Early NSD 2023: Penn State Recruiting Class Superlatives

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All but one member of Penn State’s 2023 recruiting class – Florida’s Conrad Hussey – signed today. While the Nittany Lions await Hussey’s decision, let’s go over the rest of the class and assign our annual superlatives.

Best overall: OL J’ven Williams

We’ll see our own personal opinions in the “Meet The Class” series in the coming weeks, but the industry consensus is clear: J’ven Williams is Penn State’s best player in the class. Both On3 and 247 have Williams as a five-star prospect, while Rivals and ESPN have Williams in their respective Top 100 rankings.

Biggest advantage: LB Tony Rojas

There really could be a multiplayer argument here. Even some of the lower ranked prospects like OL Anthony Donkoh and DE Joseph Mupoyi are not lacking in All-Big Ten perks. But Tony Rojas seems like the answer that makes the most sense, as he’s a wildly productive high schooler, has elite athletic numbers, and yet — at 200 pounds — he’s still physically far from what he’ll become in 2024 and beyond.

Instant Impact (offense): TE Andrew Rappleyea

This one was tough because I don’t think there’s an offensive spot that needs an immediate impact player, except maybe a wide receiver. And while I like Carmelo Taylor, he doesn’t project himself as a plug-and-play guy from day one. So let’s go with the most polished prospect: Andrew Rappleya. Yes, the tight end is very well defined with Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson, Tyler Warren, Khalil Dinkins and Jerry Cross. But if Strange declares for the draft, there’s a world where Rappleyea — who is signing early — is too good to stay out of the field in 2023.

Instant Impact (Defense): CB Elliot Washington

This one was tough too, but actually for the opposite reason – I think a lot of these guys will get the opportunity to play early. Penn State needs some immediate depth pieces at linebacker and cornerback, so all these guys are on the run, but I like Elliot Washington here. He is a several-year starter at a very good high school in Florida (Venice), is already physically fit, and is enrolling early. In the “play immediately” checklist, that’s a check, check, aaaaaaaaa and check.

Most Underrated: LB Ta’Mere Robinson

Ta’Mere Robinson started the recruiting process with a 247Sports Composite Rating of 97.23 as a sophomore and had the makings of the kind of prospect who could clinch five-star territory. Unfortunately for Robinson, he ended up tearing his ACL and MCL in October of his junior season and, due to not playing since, has dropped steadily (now 91.11) over that time. While I understand why recruiting services did this, I find it hard to believe that there are 250 prospects better than Robinson.

Most Versatile: ATH Mathias Barnwell

“What is Mathias Barnwell?” has been the issue for most of this cycle. Tight end? Offensive attack? Offensive guard? Defensive ending? Defensive attack? The six-foot, 100-pound Barnwell could end up in a number of different places, depending on where Penn State needs him and where his body takes him after a year or two on the strength program.

Longest member (ongoing): OL Alex Birchmeier

Speaking of Barnwell, he was commitment number 1 in the class of 2023 but ended up briefly dropping out before getting back on board during his junior season. While he was cancelled, Alex Birchmeier made the call for the Nittany Lions and has not wavered in his commitment on July 15, 2021.

Class Leader: DB King Mack

This is one that could have gone to a few different guys, but we’re going with Florida’s King Mack here. At the NSD, when Mack’s Letter of Intent arrived, James Franklin said that he hoped Mack would be a future captain of the program.

Fastest: Cameron Wallace and Carmelo Taylor

Bonds are like kissing your sister, but these two guys are fast, so we’re giving them both the honor. Carmelo Taylor has a reported time of 10.59 100M, while Cameron Wallace clocks in at 10.56; both are safely in the sub-4.4 category.

Biggest Recruiting Win: OL J’ven Williams

When Pennsylvania has a five-star prospect, Penn State needs to earn them. It really is as simple as that. As James Franklin says: the best in PA, stay in PA.

Most Surprising Draft Win: LB Kaveion Keys

The non-stop flirtation between Penn State and Kaveion Keys for months on end looked like it wasn’t going to work as the initial signing period approached. Keys, despite receiving visitors, remained committed to North Carolina, and it was increasingly likely that he would end up in Chapel Hill. Instead, Penn State was able to deliver something of a shock, causing Keys to renege on his UNC verbal and go to State College to study.

Biggest draft loss: DE Tomarrion Parker

Top 100 Defensive Players are hard to come by, so gaining the commitment of Tomarrion Parker in June to see him quit a few weeks later was a huge blow to the recruiting class. As we mentioned when Parker committed, he perhaps lacked some traits that would have propelled him into five-star territory, but it was a polished, Top 100-ready defensive end that really would have boosted the defensive space in Happy Valley.

Most Surprising Recruitment Loss: OL Evan Link

You know, Penn State didn’t really have a “WTF” recruiting like they had with Julian Fleming or Nolan Rucci in the past, so this one could have gone a few different ways. We’ll go with Evan Link here only because while he was never considered a lockout for Penn State, I think the general consensus was that he would eventually go to Happy Valley. Instead, Link ended up in Michigan, where I’m sure he’ll become a three-year starter.

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