When you're talking about Penn State recruiting at the moment, you're talking about the mammoth 2015 class that James Franklin has already started to put together- a group of kids that already includes 10 Rivals four stars, including nationally touted prospects like QB Brandon Wimbush and OL Sterling Jenkins. It's a formidable group that will likely grow in hype as we head towards NSD, and seemingly foretells the renaissance of the Nittany Lion football program.
But before that, we had the 2014 class. Despite being bookended by two of the best recruiting coaches the B1G has seen in recent years in James Franklin and Bill O'Brien, the interval period between the two likely hurt the class a bit. However, the offensive prowess of Bill O'Brien combined with a young star QB in Christian Hackenberg created a top crust of offensive prospects that should compete with the best of the B1G.
Highlighting that group is a trio of three wide receivers that were among the best in the country. The one that has been touched on previously in this series is former Rutgers commit Saeed Blacknall. The physical New Jersey kid was pursued by many of the best WR factories in recent memory, including Clemson and Alabama. At a reported 6'3, 215, his size shouldn't prevent him from seeing the field early and often.
Someone that could be a problem for is NC WR De'Andre Thompkins, a small but speedy receiver that stuck with his commitment throughout the coaching change. However, Thompkins has a bit of a leg up in that he already enrolled for spring ball, and figures to get into the rotation early as well. Lastly, another out of stater who stuck through the coaching change was DE WR Chris Godwin. Although he seems to be the least likely of the three to play this year, his long term potential will make OC John Donovan salivate.
While a thin depth chart will push some of those guys onto the field early, it seems likely that NJ TE Mike Gesicki will simply force himself out there regardless of the depth chart. At 245 pounds, the athletic end simply looks too dangerous to keep off the field. Although Penn State already has two of those lethal threats in Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman, tossing another freshman in the mix in redzone situations can alleviate the pressure on those two — just ask Jake Butt.
(Eventually) getting all of them the ball will be Michael O'Connor, another highly touted out of stater that figures to get in the backup conversation very quickly. Having come from the IMG Academy in Florida, he's a bit ahead of the curve in his development, and should be a promising option once Hackenberg leaves, which could be as soon as the end of next (2015) season.
Although most of the talent ended up on the offensive side of the ball, that wasn't all this class is about. CA DB Koa Farmer figures to find his way into the 2-deep relatively quickly due to his combination of size and athleticism. The west coast safety seemed destined to end up at Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, or Washington until James Franklin made the switch to Happy Valley. Farmer visited shortly before NSD and committed quickly, then subsequently signed. If there was any prospect in the class who foretold the 2015 and Franklin's recruiting ability at PSU, it was Farmer.
Other defensive prospects that figure to factor in early and often are JUCO DT Tarow Barney and DE LB Trey Reeder. Barney, a kid who was lightly recruited out of high school because asthma prevented him from playing until his senior year, should provide immediate depth at a position that lost DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz in the offseason. Reeder has college ready size and smarts at position whose depth was recently hurt more by the loss of Ben Kline to an achilles injury.
In the grand scheme of things, this PSU class is likely not the one we're going to be talking about. Indeed, there's a good chance that many of them (WRs likely excluded) get passed over by some of the super-freshmen being brought in with the 2015 class. However, as far as transition recruiting classes go, this one's pretty solid. Franklin's charismatic personality not only held onto most of the top talent that O'Brien had managed to land, he also added some of his own with guys like Farmer. They may not get the same hype or attention that their successors get, but keeping solid depth and talent with these guys lessens the likelihood of PSU falling off the rocker again, just as they're climbing back to the top of the B1G. As far as recruiting victories go, this was Franklin's first big one.