Penn State Football Recruiting: Updates on 2014 Commits and Targets
Penn State's 2014 recruiting cycle got a lot more exciting in September when the NCAA announced that the Nittany Lions would be able to take an additional five prospects in this class than was originally expected.
Since then, head coach Bill O'Brien and his staff have gone from trying to utilize 15 to 18 spots to being able to decide if they should take a full class this year or save some scholarships to use on next year's class.
With this year's recruiting cycle in the closing weeks, the Nittany Lions are willing to add a few more players if they fit the right need. In other cases, they seem content with the guys they already have in the fold.
The way it's shaping up, this 2014 recruiting class is going to be stronger than expected and will join the 2013 class to create a strong foundation going forward, as Penn State continues to re-gain its lost scholarship numbers.
If you're a Penn State football fan or a fan of college football recruiting, look no further for a complete rundown of Nittany Lion targets, commitments and analysis.
Note: All stats and ratings are from 247Sports.com unless otherwise stated.
4-star wide receiver Saeed Blacknall has flipped his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State.
4-star California safety Koa Farmer committed to Penn State while on his official visit.
4-star cornerback Troy Vincent Jr. has flipped his commitment from Penn State to North Carolina State.
5-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley has flipped his commitment from Penn State to Florida5
3-star offensive tackle Brendan Brosnan has flipped his commitment from Vanderbilt to Penn State.
For PSU nation I am committing to PSU as a left offensive tackle.— Chance Sorrell (@Chanman158811) January 12, 2014
Despite rumors that head coach Bill O'Brien is considering a move to the NFL, Penn State secured a commitment from 3-star offensive tackle Chasz Wright. Wright was formerly committed to Temple but will now enroll at Penn State in January.
Wright will bolster a thin offensive line unit and could see the field this fall after spending a season at prep school.
Penn State's recruiting class got a big addition in mid-December in the form of 247 Composite 4-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley. Holley is a 6'4", 285-pound prospect from New York and will most likely be the headliner of this class.
The day before Holley pulled the commitment trigger, Penn State received a verbal pledge from 3-star outside linebacker Donte Raymond. Raymond, a 6'1", 205-pound prospect from New Jersey, camped at Penn State over the summer before committing to Delaware in the fall. An offer from the Nittany Lions was too much to pass up.
Tarow Barney, Penn State's lone junior college transfer, recently signed his letter of intent and will enroll in January. Barney is a 3-star defensive tackle who could make an immediate impact in 2014.
Michael O'Connor: 4-star, pro-style quarterback; 6'4", 223 pounds
2013 Stats per MaxPreps.com: 1,804 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, 5 interceptions
O'Connor was one of the first and only quarterbacks that O'Brien and the staff pursued. They secured a commitment from the Canadian native in June over offers from Michigan State, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.
After participating in the Under Armour All-American game on Jan. 2, O'Connor will enroll at Penn State and begin studying the playbook.
An ideal situation for both parties would probably involve a redshirt season for O'Connor while he learns the system and puts some "eligibility-distance" between himself and Christian Hackenberg. O'Brien could have a dilemma on his hands, though, as O'Connor has been coached by Heisman winner Chris Weinke and is likely ready for the next level now.
After the NCAA lifted some of the scholarship sanctions, Penn State put out some feelers to other quarterbacks, most notably offering Florida 3-star QB John Wolford. Wolford has since committed to Wake Forest and the Nittany Lions seem content to take just one quarterback in this class, but that could change if the right opportunity presents itself.
Johnathan Thomas: 3-star; 5'11", 205 pounds; 4.47 40-yard dash.
2012 Stats: 220 carries, 1,794 yards, 15 touchdowns
Mark Allen: 3-star; 5'7", 185 pounds; 4.43 40-yard dash.
Nick Scott: 3-star; 5'11", 188 pounds
2012 stats via Scout.com: 84 carries, 900 yards, 15 touchdowns
Allen was Penn State's first verbal commitment in this class, pledging in October 2012. Shortly after, he tore his ACL and played sparingly this year. The Nittany Lions stood by their offer to the change-of-pace back from Maryland because of the home run ability he has shown.
O'Brien showed interest in a few other running backs of the bruising variety before flipping Thomas from his Maryland commitment. He also held offers from Arkansas, Boston College and UMass.
Scott is the wild card in this unit. He has the ability to play running back at a high level but could also end up in the defensive secondary, depending how things play out.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
David Njoku: 3-star wide receiver/athlete; 6'4", 215 pounds; Also considering Temple and Miami (FL).
2013 stats: 40 catches, 981 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns; 39 carries, 334 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns.
Chris Godwin: 4-star wide receiver; 6'1", 194 pounds; 4.48 40-yard dash.
2012 stats: 42 catches, 834 yards, 12 touchdowns.
DeAndre Thompkins: 4-star wide receiver; 6', 170 pounds: 4.46 40-yard dash.
2013 stats via MaxPreps: 28 catches, 269 yards, four touchdowns; 82 carries, 699 yards, nine touchdowns.
Troy Apke:: 3-star wide receiver; 6'1" 187 pounds; 4.47 40-yard dash.
2013 stats: 40 catches, 728 yards, seven touchdowns.
Mike Gesicki: 4-star tight end; 6'5" 236 pounds;
2012 stats: 50 catches, 954 yards, nine touchdowns.
Wide receiver and tight end are the strength of this recruiting class.
Not only did O'Brien and his staff go out and get three of the first wide receivers they targeted, nabbing verbals from Godwin, Thompkins and Apke in April, they then won a recruiting battle down the stretch to land Gesicki, who held offers from Ohio State, Florida State and Wisconsin, among others.
Godwin and Apke are both polished wide receivers with a shot at cracking the wide receiver depth chart as freshmen while Thompkins is a raw athlete who could bring an immediate spark to the special teams unit with his athleticism and return capabilities.
Godwin and Thompkins will join O'Connor in the Under Armour All-American Game before Thompkins enrolls at Penn State in January.
Gesicki is a standout basketball player and a state champion volleyball player who plays football like a more athletic Adam Breneman.
With the current haul, you may wonder why Penn State is still looking at Njoku. With the extra scholarships awarded to the program, the staff had some catching up to do, and Njoku always showed interest. His frame and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect for a staff that uses its tight ends like wide receivers in many cases.
His commitment would bolster an already impressive haul at the receiver/tight end unit.
Jared Cohen: 3-star offensive guard; 6'3", 275 pounds; Also considering Maryland.
Alex Bars: 4-star offensive tackle; 6'6", 309 pounds; Currently committed to Notre Dame.
Quenton Nelson: 4-star offensive tackle; 6'5", 295 pounds; Currently committed to Notre Dame.
Noah Beh: 3-star offensive tackle; 6'6", 260 pounds; Other offers included Maryland, Boston College, Pitt, Virginia.
Chasz Wright: 3-star offensive tackle; 6'6", 285 pounds; Other offers included Temple and UConn.
Chance Sorrell: 3-star offensive tackle; 6'6", 265 pounds; Formerly committed to Vanderbilt over offers from West Virginia, Indiana and Boston College.
Brendan Brosnan: 3-star offensive tackle; 6'6", 275 pounds; Formerly committed to Vanderbilt over offers from Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Illinois and Boston College.
Most fans would have liked to see the staff put a higher priority on the offensive line this year, but apparently, the staff is content with just taking a couple in this cycle.
Bars and Nelson are both long shots this year and appear solidly committed to the Fighting Irish. However, Bars has a brother at Penn State in Brad and they're together for the holidays. Also, Nelson is good friends with Mike Gesicki, who has been rumored to be recruiting the Notre Dame commit on behalf of Penn State.
Cohen, on the other hand, is practically a lock to commit to Penn State. After recently receiving an offer from Penn State, Cohen decommitted from Maryland, who he had originally given his verbal pledge to nearly a year ago.
Some scouts prefer Beh on the other side of the ball as a defensive end, but he has the frame to grow into the offensive tackle position.
The late addition of Wright should go a long way toward comforting fans. Another big-bodied tackle on the roster is exactly what the Nittany Lions needed to add depth behind Andrew Nelson and Donovan Smith.
Penn State now considered a favorite to land 4-star OL Jared Cohen http://t.co/tkyyQMbDG9
— Penn State football (@psufootball) December 23, 2013
Derrick NNadi (defensive tackle); 4-star; 6'1", 305 pounds; Also considering Ohio State, Florida State, Virginia Tech.
Tarow Barney: 3-star defensive tackle; 6'1", 285 pounds; Other offers included Arizona State, Iowa State, Illinois.
Thomas Holley: 4-star defensive tackle; 6'4", 285 pounds; Other offers included Ohio State, Florida, Alabama. UPDATE 1/15/14: Holley has decommitted from Penn State and is now committed to Florida.
Antoine White: 3-star defensive tackle; 6'3", 265 pounds; Other offers included Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Pitt.
LLoyd Tubman: 4-star defensive end; 6'5", 235 pounds; Was previously committed to Vanderbilt over offers from Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana.
With every defensive end on the roster returning for 2014, the staff never put a high priority on landing an end in this class. Instead, they focused on filling out the depth chart at tackle.
They did a fine job of it.
White and Barney are set to enroll in January, and don't be surprised to see Barney on the two-deep depth chart this spring.
Holley is the gem of the unit and the class, but he has to refine his technique some before he can contribute. He only has two years of football under his belt. Fortunately for Holley and Nittany Lion fans, he will have one of the best teachers in the country in Larry Johnson.
O'Brien would accept a commitment from NNadi even though the position looks full, but they may be out of it as far as he is concerned. It's unlikely that he would want to enter school with three other players at his position, and he has official visits set up in January with Ohio State and Virginia Tech.
Troy Reeder: 3-star inside/outside linebacker; 6'3", 240 pounds; 4.60 40-yard dash; Other offers included Pitt, Vanderbilt, Miami (FL).
Jason Cabinda: 3-star outside linebacker/athlete; 6'1", 220 pounds; Other offers included Syracuse, Maryland, Boston College.
Donte Raymond: 3-star outside linebacker; 6'1", 205 pounds
All three of the linebackers currently committed to Penn State were once committed elsewhere: Cabinda to Syracuse, Raymond to Delaware and Reeder to North Carolina...as a lacrosse player.
With the depth issues at linebacker, don't be surprised to see Reeder thrust into action as a freshman. Even less surprising would be seeing him and Cabinda on special teams early in the season.
Lamont Simmons: 3-star cornerback; 6'2", 180 pounds; Also considering Georgia Tech, USC, Auburn and Arkansas.
Shawn Boone: 3-star safety; 5'10", 185 pounds; Also considering North Carolina State.
Emmanuel Smith: 4-star safety; 6'2", 200 pounds; Currently committed to Vanderbilt over offers from Oregon State, Tennessee and Louisville.
Troy Vincent Jr.: 3-star cornerback/running back; 5'10", 192 pounds; 4.71 40-yard dash; Other offers included Cal, Michigan, Wisconsin, Michigan State. UPDATE 1/19/14: Vincent has decommitted from Penn State and is committed to North Carolina State.
Daquan Worley: 3-star cornerback/ running back; 5'11", 170 pounds; 4.50 40-yard dash; Other offers included Georgia Tech, Pitt, Rutgers.
Marcus Allen: 3-star safety; 6'2", 190 pounds; Other offers included Clemson, Michigan State, Stanford, Nebraska.
Much like 2013, the Penn State staff put an emphasis on landing athletes to help in the secondary. Defensive coordinator John Butler likes to play aggressively, and as we saw this season, that's difficult to do without speed and skill in the defensive backfield.
The Nittany Lions are considered the favorites to land Boone, and they'll host Simmons for his final official visit the weekend before national signing day. If things go right for Penn State, they'll be adding both Florida defensive backs to the roster in February.
Vincent, Worley and Allen give Butler a trio of athletic, lengthy defensive backs that all have a shot at seeing the field as freshmen, at least on special teams.