In the second part of our series on re-ranking James Franklin’s recruiting classes at Penn State, we take a look at his first full recruiting class. The recruiting class of 2015 which featured some of Penn State’s most popular players and overall was a great class from top to bottom that provided the program with tremendous depth.
At the time, the recruiting class featured 25 commitments, including 11 from the Keystone State. James Franklin made it a priority to “Dominate the State” and Penn State did just that in 2015. The Nittany Lions signed six of the top 10 players in the state that cycle. Those players were:
- No. 2 Saquon Barkley (Whitehall - Whitehall, PA)
- No. 3 John Reid (St. Joe’s Prep - Philadelphia, PA)
- No. 4 Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood - Warminster, PA)
- No. 5 Sterling Jenkins ( Baldwin - Pittsburgh, PA)
- No. 6 Ryan Buchholz (Great Valley - Malvern, PA)
- No. 7 Andre Robinson (Bishop McDevitt - Harrisburg, PA)
Overall, the class was ranked in 247Sports’ composite rankings as No. 14 in the country and the second best recruiting class in the Big Ten, only behind Ohio State. The original top 10 recruits in the class were:
- RB Saquon Barkley
- CB John Reid
- CB Garrett Taylor
- WR Juwan Johnson
- OT Ryan Bates
- OT Sterling Jenkins
- LB Manny Bowen
- ATH Kamonte Carter
- DE Ryan Buchholz
- OT Paris Palmer
At the time the class became official, this top 10 provided a lot of hope to Nittany Lions fans that a bright future for the program was around the corner. After all, each of these players had ratings above 0.90 and were considered top 300 talents nationally, or in Paris Palmer’s case, the best JUCO OT in the country.
Unfortunately for the program, the back half of the top 10 didn’t live up to expectations. But overall, Nittany Lions fans can’t really complain how this class turned out. You can view the full 25-player class here.
Now, without further adieu, here’s our re-ranked top 10 players of the 2015 recruiting class.
1. Saquon Barkley
Electric. Breathtaking. Fun to watch. Legend. These are just a few terms that you could use to describe Saquon Barkley. For younger Penn State fans, he’s the greatest player to ever don the Blue and White that they’ve seen. For three years, Penn State fans got to watch one of the greatest running backs in college football history as he made magical play after magical play. You simply couldn’t take your eyes off the field when he was on it because if you did, you just may miss something spectacular. What a player, what a career.
2. DE Shareef Miller
Shareef Miller has been one of Penn State’s best and most consistent player on defense during the past several season. Over three seasons and 34 games, Miller put up some terrific numbers, including 31.5 carer tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. He had great presence coming off the edge, and was always a threat to make plays in the backfield. Miller will surely be missed on the defensive line in 2019 as he moves on to the NFL.
3. OT Ryan Bates
Bates has been one of the Nittany Lion’s best offensive lineman the last few years, and possibly the most consistent. I’m not particularly strong at dissecting the play of offensive lineman so I’m not going to BS here about his style of play or his strengths. That being said, when he was on the field, it was easy to tell how important he was to Penn State’s offensive success. He ended up playing in 37 games over three seasons. He was an important cog in Penn State’s offense the last three years and it will be difficult for Matt Limegrover to replace him on the offensive line.
4. DB John Reid
If it wasn’t for a torn ACL, John Reid may be on his way to the NFL right now. However, he’ll be returning for his fourth season on the field with the Nittany Lions this fall. The Philadelphia native is coming off an up-and-down year but overall has been consistent and strong in the secondary for the Nittany Lions. He’s not flashy but he gets the job done and is always ready to break up a pass or come down with an interception.
5. OG Steven Gonzalez
Gonzo took a bit of time to crack the starting lineup, but has been a key player on the offensive line as soon as he took the field. With 37 games under his belt, Gonzalez will be looked at to be a leader on the offensive line in 2019 and could possibly look to move up this list. He was a Honorable All-Big Ten selection this past season and was an All-Big Ten team selection by Pro Football Focus in 2017.
6. DT Robert Windsor
We won’t lie, Windsor can be a frustrating player at times but damn is he good when he’s on the field. While he can sometimes have a tendency to jump offsides, his ability to clog up the middle of offensive lines is outstanding and he’s been a huge part of the Nittany Lions defensive successes the last few years. This past season, he had his best season with 38 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, and 6.5 sacks. IF he can stay on the field in 2019, he could move his way up draft boards for next April. Either way, he’s had the biggest rise of any Penn State 2015 signee as he was the lowest rated player in the class.
7. DT Kevin Givens
We’re going with back-to-back defensive tackles on the list as we now take a look at Altoona native Kevin Givens. Like Windsor, Givens played well above his recruiting ranking during his career in Happy Valley. Racking up 83 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, and 13.5 sacks in three seasons. He seemed to take a huge step forward each year in his development and became one of the Big Ten’s best defensive tackles in the process. While he probably could’ve benefited from another year with the program, he’s decided to turn pro. Given’s most impactful play with the program? The final defensive snap of the 2016 upset over Ohio State.
8. DE Ryan Buchholz
Early in his career, Buchholz was on track to be a pretty good defensive end at the college level and had a bright future in the NFL ahead of him. Unfortunately injuries derailed those chances, but Buchholz was a huge factor on defense when healthy. Despite playing in just 23 games, Buchholz was a dominating player with 34 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, and 5 sacks over his career. It’s a shame that we didn’t get to see what he could’ve been but he was a pleasure to watch during his short time on the field.
9. WR Juwan Johnson
At one point, Juwan Johnson was thought of as a potential future first round draft pick. But that’s gone by the wayside now and perhaps he’ll recapture that next season at the University of Oregon. Johnson at time was frustrating to watch but the talent was surely there. He had the size, the arms, anything you could want in a No.1 receiver, he seemed to have it. But he could never put it all together. That being said, he was still pretty good during his time, racking up 1,123 yards but just two touchdowns over his 37 career games with the program. Penn State fans though will always have this memory of Johnson to look back on fondly.
10. QB Tommy Stevens
Rounding out our top ten is the
Nittany Lion, himself. The Indiana native has yet to start a game at quarterback for the program but he has made his impact in various ways. Each of the last two years he’s been the program’s LION, a position that saw the former three-star line up at running back, tight end, and wide receiver. Sometimes it worked well, sometimes it was a disaster. But that being said, Stevens before even starting a game has 304 passing yards, 506 rushing yards, and 64 receiving yards. He also has found the back of the endzone 10 times as either a ball carrier and has thrown for four more. Now, the biggest test of his career awaits him in 2019.
These players necessarily didn’t make a big on the field impacts but in our mind’s are worth mentioning.
- WR Brandon Polk
Polk played a good amount as a true freshman, but never really had the same impact after that year despite seeing some stat increases. That being said, before transferring out of the program this offseason, Polk put together a quality career in State College with 526 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.
- OL Paris Palmer
Palmer never lived up to the expectations that came with him but there probably wasn’t a player as resilient as Palmer was during his career in Happy Valley. Despite struggles, calls for him to be benched, and injuries, Palmer always gave it his all for the program.
- OL Sterling Jenkins
Jenkins was considered one of the best offensive lineman in the country coming out of high school but never saw meaningful snaps a a Nittany Lion. However, by all accounts, Jenkins has been described as one of the best teammates anyone can ask for and the definition of a “team player.” He could’ve left a long time ago to find playing time somewhere else, but instead he kept his role on the scout team and was a tremendous teammate. Next fall he’ll be playing for Pittsburgh’s football program, the Duquesne Dukes.
An off-topic note, that’s worth noting the 2015 recruiting class out of Pennsylvania was stellar and it can be seen in the four top-10 players from the state the Nittany Lions didn’t sign. Jordan Whitehead, the composite No. 1 player in the state in 2015 had a decent career at Pittsburgh before being selected in the fourth round of last year’s NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had a 76-tackle rookie season for the Bucs. The No. 7 player, quarterback Kyle Shurmur put together a strong career at Vanderbilt as a three-year starter and will likely be at the very least on a practice squad in the NFL next season. The No. 8 player in the state was running back Josh Adams. Adams would play three seasons for Notre Dame before leaving early for the NFL, he’d go undrafted but earned his keep on the Philadelphia Eagles roster this past season. The final player to round out the top 10 was WR D.J. Moore who spent three seasons at Maryland before being a first round pick by the Carolina Panthers last April before putting together a quality rookie season this past fall. That’s not counting players like Ryan Buccholz and Nick Bowers. Buccholz had a NFL future prior to his injuries while many believe Bowers will receive a shot due to his insane athleticism. It will be hard for any recruiting class out of Pennsylvania to top that one for a long time.