tough one because [Penn State] really liked him and he would have fit in really well there. So now it’s, ‘Go find somebody else and be patient.’ You will find somebody good, you just have to be patient and look.”
At Penn State’s bowl media day Friday, Franklin said he and his staff are constantly monitoring their pool of candidates at all positions.
“We make sure it’s big enough so that when you do lose guys – which you will, you’re not going to win them all – you still have enough other guys that you feel good about, that you have a chance to close on,” he said. “That’s kind of where we are.”
On the defensive side, three linemen whom Dohn said the Lions “are in really good with” – tackles D’Von Ellies of Owings Mills, Md., and Jared Harrison-Hunte of Middle Village, N.Y., and end Smith Vilbert of Montvale, N.J. – all might decide to delay their signing until the traditional signing day, Feb. 6.
Defensive end Adisa Isaac of Brooklyn, N.Y., gave an oral commitment Monday, only the second defensive lineman in the class. The Nittany Lions have three offensive linemen expected to sign Wednesday.
Still, Penn State’s class of 2019 – 15 high school recruits and two transfers from Lackawanna, a junior college program in Scranton – gets high marks. The class currently is ranked 11th by Rivals and 13th by both 247Sports and ESPN.
Dohn rates Brandon Smith, a 6-4, 223-pound five-star linebacker from Mineral, Va., as the best player in the class.
“He’s a high-character kid, great kid, great family, which is important,” he said. “He is so flexible and so explosive. He runs really well, has great length. We list him as an inside linebacker and I can see him playing there, but I can also see him being a guy who plays outside and comes off the edge.”
Rivals rates running back Devyn Ford of Stafford, Va., as the Lions’ only five-star recruit.
Penn State has a pair of quarterbacks in the class, Michael Johnson Jr. of Eugene, Ore., and Ta’Quan Roberson of Wayne, N.J. The two players are separated by just two spots (Johnson 203, Roberson 205) in the ESPN 300.
With three quarterbacks – Tommy Stevens, Sean Clifford, and Will Levis – all competing to be Trace McSorley’s successor, the position’s meeting room could get a little crowded.
Dohn said that while taking one quarterback per class is the standard, coaches sometimes are concerned that a quarterback on the roster will transfer or leave early. Regardless of the number, they must compete.
“When you’re talking about elite programs, a) you’re going to compete no matter where you go for a spot, and b) these kids all think they’re the best, so they think they’re going to win the job,” he said. “They’re not going in thinking, ‘Well, it’s going to be tough.’ They’re thinking, ‘I’m better than him.’”
Penn State’s class of 2019 commitments
Here is a look at the players expected to sign football letters of intent with Penn State on Wednesday. The list is fluid.
DE Hakeem Beamon, 6-3 ½, 254, Chesterfield, Va./Lloyd C. Bird
S Jaquan Brisker, 6-2, 197, Monroeville, Pa./Gateway/Lackawanna
LB Lance Dixon, 6-2, 201, West Bloomfield, Mich./West Bloomfield
WR John Dunmore, 6-2, 172, Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade/Madonna Prep
CB Keaton Ellis, 5-11, 160, State College, Pa./State College
RB Devyn Ford, 5-11, 195, Stafford, Va./North Stafford
DE Adisa Isaac, 6-5, 220, Brooklyn, N.Y./Canarsie
QB Michael Johnson Jr., 6-2, 205, Eugene, Ore./Sheldon
DB Joey Porter Jr., 6-2, 185, Wexford, Pa./North Allegheny
QB Ta’Quan Roberson, 6-0, 190, Wayne, N.J./DePaul Catholic
S Tyler Rudolph, 6-1, 205, Waterbury, Conn./St. Thomas More
LB Brandon Smith, 6-4, 223, Mineral, Va./ Louisa County
TE Brenton Strange, 6-5, 210, Parkersburg, W.Va./Parkersburg
G Caeden Wallace, 6-5, 315, Princeton, N.J./Hun School
OT Anthony Whigan, 6-5, 295, Great Mills, Md./Great Mills/Lackawanna
ATH Marquis Wilson, 6-0, 175, Windsor, Conn./Avon Old Farms
G Saleem Wormley, 6-3, 305, Smyrna, Del./Smyrna