Penn State landed a commitment from versatile defender Shane Simmons, a 5-star recruit from Hyattsville, Maryland, who checks in as the No. 27 overall player and No. 2 strong-side defensive end in the 2016 class (rising juniors).
Simmons chose the Nittany Lions over a final five that included Florida State (the favorite on his 247Sports Crystal Ball), Ohio State, Alabama and Maryland, announcing his decision live on ESPN.com.
He then took to Twitter to share the news:
I am 110% committed to The University of Penn State. #blessed— Just Watch... (@Shizzeee_) July 30, 2014
Simmons is 6'4", 221 pounds and light enough on his feet to play standing up or with his hand in the dirt. He could commit full-time to playing defensive end in a 4-3 defense or outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, or he could do a little bit of both. With defenses nowadays focused on being "multiple," a player such as Simmons, who can oscillate between roles, becomes even more valuable.
The only weaknesses listed on his junior evaluation from ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) are a need to add muscle and to be more consistent with his hands. But the same could be said about almost any high school prospect; those are flaws that are expected to be fixed with good coaching and a college-level weight program.
His athleticism, however, cannot be learned.
Simmons is the latest in a long string of recruiting coups for Penn State head coach James Franklin, who is making good on the vow he made to "dominate the region" at his introductory press conference.
Although he is only the second commitment of Penn State's 2016 class, Simmons is slated to join defensive tackle Adam McLean—the No. 113 overall player in the 2015 class and another top prospect from Maryland—in Happy Valley two years from now.
As it stands, Simmons also represents a huge get in terms of positional balance. Despite overall success since arriving at Penn State seven months ago, Franklin has not done as well recruiting along the defensive line. Highly regarded defensive tackle Thomas Holley flipped from Penn State to Florida soon after Franklin joined the program, and McLean was the first top-325 ranked defensive lineman to commit to PSU since Jamil Pollard in 2012.
And Pollard transferred to Rutgers after only one season!
Even though he won't arrive for another two years, Simmons takes the pressure off Franklin to land one of his top defensive line targets (Tim Settle and Christian Wilkins) in 2015. Yes, those are both tackles, and Simmons is an end, but with McLean already signed on to occupy one spot in the middle, landing anyone else along the defensive line provides a buffer.
In Bob Shoop's 4-3 defense, Simmons is more likely to play along the line than he is standing up. He is a pass-rusher first and foremost, and according to Ian Boyd of SB Nation, Shoop relies on his linebackers to cover more often than Penn State's previous regime:
At Vanderbilt, the linebackers were coached to handle the stresses of modern spread offenses and be able to play coverage or fill inside against the run while bringing physicality.
… While former DC Tom Bradley and [Joe] Paterno would rely on cover 3 defense and dropping the "hero" safety down to provide an eight-man front, Shoop will maintain the evolution towards quarters coverage and mix in far more two-deep safety coverages.
Against the passing game, that means that linebackers will often be asked to cover wide areas of grass without an eighth man in the front to help cover the middle of the field.
If Simmons fills out these next few seasons, though, he is a candidate to play early and enjoy quick success the same way Deion Barnes did as a freshman in 2012 (five sacks, 10 tackles for loss).
To date, he is probably the biggest signing of the Franklin era.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT