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Early NSD 2023: Penn State Recruiting Class Superlatives

National Signing Day Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

All but one member of Penn State’s 2023 recruiting class — Florida’s Conrad Hussey — signed today. As the Nittany Lions await Hussey’s decision, let’s go through the rest of the class and assign our yearly class superlatives.

Best Overall: OL J’ven Williams

We’ll get into our own personal opinions in the “Meet The Class” series in the next few weeks, but the consensus from the industry is clear: J’ven Williams is the best player in Penn State’s class. Both On3 and 247 have Williams as a five-star prospect, while Rivals and ESPN have Williams in their respective Top 100 rankings.

Highest Upside: LB Tony Rojas

There really could be an argument made for a number of players here. Even some of the lower-ranked prospects like OL Anthony Donkoh and DE Joseph Mupoyi don’t lack All-Big Ten upside. But Tony Rojas feels like the answer that makes the most sense just given he’s someone who was extremely productive in high school, has elite athletic numbers, and yet — at 200-ish pounds — is still far physically from what he will become in 2024 and beyond.

Instant Impact (Offense): TE Andrew Rappleyea

This was a tough one because I don’t think there’s a glaring spot offensively that needs an immediate impact player other than maybe wide receiver. And while I like Carmelo Taylor, he doesn’t project as someone who is a plug-and-play guy from day one. So let’s go with the most polished prospect: Andrew Rappleya. Yes, tight end is pretty well set with Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson, Tyler Warren, Khalil Dinkins, and Jerry Cross. But if Strange declares for the draft, there’s a world where Rappleyea — who is enrolling early — is just too good to keep off the field in 2023.

Instant Impact (Defense): CB Elliot Washington

This too was a tough one, but really for the opposite reason — I think quite a few of these guys will have the opportunity to play early. Penn State needs some immediate depth pieces at linebacker and cornerback so all of those guys are in the running, but I like Elliot Washington here. He’s a multi-year starter at a very good Florida high school (Venice), he’s already pretty along physically, and he’s enrolling early. On the “player right away” checklist, that’s a check, check, aaaaaaaaaand check.

Most Underrated: LB Ta’Mere Robinson

Ta’Mere Robinson started the recruiting process off with a 247Sports Composite rating of 97.23 as a sophomore, and had the makings of the type of prospect that could push for five-star territory. Unfortunately for Robinson, he ended up tearing his ACL and MCL in October of his junior season, and due to not playing since, has dropped steadily (now 91.11) over that time. While I understand why the recruiting services did that, I just find it hard to believe there are 250 better prospects than Robinson.

Most Versatile: ATH Mathias Barnwell

“What is Mathias Barnwell?” has been the question for most of this cycle. Tight end? Offensive tackle? Offensive guard? Defensive end? Defensive tackle? The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Barnwell could end up at a bunch of different spots depending upon where Penn State needs him, and where his body takes him after a year or two in the strength program.

Longest (Continuous) Member: OL Alex Birchmeier

Speaking of Barnwell, he was commitment No. 1 in the 2023 class but ended up decommitting for a brief period of time before jumping back on board during his junior season. While he was decommitted though, Alex Birchmeier made the call for the Nittany Lions and hasn’t wavered in his commitment July 15, 2021.

Class Leader: DB King Mack

This is one that could have went to a couple different guys, but we’ll go with Florida’s King Mack here. On NSD when Mack’s Letter of Intent came through, James Franklin said he expected Mack to be a future captain with the program.

Fastest: Cameron Wallace and Carmelo Taylor

Ties are like kissing your sister, but both these guys are fast-fast so we’re giving them both the honor. Carmelo Taylor has a reported 10.59 100M time, while Cameron Wallace comes in at 10.56; both are safely in the sub-4.4 category.

Biggest Recruiting Win: OL J’ven Williams

When Pennsylvania has a five-star prospect, Penn State needs to land them. It’s really as simple as that. As James Franklin says: the best in PA, stay in PA.

Most Surprising Recruiting Win: LB Kaveion Keys

The non-stop flirting between Penn State and Kaveion Keys for months on end seemed like it wasn’t going to work out as the early signing period inched closer. Keys, despite taking visits, continued to remain committed to North Carolina, and it was becoming likelier and likelier that he would end up in Chapel Hill. Instead, Penn State was able to pull off a shocker of sorts, getting Keys to renege on his UNC verbal and head to State College for school instead.

Biggest Recruiting Loss: DE Tomarrion Parker

Top 100 defensive end prospects are hard to come by so gaining Tomarrion Parker’s commitment back in June to only see him decommit a few weeks later was a big blow to the recruiting class. As we mentioned when Parker committed, he maybe lacked some traits that would push him into five-star territory, but was a polished, ready-made Top 100 defensive end that really would have boosted the defensive end room in Happy Valley.

Most Surprising Recruiting Loss: OL Evan Link

You know, Penn State really didn’t have one “WTF” recruitment like it’s had with Julian Fleming or Nolan Rucci in the past so this one could have went a couple different ways. We’ll go with Evan Link here just because while he might not have ever been considered a lock to Penn State, I think the general consensus was that he’d eventually make his way to Happy Valley. Instead, Link ended up at Michigan, where I’m sure he’ll become a three-year starter.