Let me start by saying that this post is far overdue, I know. A lot of things came up right around National Signing Day in real life the prevented me from being able to finish writing/editing these when I wanted to. However, considering we're barely over a month past National Signing Day 2015, it could be worse.
This preview is meant to highlight the players on the offensive side of the ball that Penn State is known to be targeting at this point in time. That's not to say that these are the only players they will target, because recruiting is a year-long effort. In the beginning, offers will typically only be sent out to the higher ranked players. As we move further along in the year, the offers to lesser known three star players, high two stars and so on, will start to emerge. Therefore, take these lists with a grain of salt, and know that a ton can and will change before National Signing Day 2016.
Needless to say, this list won't be perfect. It will give you a place to start though. So without further adieu, welcome to the 2016 Penn State recruiting class primer.
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Jake Zembiec (Rochester, NY (Aquinas Institute)) ★★★ (Committed 11/29/14)
Dwayne Haskins (Potomac, MD (The Bullis School)) ★★★★
Messiah deWeaver (Dayton, OH (Wayne)) ★★★★
The Notes: James Franklin has made one thing clear to all of the quarterbacks that the staff has recruited for the 2016 cycle. There will be two of them. The staff wants to bring in two guys to be ready to compete with Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens when Christian Hackenberg moves on to the NFL, whether that is after 2015 or 2016.
Jake Zembiec is the most familiar name on the list, because he's been committed to the Nittany Lions for more than three months already! I will also quickly add that the committed on my birthday, but that's besides the point. Zembiec is a pro-style passer, but is no slouch with his legs. He'll never be the type of player to be in command of a read option offense, but he will definitely be able to use his legs to escape a collapsing pocket or create a little more space for himself to throw. Jake is currently rated as the #17 pro-style quarterback in the country, but also hasn't gotten consistent playing time since his sophomore season. Injuries kept him sidelined until the very end of this past season, so his name could be one that climbs up the recruiting boards with a big senior year.
Aside from being the greatest twitter troll artist the world has even seen, Dwayne Haskins is an extremely talented quarterback. Hailing from the same high school as 2015 signee, TE Jonathan Holland, Haskins has been on Penn State's radar for some time. Currently thought of as the #5 pro-style passer, Haskins' game has a lot of similarities to Zembiec's. Like Jake, he is first and foremost a pocket passer, but can also use his legs to make a play if need be. Haskins is known for his strong arm and his pinpoint accuracy. He delivers the ball with ideal velocity and has confidence in himself to put the ball into any window on the field. It's tough to get a read on him, but Penn State is at least still holding his interest at least somewhat. The hometown Terrapins of Maryland are considered the frontrunners as of now, but there haven't been many concrete statements to base that off of.
The last name Penn State is keeping in mind, for now, at the quarterback spot is the Michigan de-commit, Messiah deWeaver. Currently rated as the #15 pro-style passer, deWeaver has plenty of options. Michigan State appears to be the favorites, as they shifted the attention they had previously placed on Zembiec to deWeaver. It's tough to see Penn State making a real push for Messiah until they get him on campus. If they can accomplish that, things may change. However, as of right now, deWeaver is very much a long shot.
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Miles Sanders (Pittsburgh, PA (Woodland Hills)) ★★★★ (Committed 7/19/15)
Abdul Adams (Washington, DC (Wilson W. Senior High School)) ★★★
The Notes: Penn State has done a very nice job over the past few years of bringing in a high volume of running backs, to the point where they have free reign to pick and choose who to take in the 2016 cycle. Miles Sanders was an obvious take for the staff, not only because he helps them continue their domination of the state of Pennsylvania, but because he has the potential to end up being one of the top two or three running backs in the entire 2016 class when all is said and done. Franklin and the staff have some other names they're keeping tabs on, but it sounds like they're keeping things very light at the moment, and trying to avoid picking up a surprise commitment from someone they simply don't have room for.
The aforementioned Miles Sanders truly is one of the gems of the 2016 class. Already ranked as one of the top 100 players in the country, he should only continue to fly up recruiting boards when his senior season begins. Sanders will be joining a very crowded running back depth chart by the time he gets to Penn State, but has more than enough talent to break through early on. His ability to recruit some of the other top prospects in western Pennsylvania will also be important during the 2016 cycle, particularly in regards to Central Catholic star, Damar Hamlin.
One other name that Penn State fans have heard more than a few times, is Abdul Adams. Adams doesn't yet hold an offer from Penn State due to their hoard of running backs, but has been someone who has been hearing from the staff. Adams has some other high profile offers (Michigan State, Notre Dame and Florida to name a few), so it's tough to imagine a scenario where he's hanging around when Penn State is able to fully assess their scholarship situation to determine if they can take him. Quite frankly, any running backs that Penn State is talking to at this point are simply insurance in case Miles Sanders wanders. He's their guy, and they're likely set with one back in 2016.
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Tre Nixon (Melbourne, FL (Viera)) ★★★★
Justin Layne (Cleveland, OH (Benedictine)) ★★★★
Trevon Diggs (Bethesda, MD (The Avalon School)) ★★★★
Tino Ellis (Hyattsville, MD (DeMatha Catholic)) ★★★★
Steven Smothers (Reisterstown, MD (Franklin)) ★★★★
The Notes: Similar to running back, Penn State doesn't have a great need for wide receivers in 2016. Since 2013, the Lions have brought in DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin, De'Andre Thompkins, Juwan Johnson, Irvin Charles and Brandon Polk. There is a gluttony of talent already in place at every wideout spot, so they staff is free to pick and choose as they please. It's been made pretty clear who the players they favor are at this point in time.
First up, is Florida product, Tre Nixon. Penn State has made a very noticeable effort recently to dip their toes into the waters of southern recruiting, notably with Amani Oruwariye, Grant Haley, Christian Campbell, Michael O'Connor and Torrence Brown in the 2014 class. Nixon is and has been very high on the Nittany Lions for some time now. The 6'1" wideout is a very hot commodity in the recruiting world, holding offers from basically every big time school in the country. While Nixon has potential in all aspects of his game as a wide receiver, his speed is what is setting him apart as of right now. He's hit a 4.38 40-yard dash (according to 247Sports), which is a low enough number to make coaches giggle. Despite holding offers from the Alabamas, Ohio States and Michigans of the world, Tre is still extremely interested in Penn State. He will likely visit sometime this spring, which will end up being one of Penn State's biggest visits of the year. Unlike most players that Penn State recruits, Nixon doesn't live a car ride away from Happy Valley. It will be up to the staff to make sure he has the time of his life, if and when he does make it back.
Four star Cleveland product, Justin Layne is someone that Penn State would surely take if given the chance, but they may not ever get to that point. Layne visited back in October for the whiteout game, but hasn't been back since. Being the Cleveland native that he is, it will be very tough to pull him away from Ohio State, but Michigan State has recently visited, as well. I expect Layne to end up a Buckeye, and I don't think there's much Penn State can do at this point to put themselves back into the conversation outside of qualify for this year's College Football Playoff.
Trevon Diggs is a name that Penn Staters know well, even if only for the last night. Trevon is the younger brother of former Maryland star, Stefon Diggs, who is off to the NFL Draft. One thing that Trevon has been very careful to note, is that he is not interested in following in his brother's footsteps simply for the sake of doing so. That's not to say he couldn't end up at Maryland as well, because the possibility of that is quite high right now, but he's not going to become a Terp just because his older brother played there. He visited Penn State four times from September to December, so he's very familiar with the campus and the team. Diggs recently named Alabama his leader, but has also stated that he is most comfortable with Penn State and Maryland. The battle for the younger Diggs will be an intense one.
Tino Ellis is yet another name from the DMV to keep in mind. Although likely destined for one of Virginia Tech and Maryland, he could become a focus for Penn State if their first options fall through. Ellis doesn't currently hold a Nittany Lion offer, but is also a high school teammate of current commit, Shane Simmons. Members of the staff will be traveling to watch Simmons play frequently this season, which also means they will get many chances to further evaluate Ellis and his potential. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Ellis earn an offer during his senior season.
Steven Smothers is the biggest long shot on this list, as he is heavily favored to become a Mountaineer of West Virginia. He's very fast and very elusive, and will be able to fill a role similar to Tavon Austin's former role quite well. He's still on the small side, weighing only 152 pounds, but the talent is legitimate. Smothers told me last year that he liked Penn State quite a bit, but wanted to see them competing on a nation level before he would seriously consider them. At the time, he said he wanted to see them in a BCS bowl (this was pre-playoff announcement). Smothers was slated to be in attendance for Penn State's Junior Day at the end of February, but I haven't been able to confirm with him if he was in fact there or not yet. It would be a huge upset for Smothers to end up anywhere but West Virginia.
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Cary Angeline (Exton, PA (Downingtown)) ★★★★
Naseir Upshur (Philadelphia, PA (Imhotep Institute)) ★★★★
Luke Farrell (Perry, OH (Perry)) ★★★★
The Notes: As has been the case over the past few seasons, Penn State is stacked at tight end. Despite losing Jesse James to the NFL, this season's group might be even better. However, it won't be long before Adam Breneman is playing out his final season in Happy Valley, and Mike Gesicki won't be too far behind him. Penn State's offense isn't nearly as tight end driven as it was under Bill O'Brien, but that doesn't meant that the mismatch specialists aren't crucial to the offense. Look no further than the Pinstripe Bowl for proof. When the game was on the line and a third down conversion was needed, the ball went to Jesse James. When the team needed a touchdown in overtime, the ball went to Kyle Carter. Penn State will always need a dominating tight end for their offense to work properly, and there are some fantastic options in the 2016 class.
One of the most exciting players on Penn State's board in 2016, is Cary Angeline. In fact, JC Shurburtt of 247Sports, went so far as to call him, "the most underrated prospect by the recruiting industry in the entire 2016 cycle". He also goes on to say that he views him as the arguable top tight end in the class, and someone who will eventually earn a five star ranking. He already holds offers from top schools such as Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan State, Auburn and more, but things are looking good for Penn State early on. His Crystal Ball currently reads a perfect nine for nine in favor of Penn State, including myself, Matt and the extremely trustworthy, Sean Fitz (seriously, Fitz is very conservative with his Crystal Ball picks, so when he makes one, it's usually a pretty safe bet). As things progress, and Angeline garners more and more hype, expect things to get a little crazy. Just understand that Penn State is most likely the team to beat right now, which is a very good thing.
Naseir Upshur is a name that is trending away from Happy Valley for the time being. He has failed to make an appearance the last three times he was scheduled to be in State College, and doesn't seem very interested in making that return trip right now. Some of those missed visits were due to rides not materializing or inclement weather, but there's nothing that seems to be really pushing Upshur to Penn State at the moment. He recently remarked that he has spoken with Dwayne Haskins about playing together at Maryland. Of course, comments of such nature are hard to see as genuine with this 2016 class and their proclivity for trolling the world on twitter, but it was interesting nonetheless. Penn State will likely continue talking to Upshur and try to get him back on campus, but it's a long shot from here.
Luke Farrell is an intriguing name for the 2016 class. Hailing from Ohio, one would assume that he's an Ohio State lock. His Crystal Ball says as much. However, the Buckeyes already hold a commitment from the country's number three tight end, Jake Hausmann. Farrell has announced publicly that he is 100% planning on taking visits to Penn State and Boston College, which shows that he is at least seriously looking elsewhere. After taking Nick Bowers and Jonathan Holland in 2015, it would be surprising to see James Franklin take more than one tight end again, but it would (and should) be impossible for him to turn down either one of Farrell and Angeline. My gut still says Ohio State for Luke, but Penn State is very much alive in this race.
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Michal Menet (OG/OT) (Reading, PA (Exeter)) ★★★★
Jauan Williams (OT) (Washington, DC (Archbishop Carroll)) ★★★★
Terrance Davis (OG) (Hyattsville, MD (DeMatha Catholic)) ★★★★
Connor McGovern (C) (Lopez, PA (Lake-Lehman)) ★★★★
Parker Bordreaux (OG) (Orlando, FL (Bishop Moore Catholic)) ★★★★
Will Fries (OT) (Cranford, NJ (Cranford)) ★★★
Josh Ball (OT) (Fredericksburg, VA (Stafford Senior High School)) ★★★
Lucas Niang (New Canaan, CT (New Canaan)) ★★★
The Notes: Offensive line was a focus in the class of 2015. With how much depth the Lions still find themselves needing to replace though, don't expect them to take it easier on the line in 2016. There are numerous top offensive linemen who are considering Penn State, from various spots on the line.
Recruiting on the offensive line for Penn State all starts with Pennsylvania star, MIchal Menet. Not only is he the top ranked player in the Keystone state for 2016, but he is the seventh highest rated offensive tackle in the country. He is probably best suited for guard at the next level, but has the ability to play pretty much anywhere on the line. He is one of the most, if not the most, athletic linemen Penn State has recruited over the past few seasons. Penn State sits in great position for his commitment early on, but the word is that he is also very interested in other strong academic schools such as Stanford and Duke. Ohio State looms as a contender as well (get used to that). If Franklin is going to continue to keep the focus on "Dominate the State", Menet is a must-get for this class.
Menet isn't the only top ten offensive tackle in the country that Penn State is looking at. Jauan Williams would be a huge addition to the depth chart, but is starting to look like a long shot. He seems to be trending towards the SEC, and a school down there would be my pick if I had to choose one today. Penn State still has a lot to offer Williams, which he seems to know, but he hasn't been back to campus since last summer. In order to have any shot at Williams, Franklin will have to convince Williams to spend some time in Happy Valley sometime soon.
Terrance Davis is another DMV kid who has maintained a relationship with Penn State for a good amount of time, but has picked up a lot of interest from big name programs recently. Davis is a big guard hailing from the loaded senior class at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland. He is someone the staff would love to add to the mix, especially with Ryan Bates set to get the majority of his work at center. Terrance's crystal ball heavily favors Maryland right now.
It's not very often that recruits are known as true centers. Connor McGovern is just that, however. Despite the announcement that the aforementioned Bates will start his career as a center, Penn State should be expecting a commitment from McGovern sometime soon, possibly during Blue/White weekend. North Carolina is the other school getting the majority of his attention, but it would take quite an effort by the Tar Heel staff to pull him away from the Nittany Lions at this point. McGovern is the third ranked center in the country, and his crystal ball is currently showing 12 for 12 in favor of Penn State.
Parker Bordreaux not only represents a quality option at offensive guard, but proof that Franklin is going to keep doing everything he can to improve the Penn State reputation among Florida players and coaches. Bordreaux has far more regular conversations and contact with the Penn State coaching staff that players in the Sunshine state usually do. Bordreaux will likely visit again either in the summer or during the season, and you can bet that Penn State will pull out the red carpet for him when he does.
Will Fries, who happens to play for one of my high school's rival teams, has seen a huge uptick in his recruitment over the past two months. Since January 17th, he's picked up seven new offers and taken four unofficial visits (one of them to Penn State). Back before that visit, he told me that Penn State, Clemson, Rutgers, Boston College and Syracuse were the schools he had been hearing from most. He did tell me that he really enjoyed his visit though, and that Penn State will certainly be a contender. He also made it clear that is planning on taking his time and checking out as many opportunities as he can. So a decision from the high three star tackle will take some time, still.
Josh Ball attended Penn State's Junior Day at the end of February, and came away impressed. Sean Fitz of Lions247 has the full breakdown on that visit if you want to check it out (you should). Ball made it known that while he doesn't have a top group yet, Penn State is up there with his favorites. His crystal ball currently holds four picks- one for Penn State, one for Virginia and two for Virginia Tech. Ball lives in Fredericksburg, VA, so naturally the hometown schools will have the edge in proximity to home. He certainly has high Penn State interest, but if he makes another visit over the summer or for a game, I'll be slightly more inclined to see him as a Nittany Lion.
Lucas Niang picked up his Penn State offer in late January, and attended Penn State's Junior Day at the end of February. That visit had quite an impact on him, and the Lions sit in excellent position for the Connecticut product. Niang stands at a towers 6'6", 295 pounds and would certainly help infuse more size into the offensive linemen rotation. The three star tackle currently holds four other offers, including Virginia Tech and Rutgers.
Look for the defensive installment of this post tomorrow morning.