zGeneralBottom

Sorting out Penn State’s scholarship picture for next season

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's 2018 class came in at 23 members, a group that could've added another receiver or another safety per the head coach's admissions, but one that is still James Franklin's best recruiting haul at Penn State to date.

The top-5 group helped fill out needs with the offensive and defensive lines and also has an intriguing mix of linebackers, among them are five-star Micah Parsons who will get a crack at playing middle linebacker in spring ball and hybrid defensive end/linebacker Nick Tarburton.

Since the season regular season ended the Lions lost running back Andre Robinson and kicker Alex Barbir to transfers, while receiver Irv Charles and linebacker Manny Bowen were both dismissed from the team ahead of the Fiesta Bowl. Saquon Barkley left early for the NFL, which all adds up to freed up scholarships.

So, how close is Penn State to the 85 scholarship limit? Well, I'll repeat as always with these numbers that it's an inexact science and all that matters is that they're at 85 by the time fall camp starts. There's always movement after spring ball as well, but for the time being I have them at 87.

OFFENSE: 41

DEFENSE: 44

SPECIAL TEAMS: 2

QUARTERBACK (5)
Trace McSorley
Tommy Stevens
Jake Zembiec
Sean Clifford
Will Levis

The goal is to take one quarterback per class and in certain years they might grab two although we haven't seen that happen with these guys that are still here. This is one quarterback per class, of course with extra eyes on Stevens who plays the Lion role and who could have a decision to make after the spring semester concludes.

RUNNING BACK (5)
• Mark Allen
• Johnathan Thomas
• Miles Sanders
Journey Brown
Ricky Slade

This was the position last year that Franklin pointed to as one that had the ideal setup based on depth and experience. With Barkley and Robinson gone -- despite the latter losing out to Sanders last season -- the Lions will have to figure out if they're a back by committee team or not. With two 5-star prospects in Sanders and Slade they have options, while Thomas' role hasn't expanded beyond special teams during his time here. Brown garnered some high praise on the scout team last year and could play a role next season.

WIDE RECEIVER (10)
De’Andre Thompkins
Brandon Polk
Juwan Johnson
Dae’lun Darien
KJ Hamler
Cameron Sullivan-Brown
Mac Hippenhammer
Justin Shorter
Daniel George
Jahan Dotson

This is an interesting group because seven of the 10 players haven't caught a pass during their collegiate careers. Three aren't even on campus yet while Hamler, Sullivan-Brown and Hippenhammer all took redshirts last season. Darien, a year ahead of them, played on special teams last year but has not gotten an opportunity as a wide receiver yet. Johnson will likely produce No. 1 receiver numbers while Thompkins has a knack for big plays and Polk, much like Hamler, is much smaller but has blistering speed. It'd be crazy to think that Josh Gattis, one of the top recruiters in the nation, left for Alabama and didn't leave a stocked position group behind him. Shorter could make an impact this coming season so don't rule out any of these incoming freshmen out.

TIGHT END (5)
Nick Bowers
Jonathan Holland
Danny Dalton
Zack Kuntz (January enrollee)
Pat Freiermuth

With Mike Gesicki out of the picture there will be a lot of attention on Bowers, who has yet to stay healthy. That's been the biggest knock on the tight end and while Franklin said last July that he expected big things from Bowers this past season it didn't happen as he was sidelined yet again for most of the year and back on crutches by the end of the season. Holland's upside is likely limited beyond what we've seen thus far so the three young tight ends could have a real opportunity. Kuntz got here last month and Franklin said he's pleased with his strength. They'll need him to keep adding muscle to that 6-6 frame to see if he can potentially help out next season.

OFFENSIVE LINE (16)
Chasz Wright
Sterling Jenkins
Steven Gonzalez
Ryan Bates
Connor McGovern
Alex Gellerstedt
Will Fries
Michal Menet
Michael Miranda
CJ Thorpe
Robert Martin
Des Holmes
Bryce Effner
Frederick 'Juice' Scruggs
Nana Asiedu
Rasheed Walker

Eight of the 16 linemen were part of the last two recruiting classes. It's unrealistic to expect much out of them right away, but Thorpe and Miranda should push for time this year while Menet should factor in as well. The good news for Penn State is they don't have many unknowns when it comes to returning starters. They want and have players who can give them position flexibility and the additional depth at tackle, something this 2018 class will eventually provide, could be the biggest takeaway from this 2018 class.

OFFENSE: 41

DEFENSIVE LINE (18)

TACKLES (8)
• Kevin Givens
Robert Windsor
• Ellison Jordan
• Antonio Shelton
Fred Hansard
Corey Bolds
PJ Mustipher
Aeneas Hawkins

The Lions lost three tackles to graduation and as of last month Jordan wasn't able to put weight on his leg as he was recovering from what was reportedly a broken kneecap. It's no wonder why Franklin mentioned this position group as an area of need on signing day and while Shelton gained experience last year they're going to need him to continue doing so while Givens and Ryan Buchholz, who I listed at end, can both move around when needed. But, the Lions need production from Givens inside next year, there's no denying that.

ENDS (10)
• Torrence Brown
• Ryan Buchholz
• Shareef Miller
• Shane Simmons
 Shaka Toney
• Daniel Joseph
Yetur Gross-Matos
Damion Barber
Judge Culpepper
Jayson Oweh

Brown hasn't played since sustaining a knee injury in September so his recovery will be one to keep an eye on. Toney was a mysterious absence from the Fiesta Bowl gameplan as Franklin put it, but seemingly there was a discipline issue there that the staff handled by not playing him in the game. But, they like what Toney, the speed rusher, gives them off the edge and it's possible that between Miller and Buchholz they could have a pretty deep group. If Parsons at linebacker doesn't work out then they'll find ways to use him in a hybrid role as well.

LINEBACKER (11)
• Koa Farmer
• Jarvis Miller
• Jake Cooper
• Cam Brown
• Brelin-Faison Walden
Ellis Brooks
Brailyn Franklin
Micah Parsons (January enrolle)
Nick Tarburton (January enrollee, hybrid LB/DE)
Jesse Luketa (January enrolle)
Charlie Katshir

The value of three January enrollees here is important. With Bowen dismissed from the team and Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith out of eligibility there will need to be a few people to step up here. The top priority is finding a middle linebacker, a spot where Parsons, Brown, Brooks and even Farmer will get a shot inside. Brooks, coming off a redshirt year, could be a name to know since he was among the standouts on the scout team last year who wasn't shy about being a vocal leader for that group. It could be too much too soon, but they'll need depth so expect the two deep to get very interesting here.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (15)

CORNERBACK (9)
• Amani Oruwariye
• John Reid
• Zech McPhearson
• Lamont Wade
Tariq Castro-Fields
Donovan Johnson
D.J. Brown
Trent Gordon (January enrollee)
Jordan Miner

Reid, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is participating in winter workouts and should be full-go for spring ball, Franklin said this week. Reid and Oruwariye give the Lions two talented and experienced corners while Wade and Castro-Fields both gained valuable experience last year as well. McPhearson has played on special teams for the most part but should help add depth next season.

SAFETY (6)
• Nick Scott
• Ayron Monroe
 John Petrishen
• Garrett Taylor
Jonathan Sutherland
Isaiah Humphries (January enrollee)

There's a reason why Franklin would've liked to have added another safety and a quick scan of the roster makes it easy to see why. Six safeties will make life a little interesting, especially since they lost both starters to graduation. For reference, two years ago they had eight scholarship safeties and last year they had seven. The good news is Scott and Monroe both have experience as does Taylor, who was once a highly-coveted cornerback. Sutherland has a lot of intrigue and teammates raved about some of the hits he'd deliver in developmental scrimmages last year. He will be one of the more interesting young players to keep an eye on during spring ball. Also, don't rule out a cornerback or two getting bumped over to safety to help fill a need.

DEFENSE: 44

KICKERS AND PUNTERS (2)
• Blake Gillikin (P)
Jake Pinegar (K)

Remember when Penn State didn't have enough scholarships to even think about putting specialists on them? Seems like forever ago. But, the kicking competition will be wide open this summer while Gillikin continues to be quite the X factor for the team. Pinegar, a true freshman, arrives on campus with the rest of his classmates in late June.

Miss any of the other Penn State chatter this week? This week's podcast is available for easy listening right here:

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