Penn State had just finished signing its Class of 2016 when director of player personnel Andy Frank was asked how many scholarships the program would be able to use for the Class of 2017.
Frank, who is better described as the staff’s recruiting coordinator, estimated that number to be from 18 to 20.
At the time of this writing, there were 15 scholarship slots available for the Class of 2017. Two them were filled with early verbal commitments.
But the 18-20 number above takes into account normal attrition — careers being cut short by injuries, transfers, graduate transfers, fifth-year players deciding to hang up the cleats and so on. Unlike the past two seasons, there do not appear to be any Lions who will be in the realistic position of declaring early for the NFL Draft.
Could there end up being even more slots open? Sure. If the postscript to the 2016 season taught us anything, it is that roster turnover is more prevalent (at PSU and everywhere else) than ever before. But in terms of getting a baseline range from which to work, 18-20 makes the most sense.
Under ideal circumstances — meaning the staff is able to get quality players at each position — this is how we see the scholarships being distributed. But keep in mind that with great overall depth now that the program is back to being allowed to have 85 scholarships, PSU now has great flexibility with these numbers than they did the last couple of year.
The Lowdown: The Nittany Lions already have a commitment from Cincinnati four-star Sean Clifford. But Franklin is on record as saying he would like to take at least one QB in each class, and has offers out to a couple other Class of 2017 passers — most notably Washington, D.C., four-star Kasim Hill.
By The Numbers: Penn State currently has four scholarship spots spent on QBs for the 2017 season
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 1-2
The Lowdown: Penn State is going to have to be creative to effectively use all of the talented young backs on the roster in 2016. So this is an area where the staff can swing for the fences and still be OK if it does not connect. With that in mind, offers are out to four-star talents D'Andre Swift (Pennsylvania) and Anthony McFarland (Maryland), as well as rising South Jersey star Bo Melton.
By The Numbers: Penn State has five scholarship spots spent on RBs for the 2017 season. And get this — none of them will be seniors until 2018.
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 0-1
The Lowdown: Penn State is so deep and talented at WR that no tears were shed when senior-to-be Geno Lewis transferred to Oklahoma. But with the Lions only using one scholarship on a receiver in the Class of 2016, getting a couple this year will be helpful. Topping the wish list is Detroit Cass Tech four-star Donovan Peoples-Jones, as the Lions continue to fight to gain a foothold in the Motor City. A more realistic target is Mark Webb, a fast-rising pass-catcher from Archbishop Wood near Philadelphia. Outside of Webb, this is not looking like a great year for receiver talent in the Northeast. As such, the Lions will likely have to venture out of their traditional recruiting footprint to get some of what they need here.
By The Numbers: Penn State has eight scholarships spent on WRs for the 2017 season. But three of them will be seniors in ’17. So landing a couple pass-catchers in this class will help with long-term depth.
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 2
The Lowdown: This must be a bit of a tricky area for the staff, as three of the five scholarship tight ends for 2016 have never taken a snap. Junior-to-be Mike Gesicki has been an enigma, Brent Wilkerson is in his final year of eligibility and … oh yeah … there is a new position coach in Ricky Rahne. So how to gauge what PSU might need at this position given all of that? The deciding factor may be a lack of strong tight end talent in the East (at least as it appears now). The Lions have offers out to Matt Dotson and Trey Pugh of Ohio, as well as Jake Marwede from Illinois.
By The Numbers: Penn State currently has four scholarships being used on tight ends for the 2017 season. Three of them will have sophomore or freshman eligibility that year.
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 1
The Lowdown: The Lions have spent four scholarships on offensive linemen in each of the last three classes. Sensing a pattern here at all? It’ll be at least four this year, as Franklin and company look to get the overall O-line numbers back to where they need to be. The good news is that there is plenty of talent close to home, including Jersey standouts Micah Clark and Carter Warren, Pittsburgh legacy recruit C.J. Thorpe (son of former Lion Chris Thorpe), and Maryland four-star Jordan McNair. And don’t forget about Robert Hainsey, the Pittsburgh-area native who is playing his final two seasons of high school ball at IMG Academy in Florida.
By The Numbers: Penn State has 13 scholarships used on offensive linemen for the 2017 season. Only three of the athletes in question will be seniors that year.
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 4
The Lowdown: The Lions should have no problem adding at least one more elite pass-rusher to this class with a host of four-star D-ends already sporting offers and showing significant interest. Chase Young of DeMatha Catholic in Maryland (who played opposite PSU Class of 2016 DE Shane Simmons last season), Joshua Kaindoh of IMG in Florida and Donovan Jeter of Beaver Falls, Pa., lead the list. One of the primary targets at D-tackle is Fred Hansard of The Hun School in New Jersey, who has been a frequent visitor to Happy Valley and is by far the best interior defensive lineman in PSU’s backyard.
By The Numbers: Penn State has 17 scholarships used on defensive linemen for the 2017 season, and only four of them will be seniors that year.
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 4
The Lowdown: If there is a clear area of need for Penn State in this class, this is it. As of this writing, the Lions have only five scholarships used on linebackers for the 2017 season. And one of those athletes — incoming freshman Cam Brown — may grow into a defensive end. State got a jump on things by landing Virginia OLB Dylan Rivers in November. But there is still work to be done. Keep an eye on David Adams of Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Delaware standout Avery Roberts and Maryland four-star Nathan Proctor.
By The Numbers: As noted, the Lions have only five scholarships devoted to linebacker for the 2017 season. But one of them is Rivers, who will be a member of the Class of 2017.
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 3-4
The Lowdown: If PSU wants to continue to dominate the state, THE key get will be five-star cornerback Lamont Wade of Clairton High. How badly do the Lions want him? They’ve told the tough, athletic 5-foot-10, 180-pounder that he’ll have the chance to play on both sides of the ball and on special teams if he dons the Blue and White. PSU already has offers out to five of the nation’s top 17 corners. Safety is not a priority in this class.
By The Numbers: The Nittany Lions already have 14 scholarships devoted to DBs for the 2017 season.
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 2
The Lowdown: Penn State used a pair of scholarships on specialists for the Class of 2016. Barring injury or transfer, we don’t see the Lions using any more on kickers or punters in this cycle.
By The Numbers: Penn State’s two Class of 2016 specialists — P Blake Gillikin and P Alex Barbir — will have sophomore or redshirt freshman eligibility in 2017. So don’t expect much action in this area for a while.
How Many For The Class Of 2017? 0