Penn State recruiting primer: 'Solid' isn't up to snuff for Franklin, Nittany Lions
Penn State and James Franklin have faced tremendous uncertainty this season. Between constant injuries, player opt-outs and a changing Big Ten schedule, it’s all Franklin can do to add a little routine to his day. Throw in Early Signing Period opening on Wednesday, and it’s just another thing to add to a long list of unusual circumstances to the season.
“The Early Signing Period, that’s a challenge,” Franklin said on Tuesday. “We’ve got to try to make it as special as we possibly can, for those young men and their families and their high school coaches. But we’ve got to do it on a Wednesday, during a game week, which Wednesday’s a huge workday for us. We usually have a staff meeting at 7 a.m., and we’re doing football all day to get ready for that practice and finish the game plans. Now, you’re trying to do that on a day that’s usually dominated on celebrating young men and their families’ futures. We’re gonna do the best we possibly can to serve those 2 groups.”
Penn State will look to gain a little clarity about their 2021 future on Wednesday with a small recruiting class that consists of 15 commits as of Sunday. It’s an even split of 7 offensive players and 7 defensive players, along with 1 kicking specialist.
This year’s class has been much maligned as Franklin’s worst since coming to Penn State, but recent updates to player rankings on 247sports.com has actually elevated the Class of 2021 into top-20 territory at No. 20 and 4th in the Big Ten behind Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The lowest-rated recruiting class for Franklin came in 2016, a class that was also 20th and was led by Miles Sanders. 2018 was the best year for Franklin. That class was 6th in the nation and included 3 5-stars (Micah Parsons, Justin Shorter and Ricky Slade), none of whom remains with the program. And despite the lackluster incoming class, the Class of 2022 currently sits at No. 3 in the nation.
Let’s take a closer look at Penn State’s Class of 2021:
By the numbers
- B1G rank: 4th
- National rank: 20
- 5-stars: 0
- 4-stars: 5
- 3-stars: 10
Top player: Landon Tengwall, offensive tackle, 4-star (No. 50 in nation)
Tengwall is one of 7 expected early enrollees coming to campus in January after graduating early from Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) High School. The 6-6, 300-pound prospect picked Penn State over more than 2 dozen Power 5 offers and was the 1st offensive lineman that the Lions targeted this cycle.
Penn State tight ends coach Tyler Bowen was one of the leading recruiters for Tengwall, having originally recruited him while a part of the Maryland coaching staff. Tengwall plans to room with a fellow early enrollee, QB Christian Veilleux.
Class strength: Wide receiver
After spending the past few seasons looking for more consistent production from the receiver position — and infamously missing out last year on in-state 5-star prospect Julian Fleming, who committed to Ohio State — Penn State has secured 3 pledges from receivers in the Class of 2021.
The group is led by 4-star Lonnie White Jr. out of Malvern Prep (Malvern, Pa.), and it was bolstered this past week by the Lions’ 15th commitment when Harrison Wallace flipped his initial commitment from Duke. Wallace is a 3-star prospect out of Alabama.
The final wideout prospect in this class is Liam Clifford, a 3-star prospect from Ohio. That’s a notable recruit because he is the younger brother of current quarterback Sean Clifford.
Class weakness: Running back
Missing out on 5-star offensive tackle Nolan Rucci was a blow to the the offensive line, especially considering he is from Lititz, Pa., but it’s very unusual to see a Penn State recruiting class without a running back.
Franklin collects running backs like baseball cards, and he has had at least 1 running back signee in each of his 1st 6 classes. 2015 was the only year the best running back commit was less than a 4-star (Journey Brown), and last year’s class included a pair of 4-star talents in Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee.
3-star UCLA commit Deshun Murrell is scheduled to decide on Wednesday among UCLA, Penn State and Oklahoma State, but he is still believed to be favoring the Bruins. The lack of a running back may be a moot point in the end, as Penn State’s running back room is so loaded, but as the Lions can attest to, you never know when you may need to test out a 4th-string back.
Grading the QB class: C
Prospects can always outperform their initial recruiting ranking, but it doesn’t appear as though the answer at QB is waiting in the Class of ’21. Veilleux is a 3-star prospect out of Potomac, Md., and is the 20th-best pro-style QB in this class.
Veilleux is unlikely to be the Justin Fields that Penn State needs to win the Big Ten and with the regression of Clifford, who is set to return next season, Penn State’s best option may be to attack the transfer portal for a year to hold the team over until Beau Pribula arrives in 2022.
Did they close the borders?
Penn State could have hardly done a worse job locking down their own backyard. The Lions landed just a single commit from recruits ranked in the top 15 of Pennsylvania in White, who received an upgrade to become the 7th-best prospect in Pennsylvania.
Of players in the top 10 in Pennsylvania, 2 chose Ohio State and 2 chose Pittsburgh. The No. 13 recruit also committed to Maryland. Losing out on local talent is one thing, but losing them to nearby rivals and programs that are inferior to Penn State is inexcusable.
This class will go down as a blemish on Franklin’s recruiting resume. You’ve always been able to quibble with some of his coaching decisions and X’s and O’s, but his recruiting has always been unmatched.
Performing so poorly in the state can not happen again going forward, but losing out on the ability to have recruits stand on the sideline in front of 110,000 fans was a major disadvantage for Penn State this year and a lack of in-home visits was a major disadvantage to Penn State. Franklin is one of those people who needs to get in the room with someone to show his passion and authenticity.
He’s done such a phenomenal job recruiting the past and future classes that this year may not really matter that much, but until Penn State can land a 5-star QB, there’s only so much the ancillary talent can do.