Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Fearless forecast for Penn State's exceptional 2012 recruiting class

Unpredictable variables make it fruitless projecting which PSU recruits will succeed, but we'll take a stab anyway based on their video highlights - though this 2012 class is exceptional regardless of how it performs on the field for the Lions

At the bottom of this post is what this blog has ascertained, just from the video available on, about the 19 PSU football signees last week.

The recruiting experts say this is an ordinary Big Ten recruiting class and below typical Penn State standards, ranked somewhere between 39-50th nationally.

The blame for that of course is the Sandusky scandal and perhaps also the long delay - nearly two months - in naming Joe Paterno's replacement, Bill O'Brien. Also, O'Brien was only nominally involved in recruiting as he finished the season with the New England Patriots.

But this class is extraordinary and unique in one regard: They are all heading to Penn State when many others discarded PSU after the scandal. And for that - as well as for being new head coach O'Brien's first-ever recruits -  this might be the most welcome group of athletes in Penn State history. 

Back in 1989, Kentucky basketball - a tradition-laden college athletic program if there ever was - was hammered by NCAA sanctions. Players fled in droves. Four relatively unspectacular players who stayed formed the core of a decimated program and helped lead the Wildcats back to prominence.

As seniors in the spring of 1992 those four - Sean Woods, John Pelphrey, Deron Fedlhaus and Richie Farmer - led Kentucky to the Elite Eight, where it lost the epic 104-103 OT game to top-ranked, defending national champion Duke on Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater. 

After the season, Kentucky retired all four players' jerseys. They are known as "The Unforgettables" in Wildcats lore.

Unlike Kentucky basketball in 1989, players haven't fled Penn State. In fact, incredibly, no one has transferred since the scandal. Which is an amazing testament to the school, the former coaching staff and the new coaches. All of the players have been willing to give O'Brien and his staff a chance, and all have decided to stay at PSU in the aftermath of the scandal, at least in the short term. (How many in the national media would have predicted that? How many have even noticed?)

But many previously committed recruits fled. Others shunned PSU. The Sandusky scandal, and the unprecedented, massive negative media assault on PSU (which is ongoing) cost Penn State a slew of elite recruits.

These 19 said yes at the most difficult time in the school's history.

Penn State has a long way to go to emerge from the darkness and shame of the scandal. Yet this group of players - who all had many other scholarship offers - are willing to come in and be a part of that process.

As long as they keep their nose clean and play hard, they will always be special for that reason.

But how do these guys look on the field? 

Highlight clips are, well, highlight clips - they're designed to make the subject look good. They show his best moments.

There's much more to projecting success from high school to college that can't be viewed on video:
  • How much more can a recruit develop physically?
  • How determined and dedicated is he to succeed in football? Does he have the superior toughness necessary to be a college football player?
  • How lucky or unlucky will he be with injuries (which is a huge factor)?
  • How does he take to coaching? To the increased commitment, responsibility, adversity and pressure? Does he stay out of trouble off the field and keep his grades up? 
  • How does he deal with no longer being the best player on the team, of being just one of 100, of having to grind up the depth chart? How is the quality depth at his position?

Exhibit A in mistaken projections: Who would have guessed that modestly recruited Adrian Amos would be the only PSU true freshman to make a significant impact in 2011?

Of the 16 players signed last spring by the Lions, rated only three lower Amos, and one was a kicker.

Highly rated 2011 recruits such as Deion Barnes, Anthony Zettel, Donovan Smith and Angelo Mangiro all might turn out to be very good players, as could some others, but Amos was physically and mentally ready this past fall when veteran CBs D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris went down with injuries, and he also returned kickoffs. DEs Barnes and Zettel, and OLs Smith and Mangiro, meanwhile, all redshirted.

How much can be projected watching video? It depends. Sometimes athletic ability and football instincts are immediately apparent. In other cases, the brief video highlights on recruiting websites are less useful than watching, say, one college practice.

Video can be as deceiving as enlightening. How good is the opponent? How good is the video - the quality, the angle, the number of telling plays it shows? What does it not show? How many dropped passes, missed assignments, fumbles, errant throws and holding calls have been edited out?

So, we tread lightly. Sometimes, you can't even trust a propsect's listed height/weight, especially height, which commonly is exaggerated by an inch or more.


1. Probably will be a starter one or more years for PSU:
(position, name, size, hometown as per
  • WR Eugene Lewis (6-2, 181), Plymouth, Pa. - Complete receiver, smooth runner, seems good at everything, great at nothing, looks like a poor man's O.J. McDuffie. Catches ball with hands, can go up and get it, adjusts to the ball, knifes through traffic. Might be the best guy in the class right now. PSU comparison: Freddie Scott, Bryant Johnson.
  • ATH Malik Golden (6-1, 185), Cheshire, Ct. - Runs well, accelerates quickly, smooth in open field, seems to have somewhat polished receiving skills (though he has played multiple positions), good body control. On defense, hard to say if he'd be a safety or corner, most highlights were on offense. PSU comparison: Chafie Fields, Chaz Powell.
  • DE Evan Schwan (6-6, 235) Harrisburg, Pa. - Might have been the last scholarship the staff offered, but apparently so were Drew Astorino, John Urschel (who will start next year on OL) and Brad Bars, who has become a nice special teams player. Schwan racked up big plays in the backfield and showed a burst to the ball. Intriguing prospect though he needs to bulk up. PSU comparison: Pete Massaro, Kyle Baublitz.
  • DT Jamil Pollard (6-5, 280), Westville, N.J. - A good-sized load who showed pretty good instincts and competitiveness at both DE/DT and OT. Played both tackle spots on offense and a lot of DE in a 3-4 alignment. He'll be a starter somewhere on either line in a few years if he keeps his grades up. PSU reportedly pulled his scholarship offer for awhile to due subpar academics, and then re-offered in December, when Pollard became the first player to commit to Penn State after the Sandusky scandal despite having many big-time offers. PSU comparison: Jay Alford, Charles Rush.
  • TE Brent Wilkerson (6-4, 245), Hyattsville, Md. - He seems to have a good size/speed/athleticism/football instincts combination and at some point is destined to crack the lineup at TE, DE, or possibly FB. Committed very early/well before the scandal, and Nebraska among others pursued him hard after. PSU comparison: Andrew Quarless, Matt Rice.
  • TE Jesse James (6-7, 248), McKeesport, Pa. - James is really big/tall like current PSU TE Garry Gilliam but seems like a little bit better all-around athlete; possibly better ball skills and run-after-catch ability than Gilliam has shown. Immediate contender for the all-time name team. Already enrolled at PSU, the lone early enrollee in this class. Could get a look at DE. PSU comparison: Brett Brackett, Garry Gilliam.
  • QB Steven Bench (6-3, 206), Cairo, Ga. - Ran a lot of triple option in his highlight video, looks tough, fairly athletic and competitive - seemed to enjoy colliding with defenders downfield like he was Tim Tebow. More importantly, his release, arm strength and size all seem BCS-level. Accuracy is harder to gauge because highlight clips, of course, only show accurate passes. But if he's starting and producing at some point in his PSU career it won't be surprising. Since only one QB can play at a time (usually), it's possible some combination of Paul Jones/Matt McGloin/Rob Bolden plays in front of him through 2014, and then someone comes up from behind to compete with him. PSU comparison: Darryl Clark, Zack Mills.
  • RB Akeel Lynch (6-0, 205), Athol Springs, N.Y. - Will be a decent backup option to Silas Redd the next two years, could start the two years after that if things break his way and he continues developing. Not likely to redshirt with the lack of depth at RB and Brandon Beachum not expected back. Good but nothing special athletically, but has very good running instincts, like a true tailback and a slightly lighter Redd (like many, Lynch looks a tad smaller than his list height/weight). Former Boston College commitment. PSU comparison: Kenny Watson, Cordell Mitchell.
  • OL Brian Gaia (6-5, 285), Baltimore, Md. - Looks like a quintessential PSU O-Lineman, solid and unspectacular, in the mold of virtually everyone the past 15 years except Levi Brown and Kareem McKenzie. Will need some time and seasoning, but should eventually be a starter, probably at guard, possibly tackle. Also could get a look as a space clogger at DT. PSU comparison: Quinn Barham, Chima Okoli, DeOn'tae Pannell, Mike Farrell ... 

2. Could not find video
(position, name, size, hometown)
  • DT Austin Johnson (6-4, 276), Richland, N.J. - His offer during the summer caught some by surprise. Though he was a relatively off-the-radar recruit, BCS schools Boston College and Syracuse reportedly offered him a scholarship, and Georgia Tech made a hard push after the scandal broke. And despite his girth, Johnson apparently is a very good basketball player.
  • OL Anthony Stanko (6-5, 302), Warren, Ohio - Northwestern and Stanford were two of his three other BCS-school scholarship offers. Committed early (last March), otherwise might have garnered many more offers. Obviously has the requisite size, likely will be competing with Gaia and possibly Pollard and Laurent on the offensive line. Stanko committed to PSU before the scandal and never seemed to seriously waver afterward.

3. Very limited video:
(position, name, size, hometown)
  • DB DaQuan Davis (5-11, 172), Towson, Md. - Late commitment to Bill O'Brien's staff. Video viewed from one game (Davis' Calvert Hall squad against Brent Wilkerson and DeMatha), and the highlights didn't focus on Davis. Nonetheless, late in the game Davis intercepted a tipped pass, weaved through a wave of would-be tacklers and took it to the house, showing legitimate quickness and instincts. Seems shorter than listed size, likely to play cornerback. Originally a West Virginia commit.

4. Some work to do to crack the lineup:
(position, name, size, hometown)
  • DT Derek Dowrey (6-3, 279), Winchester, Va. - A brief video of Dowrey engaged one-on-one blocking drills sans pads was negligible, but an extended highlight video was grainy yet useful. Dowrey lined up at NT usually and appeared light on his feet, aggressive and flowed well down the line and to the ball. However, size-wise he seems like a 'tweener - possibly too small for DT, not fleet enough for DE. PSU comparison: Ollie Ogbu, Evan Hailes.
  • LB Nyeem Wartman (6-3, 220), Archbald, Pa. - Really knows how to finish off a tackle when he gets there, he just seems to take an extra moment to make a diagnosis and commit to attack. Could be a special teams factor for a few years while learning the intricacies of PSU LB play under Ron Vanderlinden. PSU comparison: LaMar Stewart, Chris Colasanti.
  • DB Jordan Lucas (6-1, 195), Worcester, Ma. - Lucas and Williams (below) seem very similar in size and athleticism, though it appears Lucas will try defense first and Williams will try receiver. Both were late commitments to O'Brien's staff. If Lucas grasps the coverage schemes quickly, a lack of depth at safety could get make him one of very few true freshman to crack the two-deep roster this fall. PSU comparison: Askari Adams, Chris Harrell.
  • WR Trevor Williams (6-2, 190), Towson, Md. - Like his teammate Davis, was a West Virginia commit and seems shorter on video than listed size. That said, his former prep teammate at Calvert Hall, Adrian Amos, was listed at 6-1, 198 last year, and now is listed by PSU as 6-0, 205. Williams seems to have somewhat of a playmaking knack and good instincts with the ball, though he isn't overwhelming athletically. PSU comparison: Justin Williams, Graham Zug.
  • DT Wendy Laurent (6-4, 285), Princeton, N.J. - Late commitment, is a very instinctive and opportunistic player, as a few of his highlight clips show him resourcefully forcing turnovers. However, Laurent is another player who doesn't appear as big on film as he's listed. Though listed by as a DT, like Dowrey he might be a bit of a DT/DE 'tweener, or could play interior OL, as some other websites believe. Nimble, if not necessarily as explosive as Pollard, Dowrey and Schwan. Should benefit from a few years of college level strength and conditioning. PSU comparison: James Terry, John Urschel. 
  • WR Jonathan Warner (6-2, 200), Camas, Wa. - Wasn't considered much of a FBS prospect until his senior season, but put up good numbers in 2011, has good size and decent downfield receiving skills. Received a late scholarship offer from PSU. Still seems to be filling into his body, but obviously he has good genes - dad is Lions legend Curt Warner. PSU comparison: Terrell Golden, Ryan Scott.
  • ATH Jake Kiley (6-2, 175), New Hampton, N.H. - Difficult to assess since much of his highlight video showed him playing QB and he will be a DB or possibly WR at PSU, and because the level of competition obviously was substandard. Nevertheless, there was a lot of video to evaluate on Kiley and it appears he needs at least a year of strength and conditioning to get to a Big Ten level athletically. Was pursued by UConn after the scandal but only visited Happy Valley. PSU comparison: Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Cedric Jeffries.

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