In case you're living under a rock, Penn State brought in a host of fantastic new talent in the recruiting class of 2016 on National Signing Day in early February. There are a ton of names to be very excited for, but everyone has a personal favorite. The Black Shoe Diaries staff decided to weigh in on their personal favorites.
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Matt- Miles Sanders
Not only is Miles a great player, the best running back in the 2016 class, but the signal sent with his commitment in 2014, and signing just last week, is huge for the program. Everyone knows the talk that surrounded the kid they call "Boobie" since he committed in July of 2014, with persistent rumors of his certain flip to Pitt, or later to Michigan State. But James Franklin, Charles Huff, and the rest of the offensive coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for keeping him in the fold, and Miles deserves a ton of credit for sticking with the Nittany Lions as well.
On the field, it doesn't take much to see that Sanders is a special back, and a player that figures to have an immediate, and significant impact on the field this fall. Off the field, Sanders is a key player in a crucial 2017 recruiting class for Penn State, a year that sees the deepest class out of Western Pennsylvania in years. An elite local kid doing big things in Beaver Stadium figures to have a big impact on several big PSU targets going forward.
Jared- Michal Menet
After two seasons of pounding our heads against the wall watching an offensive line that simply could not function in the most basic capacities, it doesn't take much to get excited about the much-needed addition of Menet to the roster. Menet is a top 100 player nationally, and among the very best interior linemen in his class. A quick study of his tape shows that he has tremendous technique and tenacity, something that has sorely been missing on the offensive line recently. Some expect him to contribute in 2016, although at his current listing of 273 pounds it could make sense to have him take a redshirt to prepare slide into a starting spot in 2017. Either way, I'll have visions of a Menet close-up in a CFB Playoff game down the road that has one of those ridiculous "38th career start, two sacks allowed" text boxes as the leader of a savvy, veteran group of linemen that is a necessity to reach the lofty heights we aspire to reach once again.
Dan -Will Fries
Sanders and Menet are too obvious for me, so allow me to be subversive and talk about my favorite under-the-radar offensive recruit. Penn State has a lot of offensive line help on the way, especially on the interior of the line with guys like Menet, McGovern, Bates, and Gonzalez. But Fries represents the one true, bona fide tackle prospect in this freshman class, and I think he's going to be a good one. He's already 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds as a high school senior, and I think his talent has been sold short by the recruiting services. *extremely dad voice* Would you like Fries with that? As a matter of fact, I would.
Chris -Dae'lun Darien
The tall receiver from Baltimore could develop into an interesting player. Darien did not have many offers from major programs, but Franklin and Co. were able to flip him from his commitment to the Temple Owls. It may be a couple of years before he makes a major impact on the field, but his upside is tremendous. While his skills are not refined at this point, a redshirt season followed by another year without much pressure to contribute could allow Darien to grow into his big athletic body.
Tim A- Miles Sanders
I know he is an obvious choice, but the importance of him becoming the first verbal commitment of the 2016 class in July 2014 and sticking with that commitment over the next year-and-a-half while watching his future college team ride the offensive struggle bus, having Pat Narduzzi/Wannabe WPIAL insiders with an unhealthy obsession for teenaged athletes constantly in his ear, and Michigan State threatening to pull an 11th hour flip cannot be overstated. Not only will he provide another explosive, powerful, running back to compliment Saquon Barkley (I am already salivating at the thought of Joe Moorhead's offense having the two of them lined up in the same backfield), but he can also serve as a recruiting tool for Penn State as they try to pry some top players from what will be a loaded group of 2017 kids hailing from the 412.
Noel- Alex Barbir
Writing his NSD post led me to watching a lot of kicking highlights at about 4AM. Now, usually that would be considered a torture technique, but instead it was enthralling. After a year of abysmal kickoffs and field goal units, Barbir is going to right the ship immediately. He came to Penn State trolling Quinn Nordin for being, well, pick your own adjective, and will make everyone forget about the latter in no time. His kickoffs consistently sail 70+ yards, and he produces touchbacks with incredible ease. He has leg for days, kicking a 56 yarder in his junior year and just generally pummeling anything within 40 as though he were pissed off at it. He'll be enjoyable to watch, and kicking is winning. Watch some tape and see how much height and distance he gets on his kicks. He might just make a dent in Nordin's plane.
Bill- Miles Sanders
Watching Miles Sanders' highlight tape gives me the warm and fuzzies in a way that no highlight tape has ever given me the warm and fuzzies before. People just can't tackle him or catch up to him, it's incredible. He is already this insane mix of speed, strength, and agility, and it's scary to think what he'll do once he's in a college strength and conditioning program. Sanders is absolutely going to get the Saquon Barkley treatment (to an extent) in 2016: he'll start down on the depth chart because he's a freshman, but he'll be so good that he's going to start earning a ton of carries. Odds are Sanders won't win the starting job over Barkley, but he can absolutely be the lightning to Barkley's thunder. Or something like that. Tuddies.
Eli- Blake Gillikin
There are more talented people on the offensive side of the ball (Sanders, Menet, McGovern), but none of them will make as immediate of an impact as Gillikin will. No disrespect meant to our current punters, but it's been two years of average-at-best results from that unit. And, unlike the offensive line, Gillikin won't need at least two years to fully get acclimated to the college game. Expect, to see a competition for punting duties this offseason, a competition Gillikin will most likely win.
Recruiting starz debates rely upon aggregates. Then as soon as a class is signed, everyone writes about individuals. An offense is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, and fights as a team. This individual hero stuff is a bunch of horse dung. The bilious bastards who write that stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don't know any more about real offense than they do about fornicating. And we have the best team — we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit and the best men in the world. Why, by God, I actually pity these poor bastards we're going up against.
Cari- Alex Barbir
Alex Barbir may be our lowest rated offensive recruit, but he's arguably the most important. He's the one most guaranteed to start from the beginning of the season, and in a position of greatest need for the Nittany Lions immediately. Plus he took to twitter to make fun of sleepover king Quinn Nordin before the now-Wolverine had even officially decommitted from the Penn State 2016 class. His tape ain't too bad either.
Nick- Connor McGovern
In the spirit of continuing to give a different answer every time I'm asked this question, this time I'll go with Connor McGovern. While not the highest-rated lineman in the class, thanks to Michal Menet, McGovern is talked about with just as high of praise. As one of the top centers in the country, he very well might represent the future of Penn State's interior offensive line for the next three-to-four seasons. The coaching staff has allegedly already told him that he will not redshirt, which says to me he'll get a chance to play right away.
Centers are the lynchpins of great offensive lines. Left tackles are usually the most talented players on the line, and the ones who garner top-ten NFL draft pick selections, but an offensive line is nothing without a great center. McGovern might have the ability to start building his reputation in the middle of the Penn State offense as soon as this season. Will there be growing pains? Absolutely. But this staff has held back putting seemingly more talented linemen in due to experience deficiencies before, which tells you how highly they must think of Connor. This tells me that we could very well be looking at the next Stefan Wisniewski. Oh, and he went to every single Penn State home game in 2015. That's awesome.