Penn State National Signing Day 2014: Position-by-Position Analysis
James Franklin's first national signing day as the head coach of Penn State was free of any real surprises.
Of the 25 newest Nittany Lions, all were expected to sign with the program. Torrence Brown was a name that popped up late in the process, but it appears even his commitment was expected once an offer went out.
Penn State was able to assemble a pretty balanced class. Fourteen of the signees will play offense, while the remaining 11 are on defense.
When the dust finally settled Wednesday night, the Nittany Lions' class was ranked 24th in the nation.
Here's position-by-position analysis of their 2014 recruiting class. Each unit was given a grade based on overall talent.
Unless noted otherwise, all recruiting rankings and information are courtesy of 247Sports.
Signees: Trace McSorley, Michael O'Connor (enrolled)
Even with Christian Hackenberg locked in as the starter, the Nittany Lions still needed depth at quarterback. They got it Wednesday.
Michael O'Connor, a 4-star recruit, is a pro-style quarterback with almost all the necessary attributes. He has good size yet still possesses mobility in the pocket to escape pressure. The ball comes out of his hand quickly with good touch on all types of passes. There's room to improve both his arm strength and accuracy, and he'll be able to do that with repetition and coaching.
For O'Connor, playing behind Hackenberg might be a blessing in disguise; he'll have time to develop without having to be counted upon immediately.
Trace McSorley wasn't highly sought after like O'Connor. He's only 6'0", but what he lacks in size he makes up for in elusiveness. McSorley is most dangerous when he decides to make plays with his legs. He's not as polished as O'Connor, and he will need to work on his accuracy and his mechanics.
An interesting tidbit on McSorley: He and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson are the only two quarterbacks from Virginia to take their high school team to four consecutive state championship games.
The bottom line: Penn State added depth behind Hackenberg, who until this point was the only scholarship quarterback on the roster. O'Connor has the makings of a successor to Hackenberg.
Signees: Mark Allen, Nick Scott, Johnathan Thomas
Running back isn't as immediate of a need as some other positions, but Penn State stocked up anyway to safeguard against potential issues down the road.
Mark Allen is a smaller back, standing only 5'7". He's explosive though, and he can make tacklers miss in space. It will be interesting to see how Franklin utilizes him. Allen may not have the frame to absorb the hits a prototypical No. 1 back would, but he'd be very dangerous in the screen game. With his speed and agility, Allen could see time returning kicks, too.
With the depth chart crowded for another year, I'd expect these three to redshirt. Thomas is coming off an ACL tear while Scott and Allen don't offer up enough right now to crack the rotation. A year to sit out and develop wouldn't hurt any of these guys.
After 2014, Akeel Lynch will likely be Penn State's primary back. The trio of 2014 recruits could all see valuable carries behind Lynch when their times come. For right now, the "wow factor" isn't there.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Signees: Troy Apke, Saeed Blacknall, Mike Gesicki, Chris Godwin, De'Andre Thompkins (enrolled)
The group of pass-catchers that Penn State signed is saturated with talent.
The Nittany Lions loaded up on wide receivers, snatching up four players. Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin highlight the group, closely followed by Troy Apke and De'Andre Thompkins. While the former two are bigger targets, the latter duo possess average size. Nevertheless, they all can catch passes and make plays. When watching film, each player impresses in their own respect.
Don't be shocked if Blacknall and Godwin have the opportunity to contribute from the start. Thompkins could as well, especially in the return game. Apke could be redshirted, but I wouldn't write him off as a Year 1 contributor just yet.
Mike Gesicki is the lone tight end of the group. A player with loads of athleticism, he's a big pass-catcher who can make the tough reception in traffic. He has good hands and pretty good speed for a player of his size. It wouldn't hurt for him to add on a few pounds and improve his blocking, but that will come with time.
Penn State is stocked with talented tight ends already, but Gesicki is good enough to push for playing time just like Adam Breneman did in 2013.
These five players represent what looks to be the strongest position group in the class. The foundation on offense has clearly been laid for years to come.
Signees: Noah Beh, Brendan Brosnan, Chance Sorrell, Chasz Wright (enrolled)
The offensive line needed to add depth this offseason, and Penn State was able to fulfill that need on national signing day. The Nittany Lions signed four offensive tackles.
The one takeaway from this group is that they all have the potential to be very large tackles. Each guy is listed at 6'6", and these frames give potential to massive bodies on the ends of the offensive line. They'll work under new offensive line coach Herb Hand to improve their technique and become better blockers.
Noah Beh and Chasz Wright were originally recruited by Bill O'Brien while Brendan Brosnan and Chance Sorrell were former Vanderbilt pledges that followed Franklin to Happy Valley. All four are rated as 3-star prospects.
Wright is the most physically ready of the bunch, and he could challenge for a spot in a potential rotation. The other three still need to add some weight to their frames, so you'd think Franklin will redshirt them if he can.
Franklin said in a press conference Wednesday, via GoPSUSports.com, that offensive tackle was the biggest weakness on the roster in his mind. This need was fulfilled, but the Nittany Lions weren't able to sign any interior linemen.
Even with the influx of depth, I still think Franklin will make a push to add more talent to the unit in 2015. His first full season of recruiting at Penn State should give him the opportunity to attract blue-chip linemen.
Signees: Tarow Barney (enrolled), Torrence Brown, Antoine White (enrolled)
The decommitments from Lloyd Tubman and Thomas Holley over the last few weeks hurt, but they weren't the only defensive linemen in the class.
Tarow Barney and Antoine White are the two defensive tackles of the group, and both have already enrolled in classes at Penn State. White is a 3-star prospect who has good athleticism and a quick first step for a guy playing in the trenches. However, he'll need to add weight to his 265-pound frame.
Barney is more ready to contribute, considering he played at the junior college level last season. He's 20 pounds heavier than White with similar athleticism and good strength. He could find himself playing valuable snaps as Penn State tries to replace Kyle Baublitz and DaQuan Jones.
Defensive end Torrence Brown was a signing day surprise. He was offered by Penn State the day before signing day and picked the Nittany Lions over Southern Miss. Franklin said in his aforementioned press conference that the staff would like Brown to increase his body weight, so he'll probably redshirt.
It's hard to imagine any of these guys making a big impact immediately. Defensive line will likely be a big area of concern when recruiting for 2015.
Signees: Jason Cabinda, Troy Reeder
If there's one position group that's still thin on bodies after signing day, it's the linebackers.
Currently, Penn State has only four linebackers on the roster with significant experience. The two newcomers could be thrown into the fire quickly.
Although he's listed as an athlete, Jason Cabinda will play linebacker when he comes to Happy Valley. Not the biggest of players, he relies on his speed and versatility to make plays. He could use that skill set to see the field early on.
Delaware's Troy Reeder has the makings to be next in line to uphold the Linebacker U tradition. That's not proclaiming him an All-American, but he has the potential to be very productive. For starters, he's already physically ready—he stands 6'2" and weighs 230 pounds.
Reeder is a solid tackler in space, instinctive and has the versatility to play either inside or outside. His 96 tackles as a senior showcase a knack for being around the ball.
Penn State could have used one or two more linebackers in the class. Regardless, Reeder looks like the real deal, and Cabinda's athleticism could wind up translating well at the next level.
Signees: Marcus Allen, Christian Campbell, Koa Farmer, Grant Haley, Amani Oruwariye, Daquan Worley
The final position group, the secondary, came along nicely from what it was before Franklin took over.
Of Penn State's three safeties, Marcus Allen and Koa Farmer could push for playing time immediately. Both players are solid tacklers and can close well on the ball, something that Penn State lacked last season. Farmer's ability to play linebacker—he did so in high school—could lead him to be brought down as a linebacker in nickel situations.
A guy who can play cornerback or safety, Christian Campbell was a late addition to the class. He'll likely be a developmental prospect and another body for depth in 2014.
From a cornerback standpoint, Grant Haley, Amani Oruwariye and Daquan Worley seem to be players who will come along with time. All three play instinctively and can change directions quickly in coverage.
Oruwariye is the most intriguing of the bunch; his size and length will help him match up well against the big, physical receivers of the Big Ten.
Penn State upgraded at the safety spot and brought along a crop of cornerbacks who could develop nicely. Franklin did a good job putting together this part of the class in the little time he had.
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