Today we continue our annual top ten preseason football players of 2016 list as voted on by the BSD staff. In creating this list, we considered players’ abilities, value to the team and past performance, among other factors. We continue our countdown with number nine on our list, junior corner back Grant Haley.
How we got here:
Haley, an Atlanta native, was part of James Franklin’s first recruiting class as the Penn State head coach. A composite 3-star recruit according to 247Sports, Haley chose Penn State over a plethora of offers including SEC East powerhouses Florida and Tennessee. The 5’9, 185 pound Haley proved an asset for the Nittany Lions from day one as he appeared in all 13 games in his true freshman season. Haley burst on to the scene in 2014 with a pick-six against Temple and never looked back, earning an honorable-mention BTN.com All-Freshman Team selection due in part to his production on special teams, where he returned 32 kicks for 659 yards. Haley would earn his first start for the Nittany Lions in the Pinstripe Bowl, where he helped limit Boston College, led by dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy, to just 97 yards through the air.
The then-sophomore cemented his spot as starter in 2015, starting the final 11 games of the season after missing the first two due to injury. Often tasked with covering the opponent’s top receiver, Haley parlayed his strong performances into an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection from the media.
Haley has proven equally adept at both man and zone coverage and is considered a leader in what’s been a youthful secondary the last two seasons for James Franklin and company. He’s shown maturity beyond his years and many expect him to take the next step and become one of the top corners in the Big Ten in 2016. And so...
What to expect in 2016:
Between Haley and John Reid, Penn State will likely have two of the top boundary corners in the conference. Like Reid, Haley is aggressive in coverage and high points the ball well for a defensive back; look for him to try to improve on the two interceptions he posted in 2015. Now an upperclassman, Haley will be expected to be a leader in a secondary that will likely see just one senior starter in Malik Golden. Penn State’s relative lack of depth on defense will mean the Nittany Lions will want to get off the field quickly whenever possible. This means Brent Pry’s group will have to improve their 22 turnovers forced last year, which was good enough for just 43rd in the country. Haley will be key cog in improving that number as he leads a young, ball hawking secondary. If Haley continues to show the rate of the improvement he did between his freshman and sophomore season, I see no reason why we can’t be talking about him as a first or second team All-Big Ten selection at the end of the season.
Check out some of the plays that made Haley an honorable mention All-B1G selection:
(Video via YouTube and GoPSUTV)