Cornerback Grant Haley is one of the most exciting players on this year's Penn State squad. After following James Franklin's path from Vanderbilt to Penn State, Haley enters his sophomore season with two potential starting responsibilties and tons of upside. Haley, who ran for over 1,500 yards and scored 27 touchdowns as a running back his senior year of high school, has elite speed and instincts, making him a valuable contributor on returns. It's certainly not set in stone, but you can probably expect Haley to receive the opening kickoff on September 5 in Philadelphia, and to be part of an excellent unit that could include DeAndre Thompkins and/or Saquon Barkley.
But while his value as a return man is well-established at this point, his skill in the defensive backfield represents a far more unknown commodity, albeit a very enticing one. Haley's first start at corner came in the Pinstripe Bowl, when Penn State's secondary shut down a mostly-hapless Boston College pass attack. Before that, Haley saw time in various packages on defense, including as a nickel corner, earning himself playing time with consistent performances. Perhaps his biggest moment in his true freshman season came against Temple, when his 30-yard interception return for touchdown sealed a Penn State win and made the Nittany Lions bowl-eligible for the first time in the post-sanctions era.
That score was the first pick six by a Penn State true freshman since Paul Posluszny in 2003, and showed the whole package that makes him such an exciting prospect at corner. In the coming season, Haley is projected to start opposite senior Trevor Williams, with Jordan Lucas shifting over to play safety. The experience he gained last season will be invaluable, as he'll be one of likely four sophomores starting for Bob Shoop. Opinions on Haley range, but a soft early schedule will afford him the opportunity to get comfortable playing every passing down. He certainly has the talent to be a big-time defensive back, and if he gets his hands on a pass from the opposing QB, look for the fastest man in Blue and White to make some magic happen.
We're only 15 days away.