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Penn State's Biggest Recruiting Hits and Misses of the Past Decade

You can't win 'em all. Even with relatively decent success in recruiting over the past decade, some top end recruits won't pan out. Luckily, there are also some unheralded commits that turn into stars.

Hit or miss? You decide.
Hit or miss? You decide.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Being a firm believer in #STARZ, when Jared asked me to write something for the BSD Anniversary series I immediately thought of what recruiting article I could come up with. Having spent the past ten years arguing with many of you over the relative merits of the future Nittany Lions each year, a Hits/Misses piece seemed appropriate.

First, the disclaimer. The recruiting classes used was kind of a fluid analysis; during the life of BSD (2006-2016), there have obviously been 11 recruiting classes. But there have also been players during that time that were part of earlier recruiting classes, and some of the more recent players just don't have enough time in the system to be labeled a Hit, Miss, or otherwise.

Second, Hit or Miss is almost entirely subjective. My rationale for inclusion below was a player that played well above or below his projection based on recruiting rankings. Thus, it's possible for a five-star player to be labeled a bust, even if he started for three years and led the team out of crippling sanctions and into three bowl games.

I didn't go through all 200+ players that have signed Letters of Intent with Penn State, so I'm sure you'll be able to identify some additional Hits and Misses than those players listed below. But these are the ones that stood out to me as the biggest Hits and Misses of the BSD Era.




Paul Posluszny, Sean Lee, and Navorro Bowman were all three-star recruits. Aaron Maybin and Carl Nassib were defensive ends in college, but turned (or will likely turn) into linebackers in the pros, and were a three-star and no-star recruit, respectively. And they all played out of their minds for Penn State. For a time in the mid-00s, it seemed that the linebacking crew had a new leader every year. Poz set the bar high, Dan Connor (a five-star recruit that played like one) came a year later, Lee another year after that, and then Bowman and Maybin showed up. But no, Ohio State or UCLA is Linebacker U.


DC17 to those of us who knew him best, Clark was a three-star (barely) recruit out of Ohio in the Class of 2004. A year of prep and a redshirt season later, Clark played sparingly as backup to Anthony Morelli for two years before being named starter for the 2008 season, beating out Top-100 recruit Pat Devlin. Many people questioned the decision by Joe Paterno to pick the unknown Clark over the highly touted Devlin, but Clark would silence those doubters rather emphatically. Over two years as starter, Clark went 22-4 (1-1 in bowl games) and set a number of PSU passing records. He was a born leader, whose energy and competitiveness led the way for the Spread HD offense. Clark bounced around NFL and CFL teams, and most recently was seen as a member of the Myrtle Beach indoor football semi-pro team. Yea, you read that correctly.


Robinson was the bridesmaid in the recruiting marriage between Top-100 recruit Rob Bolden and Penn State, but the roles would reverse between the two St. Mary's (MI) recruits. Robinson was a three-star commit who saw minimal time as a true freshman in 2011, but over the next two years he would, like Clark, go on to set a number of PSU records under the Bill O'Brien offense. With two gunslingers throwing bombs over those two years, Robinson was able to make electrifying catch after catch. A second round pick by the Jaguars, Robinson was most recently seen with an ADP between 2.1 and 2.3, depending on your league format. For those of you who didn't understand that last sentence, it means that Robinson is a very good American football player.


Austin Johnson, Jordan Lucas, Grant Haley




In the recruiting Class of 1995, Penn State signed an offensive lineman that one analyst labeled the "biggest sleeper in the northeast." Ever since then, the recruitment of offensive linemen has been a roller coaster ride, with seemingly more lows than highs. Rather than expand on each of the misses over the past ten years, here is a list of just some of the four- or five-star OL recruits at Penn State. Enjoy!

  • J. B. Walton (0.9529)
  • Antonio Logan-El (0.9462)
  • Eric Shrive (0.9771)
  • Thomas Ricketts (0.9012)


Similarly, Penn State's track record with high profile quarterback recruits in the past decade hasn't been the greatest. Anthony Morelli, Pat Devlin, Kevin Newsome, Rob Bolden, Paul Jones, and Christian Hackenberg - some of these players had some success on the field, but not a single one of them played up to the hype (if they played at all, at quarterback at least). Morelli and Hackenberg saw the most action, but both came in as Top-15 recruits nationally, and neither had the level of success that would be expected of that level of blue chip quarterback.


The highest rated commit to ever sign with Penn State (since recruiting services began tracking players), Williams was the spark that got Penn State out of the Dark Ages. The successful recruitment of a Top-5 player in the country was just what PSU needed to get out of one of the worst football stretch in some time (the fact that it overlapped with my time at PSU may have some effect on my disdain for that era of Penn State football). At first, Williams seemed to live up to the hype, putting up some pretty spectacular numbers in his freshman campaign. But a broken arm against Michigan seemed to trigger a downward trajectory on the field for Williams. He didn't eclipse four receiving touchdowns in any year after 2005, and didn't end up with the career one would have expected of that level of recruit.


A. J. Wallace, Chris Bell, Mike Yancich, Brandon Beachum, Darrell Givens, Jamil Pollard