Penn State Football Recruiting: First Class Under James Franklin a Success

R. Cory Smith@@RCorySmithSenior Writer IFebruary 6, 2014

James Franklin speaks after being introduced as Penn State's new football coach during a news conference, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in State College, Pa. Franklin was formerly the head coach at Vanderbilt University. He replaces Bill O'Brien who left Penn State after two seasons to become head coach of the Houston Texans. (AP Photo/ John Beale)
John Beale/Associated Press

It wasn't exactly a perfect situation for James Franklin, but he did the best with what he was given.

After Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the Houston Texans at the end of December, Franklin was allotted less than a month to convince the class that O'Brien recruited to stay with the program and bring in a few of his own coveted recruits to play for the Nittany Lions.

Rather than going with the same vanilla process that has made national signing day just another day in the offseason, Franklin chose to make it a spectacle. In fact, Penn State released a video on YouTube of the full day for Franklin and his coaching staff throughout the exciting process:

But the question remained: With a new approach and a brand new head coach, would the results reflect the excitement that Franklin was trying to bring from Vanderbilt? The answer to that question was a resounding yes.

The Nittany Lions may not have pulled in any 5-star recruits, but their 25-player recruiting class ranks 24th in the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings. While some of that ranking is a byproduct of O'Brien's recruiting before his departure, Franklin's ability to retain the class proves his ability to recruit in the state.

The 2014 class is the highest-ranking one since 2010 when the No. 11 class was pulled in before sanctions were handed down in 2012.

With the first class under Franklin complete, here is a look at the entire class and analysis for some of the top recruits coming in for the Nittany Lions.

Complete Penn State Recruiting Class
NamePositionRating
De'Andre Thompkins*WR4-Star
Michael O'Connor*PRO QB4-Star
Tarow Barney*DT3-Star
Antoine White*DT3-Star
Chasz WrightOT3-Star
Saeed BlacknallWR4-Star
Chris GodwinWR4-Star
Mike GesickiTE4-Star
Marcus AllenS3-Star
Troy ApkeWR3-Star
Koa FarmerS3-Star
Johnathan ThomasRB3-Star
Troy ReederILB3-Star
Noah BehOT3-Star
Nick ScottATH3-Star
Trace McSorleyDUAL QB3-Star
Daquan WorleyCB3-Star
Grant HaleyCB3-Star
Amani OruwariyeCB3-Star
Brendan BrosnanOT3-Star
Chance SorrellOT3-Star
Mark AllenRB3-Star
Christian CampbellS3-Star
Jason CabindaATH3-Star
Torrence BrownATH3-Star
247Sports (*Enrolled in school)

 

Saeed Blacknall, WR

247Sports

Fans in Happy Valley certainly had to be excited with the signing of Saeed Blacknall.

The 4-star receiver was a commit with Rutgers since last August and was stolen away by Franklin in the last few weeks, making his commitment official on national signing day.

In an interview with Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com, Franklin spoke about how important it was to bring in a great receiving corps in his first recruiting class:

The size and speed combination that we have, I feel really good about that, with Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin and all the guys we have. [Troy] Apke as well, I think it's a nice class. When you have a quarterback like Hackenberg, it helps you recruit, but it's also a responsibility for us to surround that guy with as much talent as possible. 

Much of that need for finding a receiver in this class came from Allen Robinson, the leading receiver for the Nittany Lions in 2013, forgoing his senior season in favor of the NFL.

With the addition of Blacknall, Franklin has recruited a receiver with the exact same measurables—6'3", 210 pounds exactly for both—along with great speed and playmaking ability.

 

Mike Gesicki, TE

247Sports

It's pretty clear that Franklin was looking to build around Christian Hackenberg with this class.

With that in mind, the coaching staff went out and made sure to secure Mike Gesicki, a standout tight end who ranks No. 6 in the 247Sports Composite Rankings.

Original projections had Gesicki tabbed to commit to Ohio State, but he made it official by signing with his family and friends in attendance, according to Onward State's official Twitter account:

Gesicki will join a young class of receivers including Blacknall who will surround Hackenberg and could produce right away. But with the rising sophomore quarterback hopefully around for another three years, this class could grow with the young signal-caller.

 

De'Andre Thompkins, WR

247Sports

De'Andre Thompkins is another talented 4-star wide receiver from Swansboro, N.C., and was plucked straight out of ACC country.

Notice a trend here? Yes, three of the top recruits for the Nittany Lions all just so happen to be on the offensive side of the ball and all targets for Hackenberg.

Franklin sure knows how to make friends with his new quarterback.

According to Tom Luginbill of ESPN (subscription required), Thompkins is one of the top instant impact players who will get a chance to hit the field right away:

While there might be more developed route runners and bigger and more physically gifted athletes entering the college ranks at wide receiver, Thompkins has the best opportunity considering that he's already on campus in Happy Valley.

With Allen Robinson entering the NFL draft, the Nittany Lions have a nearly bare cupboard at wide receiver. There isn't a question of if Thompkins will play; he has no choice, ready or not.

The fact that he enrolled early will play a crucial role in his chances at seeing the field during his freshman campaign. With him going through spring practices along with the team, Thompkins will have an advantage over other incoming receivers.

As for his coach's thoughts about Robinson's ability to impact the team right away, Josh Moyer of ESPN reports that the first-year Penn State coach believes he can be a difference-maker for the team:

Regardless of whether or not Thompkins is able to repeat the success that Robinson had at Penn State during his tenure, he will be a key factor for the Nittany Lions right away.

 

All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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