James Franklin and company are hitting the final stretch of the recruiting season, as they put the finishing touches on the 2017 class. Let’s take a look position-by-position at what’s left for the Nittany Lions.
Before getting started, let’s talk about how many spots are left in the 2017 class. Simply put, not a lot. With 16 commitments, Penn State is currently slated to have 85 players on scholarship (that’s including former walk-on Brandon Smith), meaning it is already right at the cap. Of course, there will be attrition of some sort, so let’s assume Penn State has about three more spots available.
Nothing new here, as has been the case since July 2015. Sean Clifford will be Penn State’s lone quarterback in the class.
Targets: D’Andre Swift, Anthony McFarland JR, and Jonathan Lovett
All of Penn State’s running backs — Saquon Barkley, Andre Robinson, Miles Sanders, and Mark Allen — will return for the 2017 season, so having a running back in this class wasn’t a necessity. But the Nittany Lions won’t turn an elite talent away, which is exactly what D’Andre Swift is. The Philadelphia running back has been committed to Georgia since early September, but one would think that Penn State’s breakout season could have Swift reconsidering. After winning a state title, Swift said in an interview with PennLive that he’ll be visiting Georgia, Clemson, and Penn State. Add in that his cousin and fellow Georgia commit WR Mark Webb is also scheduled to visit Penn State, and there’s some positive momentum in the Nittany Lions’ corner.
Besides for Swift, Penn State hosted DeMatha Catholic RB Anthony McFarland JR for an official visit during the season, but the Maryland all-purpose back seems destined for Miami. And lastly, the Nittany Lions offered one-time Rutgers commit Jonathan Lovett earlier in the season, but with the numbers being so tight, it’s doubtful that he still has a spot.
Targets: Mark Webb, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Harris, Danny Davis, and DJ Edwards
With Penn State already having three wide receivers committed, I’d imagine the Nittany Lions would only take a fourth one if it was a player too talented to turn away. So I think the only truly realistic target here is PA WR Mark Webb. Like I talked about above, Webb is scheduled to take an official visit to Penn State sometime after the new year, so we’ll see what happens there.
Other than Webb, I don’t think Penn State would take another receiver. Henry Ruggs is super talented, but it doesn’t look like he’ll visit. Jaylen Harris seems to be waiting on Ohio State. And Danny Davis and DJ Edwards are probably too far down the board to be takes at this point.
Penn State was in pursuit of Ohio TE Matt Dotson, but once he committed to Michigan State, there wasn’t really much of a backup plan in place. Instead, the Nittany Lions will take two tight ends in 2018 — Zack Kuntz and Pat Freirmuth.
The Nittany Lions tried to flip PA-turned-FL OT Robert Hainsey, but he stuck with the Irish and is set to enroll at Notre Dame in the coming weeks. Can’t foresee Penn State taking any other offensive linemen.
Targets: Elijah Conliffe, Dalyn Wade-Perry, Corey Bolds, Cam Spence, and Tommy Christ
Now that the Nittany Lions are on the board with a defensive tackle, they can be selective with who they take here. Because of that, I don’t think Corey Bolds, Cam Spence, or Tommy Christ are takes at this time, thus leaving Penn State with two options: Elijah Conliffe and Dalyn Wade-Perry.
Conliffe has been Sean Spencer’s top defensive tackle prospect throughout the process, but Conliffe continues to trend south to Alabama. As long as he’s a take for the Crimson Tide, it’s hard to imagine him anywhere else. If Alabama were to turn Conliffe away, then perhaps Penn State would have a better chance. But even then, Miami and Louisville are right there with the Nittany Lions.
As for Wade-Perry, his recruitment is similar to Conliffe’s. The New Jersey DT is waiting on Stanford, and as long as he’s admitted there, he’s probably going to end up in Palo Alto. Outside of Stanford (visiting January 13), Wade-Perry has taken visits to Florida State and UCLA, and has an official set up to visit Happy Valley on January 20.
Targets: Josh Kaindoh and Olalere Oladipo
Let’s start with Olalere Oladipo. Despite being committed to Illinois, Oladipo made an official visit to Penn State for the Ohio State game. He seems pretty set on Lovie Smith and the Illini, so I don’t expect much to change.
Now, let’s talk about Josh Kaindoh. After taking his official visit to Penn State for the Michigan State game, all things looked good for the IMG DE. One of the main reasons he committed to Maryland was because he wanted to be close to home, so the Nittany Lions made sense there. Penn State seemed like the likely choice for Kaindoh, but in the last couple weeks, Florida State has looked to have pulled ahead.
There’s still three weeks before Kaindoh makes his announcement on January 1, and with Kaindoh leaving IMG to comeback to Maryland for the holidays, there’s a definite chance he sways back to Penn State. But, as of now, it looks like the Seminoles will be the choice.
Targets: Nathan Proctor, Adonis Thomas, and Jordan Anthony
Linebacker will be one of the more interesting situations to follow down the stretch. Although the Nittany Lions have three linebackers currently committed — Brailyn Franklin, Dylan Rivers, and Brelin Faison-Walden — the latter two aren’t fully committed. Faison-Walden (who’s enrolling early) has taken multiple visits this season, seeing games at Michigan, Virginia Tech, and Georgia, while Rivers is fresh off an official visit to Virginia Tech.
That being said, I don’t expect either to flip. Michigan was the biggest threat for Faison-Walden, and Penn State seems to have weathered that storm. As for Rivers, Virginia Tech is a legitimate threat, but there’s a reason Rivers has been committed to the Nittany Lions for well over a year now.
Outside of the commitments, the only other realistic target is Nathan Proctor, who’s much more of a LB/DE hybrid than a pure LB. Regardless, Proctor will be visiting Penn State on January 20, giving the Nittany Lions the second-to-last visit for the four-star prospect.
Targets: Tariq Castro-Fields
Castro-Fields could play corner or safety, but because of Penn State’s prospects at corner, we’ll put him at safety. Regardless of his position, the Nittany Lions — along with Maryland and Alabama — are right in the thick of things for the Maryland defensive back. He was supposed to visit Happy Valley the weekend of the Big Ten Championship, but obviously had to reschedule. He should be back on campus after the new year, and then should have a decision shortly after.
Targets: Lamont Wade and Donovan Johnson
Donovan Johnson just wrapped up his official visit to Penn State, and appears to be a strong lean to the Nittany Lions. He’s done taking visits, so I wouldn’t expect him to drag out the process too much longer.
The big fish here is obviously Lamont Wade, who will be announcing on Saturday December 17. As has been the case for about six months now, this is a Penn State-Pitt battle. The Nittany Lions have had some bad luck with WPIAL cornerbacks in recent years — Jordan Whitehead and Damar Hamlin come to mind — but the coaching staff (especially Terry Smith) has done a great with Wade. I think Penn State will be the pick.