This class meets some of the program's depth needs, but missed badly in a couple of spots as well. It is not the kind of recruiting class that will close the overall talent gap between Penn State and Ohio State, putting even more pressure on the coaching staff to follow up with a spectacular Class of 2012.
There is no more difficult position group to project than high school offensive linemen. So often, Division I caliber prospects are able to dominate the opposition with their size advantage. That advantage goes away at the next level, and Penn State has struggled to find a starting five who can consistently impose their will, let alone a strong two-deep depth chart.
The staff has recruited a slew of offensive line prospects over the past few recruiting classes, and this year's group might be the best of the bunch from an overall quality standpoint. Donovan Smith and Ryan Nowicki are true stud offensive tackle prospects, something that Penn State has been missing the past few years. Both players were hotly pursued by schools across the country and have the size and speed to anchor the ends of the line. Anthony Alosi, another tackle prospect, is a year older than most of his classmates after prepping for a year at The Hun School, so he should be ahead of the game from a physical maturity standpoint.
The interior line also gets a big boost from the addition of guard prospects Angelo Mangiro and Anthony Zettel. Mangiro was a lifelong Nittany Lion fan, but Zettel appeared to be a Michigan lock until the Wolverine program imploded and Rich Rodriguez was fired. Both Mangiro and Zettel have been praised for their aggressive nature and agility, two traits that have been sorely lacking in recent seasons outside of Stefen Wisniewski. This line class should provide a huge upgrade to the overall depth up front.
The receiving corps will get a boost this season from the return of Curtis Drake to go along with Derek Moye and Justin Brown, making this a position that didn't need an immediate infusion of talent. However, the Lions added excellent depth to the position with this year's recruiting class.
Matt Zanellato doesn't have elite speed, but his size, hands and leaping ability make him a solid candidate for early playing time. Wide receivers coach Mike McQueary is always preaching to his pupils that they have to be willing to fight for the ball, and Zanellato showed plenty of fight throughout his final two high school seasons. His highlight reel contains a number of plays where he leapt high over a defender and made the catch.
Meanwhile, Bill Belton sounds very much like an athlete in the Drake mold. Belton played quarterback for Winslow Township and displayed the kind of elusiveness and burst that had Penn State fans salivating over Drake two years ago. An afterthought for much of the recruiting season, Pitt's loss became Penn State's gain when Belton reopened his recruitment after Dave Wannstadt's resignation. Belton has difference-maker written all over him.
D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris are the likely starters at cornerback in 2011, but with paper thin depth behind them, it was imperative to land at least one, if not two, corners in this class. If not for Shyquawn Pullium, who originally committed as part of the Class of 2010 and prepped for a year at Kiski, Penn State would have struck out all together at the position. A late run at Michigan commit Blake Countess was too little, too late. There weren't enough prospects in the picture at this position all year long and now, cornerback becomes a critical need for 2012.
There are only four scholarship safeties on the roster going into 2011. Included in that group are the very injury-prone Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay. I'm not sure what Joe Paterno was thinking here, but safety should have been among the top priority in this recruiting class. Instead, Penn State made almost no effort to beef up the position. The coaches didn't even offer a scholarship to a safety prospect until late January, when UConn commit Adrian Amos was offered.
This approach could really come back to haunt the Lions if Sukay and Astorino are once again unable to stay healthy. Even if they do make it through the 2011 season, both players will graduate and leave the safety depth chart in a very precarious position. Expect safety to be a focal point in the Class of 2012.