How He Got Here
To say that Jordan Lucas was not a highly-regarded prospect is to place his recruitment in the most favorable light possible. A 3-star recruit in his post-graduate season in Worcester, Massachusetts, Lucas was barely on the radar of many FBS schools--let alone BCS powerhouses like Penn State. Before Penn State came along, Lucas had offers from the likes of only Old Dominion, Akron, Temple, and UMass; if it hadn't been for an unlikely offer from Bill O'Brien, Lucas would probably have been dominating the MAC these last three years. That scholarship came juuuust in time--just a week before giving Penn State his pledge, Lucas had been all set to announce he'd play for Steve Addazio at Temple.
When Jordan Lucas gave his pledge in January of 2012, he became the first verbal commitment of the O'Brien era, and his subsequent rise to stardom exemplifies O'Brien's ability to identify overlooked talent, especially in those early days of the post-Paterno era, even before the sanctions, when beating out other Big Ten teams--let alone Ohio State or Michigan--seemed an impossible task. When he committed, Lucas was considered a safety net for BOB in case blue-chipper Armani Reeves decided to go elsewhere. Now three and a half years later, it's clear that Penn State got the better of that deal. (For extra hilarity, read the comments to that post,)
O'Brien's other efforts in plucking recruits out of New England didn't work out quite as well, but landing Lucas turned out to be quite a coup as he grew into one of the Big Ten's best defensive backs. Sometimes, Plan B works out pretty darn well.
Anyway, Lucas earned his spot as one of Penn State's most indispensible players through a prolonged excellence at corner not seen at Penn State in years. D'Anton Lynn had his moments, and so too did A.J. Wallace and Justin King. But few have burst onto the scene as quickly and proved themselves as conclusively as Lucas. A special teams and depth player as a true freshman in 2012, Lucas earned a spot in the starting lineup from day one as a sophomore, and quickly proved not only that he could be a shutdown corner--leading the team, by a wide margin, in pass breakups and passes defensed, and tying for the team lead in interceptions--but also a dynamic playmaker: forcing a pair of fumbles, leading non-defensive linemen in TFL, and pacing the Lions in solo tackles.
For that, Lucas would only be named all-conference honorable mention--and found himself similarly overlooked despite a sterling 2014 that saw him especially stand out in Bob Shoop's revamped defense. But those who watched the games knew just how good Lucas was.
What To Expect in 2015
If most defensive coordinators outlined a plan to take a player who'd been a shutdown cornerback for two years running and move him to safety, fans would likely mutiny. But Bob Shoop isn't most defensive coordinators, and Jordan Lucas isn't most corners. It's Lucas who was so good at attacking the line of scrimmage as to inspire a new axiom of his own creation.
Asked Lucas how he decided to attack Pohl or stay in coverage: "I didn't want to hesitate. I didn't want to be between the fart & the poop."— Travis Johnson (@bytravisjohnson) September 6, 2014
The unorthodoxy of playing your best defensive back notwithstanding, Penn State is much deeper at corner--especially with the addition of blue-chip freshmen like John Reid and Garrett Taylor--than at safety, which lost three of its top four players when Adrian Amos, Ryan Keiser, and Jesse Della Valle graduated. And there remains the possibility that Lucas will be, in fact, even better at safety--even if he hadn't exactly been playing out of position like Amos, who made that same switch a year ago. But as we've mentioned, Lucas is just as comfortable near the line of scrimmage as he is running stride-for-stride with his man, and is as solid an open-field tackler as he is in man coverage.
Teamed with Marcus Allen, who will lay waste to any receivers who dare run crossing routes, Penn State will boast a straight-up scary defensive backfield... just as long as the reinforcements can hold down the fort at corner, and keep Lucas where he's spent all summer. If that's the case, Lucas might prove even better at safety than he's been the last two years, and that doesn't bode well for opposing quarterbacks.
How the Top 10 Players Were Selected
For those of you curious, the top ten players were selected by a staff vote. Each staff member ranked the top 10 players, with a number one vote counting as 10 points, a number two vote counting for nine points, and so on. A full list of the rankings, including those who received votes but were not included in the top 10, will be published with the reveal of Penn State’s top player on Friday, Sept. 4.
The Rest of the Top Ten to Date