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Penn State football: Looking closer at each of the Nittany Lions’ 18 commits on National Early Signing Day

Five hours after it started, Early National Signing Day ended for the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Penn State reeled in 18 total signees, the 17 verbals it had prior to Wednesday along with a Wednesday commitment from top-10 running back prospect Noah Cain.

The first faxed letter of intent came from State College cornerback Keaton Ellis at 7:25 a.m. and ended with Parkersburg (W.Va.) tight end Brenton Strange at 11:54 a.m. More commits will join the program again in February, but the heavy lifting was finished Wednesday.

Here are the newest Nittany Lions, the signees in the 2019 class, from the first to officially join to the last. (As a sidenote, all recruit ratings come from 247 Sports’ composite rankings.)

1. CB Keaton Ellis, 4 stars

Height/weight: 5-11/177

School (Hometown): State College Area (State College, Pa.)

Synopsis: The hometown kid is moving 2.4 miles down the road, from State College’s Memorial Field to University Park’s Beaver Stadium.

He’s the first Little Lion to become a Nittany Lion since Alex Kenney in 2010. But Ellis wasn’t just handed this opportunity — he earned it.

His hand-timed 4.39-second 40 caught Penn State’s eye, and his athleticism was difficult to ignore. As a high school senior, he recorded four interceptions and nine pass deflections to go along with 51 tackles. He played both ways and also registered 888 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns to complement his 263 rushing yards and pair of scores.

Unsurprisingly, Penn State was one of the first teams to recognize Ellis’ ability. And Ellis is hoping to make Happy Valley proud.

2. RB Devyn Ford, 4 stars

Height/weight: 5-11/188

School (hometown): North Stafford (Stafford, Va.)

Synopsis: For the fourth time in five years, Penn State nabbed a top-tier running back. In 2015, it was Saquon Barkley. In 2016, it was Miles Sanders, and last year, it was Ricky Slade.

Now, it’s Ford joining what has become a run of talented Nittany Lion rushers.

The No. 80 prospect in the country, Ford is the No. 5 running back in the 2019 class and No. 2 player in Virginia, behind Penn State linebacker commit Brandon Smith. Brian Dohn of 247 Sports compared Ford to Houston Texans bell-cow Lamar Miller.

As a senior, Ford eclipsed 2,000 yards, rushed for 32 touchdowns and averaged 8.36 yards per tote.

He held offers from 30 schools, including Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia and Notre Dame.

3. CB Joey Porter Jr., 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-1/185

School (hometown): North Allegheny (Wexford, Pa.)

Synopsis: Yes, he’s the son of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star — but Pitt was never really in the picture. Penn State always was.

“They were always in my top two, from the very beginning,” Porter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, referring to PSU. “Before they even offered, I always loved Penn State. I’ve been going up there since I was a freshman. I fell in love with that school at a young age. When they offered me, it was a game-changer.”

Porter’s No. 2 school? LSU. Pitt did make the top five, however.

Regardless, he obviously knows football. (He told The Athletic he feels like a coach on the field.) He was productive his senior season — 378 all-purpose yards, three interceptions — and he’s ranked as the nation’s No. 34 cornerback.

4. DT Hakeem Beamon, 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-3/259

School (hometown): Manchester (Midlothian, Va.)

Synopsis: A former North Carolina commit, Beamon re-opened his recruitment right around the time bigger programs like Alabama and Ohio State showed significant interest.

He’s not exactly a polished recruit but, with a 4.9-second 40 at 259 pounds, there’s plenty to work with. He was originally looked upon as a defensive end but, at his size, the Nittany Lions announced Wednesday that he would focus on defensive tackle.

He was nearly unstoppable in his Virginia league this past season. Despite regularly seeing double teams, Beamon finished his senior year with 45 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and five pass deflections.

He had double-digit offers from the likes of Arkansas, Bama, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

5. OG Saleem Wormley, 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-3/311

School (hometown): Smyrna High (Smyrna, Del.)

Synopsis: The last time Penn State went down and snagged Delaware’s No. 1 prospect was in 2014, when the Nittany Lions signed Middletown star Chris Godwin. That worked out well — and James Franklin is hoping for a similar success story in Wormley.

The No. 16 guard in the country anchored Smyrna’s offense in 2018, paving the way for 1,536 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns and 6 yards per carry.

Wormley had offers from 17 schools, including Notre Dame, Florida State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.

6. QB Michael Johnson Jr., 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-2/197

School (hometown): Sheldon (Eugene, Ore.)

Synopsis: The son of Oregon’s wide receivers coach rejected the Ducks’ interest. Instead, Johnson will play his college ball 2,300 miles from Eugene.

The No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the country, Johnson is an explosive signal-caller who boasts a 4.58-second 40-yard dash.

The No. 271 prospect in the country accounted for 99 touchdowns as a three-year starter, throwing for 5,287 yards and rushing for 2,393. As a senior, Johnson threw for 1,821 yards with 19 touchdowns and just three INTs, while running for 1,290 yards and 18 scores.

Johnson enters an interesting quarterback room. Trace McSorley is moving on, and Tommy Stevens is gone after 2019. Johnson will likely compete for the 2020 starting job with Sean Clifford, Will Levis and fellow 2019 commit Taquan Roberson.

Johnson had offers from 29 schools, including Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State.

7. CB Marquis Wilson, 4 stars

Height/weight: 5-11/167

School (hometown): Avon Old Farms (Avon, Conn.)

Synopsis: After seeing what the atmosphere was like to the annual Blue-White Game, Wilson didn’t need to wait much longer to commit. He verbaled a month later.

He’s an athletic player, one who played both ways in high school and ran the shuttle in 4.09 — a time that would’ve been among the top-10 fastest in the most recent NFL Combine.

Wilson had more than two dozen scholarship offers from schools such as Alabama and Ohio State, and he was rated as the nation’s No. 37 CB prospect — just three spots behind future teammate Joey Porter Jr.

He’s the second commit from Connecticut in the class.

8. DE Adisa Isaac, 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-4/220

School (hometown): Canarsie (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

Synopsis: Isaac, who committed only Monday, once thought his future path to college was wrestling.

After his explosive sophomore season, he realized it was football as an edge rusher. Rutgers was the first to offer him — and that was before, by Isaac’s own admission, he took the sport seriously. Once he did, just about every major college program came calling.

He’s widely regarded as a top-five prospect at his position, and he has more than 30 scholarship offers. His final four came down to Syracuse, Miami (Fla.), Texas A&M and Penn State. And fans can likely thank DL coach Sean Spencer quite a bit for the defensive windfall.

“My position coach at Penn State has coached my high school coach,” Isaac told Rivals, “so I trust them.”

9. OG Caedan Wallace, 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-5/291

School (hometown): Hun School (Princeton, N.J.)

Synopsis: James Franklin has long said that offensive line is the hardest place for a true freshman to contribute. But Wallace might be the exception to the rule.

Wallace is the No. 71 prospect in the country, giving the Nittany Lions one top-100 linemen in each of the last four recruiting classes (Rasheed Walker, 2018; C.J. Thorpe, 2017; Michal Menet, 2016).

Wallace — the No. 2 guard in the 2019 class — earned an invite to the U.S. Army All-American game in January. Brian Dohn of 247 Sports compared him to former Outland Trophy winner and top-five pick Brandon Scherff.

Wallace had offers from 30 schools, including Oklahoma, Clemson, Florida and Michigan.

10. LB Brandon Smith, 5 stars

Height/weight: 6-3/225

School (hometown): Louisa County (Mineral, Va.)

Synopsis: Say hello to the headliner of Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class.

Smith, the No. 25 overall prospect in the nation, is the Nittany Lions’ highest-rated prospect and their first true five-star linebacker since 2004’s Dan Connor. (Micah Parsons was technically listed as a five-star defensive end.)

Smith runs a laser-timed 4.59-second 40-yard dash, and he’s versatile enough to play inside or outside. Barton Simmons, 247 Sports’ Director of Scouting, believes he already has the tools “to become a first round NFL Draft pick.”

Smith boasted nearly 30 offers from a who’s-who of teams such as Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame. He could compete for immediate playing time in 2019.

11. S Tyler Rudolph, 4 stars

Height/weight: 5-11/200

School (hometown): St. Thomas More (Oakdale, Conn.)

Synopsis: Looking for a versatile player with great change-of-direction? Look no further than Rudolph.

Part of the reason Penn State liked Rudolph so much was the fact he can play corner, either safety position and in nickel or dime packages. “To me,” Rudolph told a local media outlet, “it doesn’t matter where I play.”

He ran a laser-timed 4.62-second 40 at a Nike camp, but he’s also reportedly run as fast as a 4.4. His official shuttle time, which helps measure change of direction, came in at 4.18 — a time that would already put him in the middle of the defensive backs’ times in the most recent NFL Combine.

Rudolph is ranked No. 22 nationally at his position and boasted more than 20 offers from the likes of Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

12. LB Lance Dixon, 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-1/205

School (hometown): West Bloomfield (West Bloomfield, Mich.)

Synopsis: Dixon is made somewhat in the Koa Farmer mold, as he played safety in high school before moving to linebacker.

He can reportedly run a sub-4.5, and he can play just about anywhere. In October, against an undefeated opponent, he took over for his team’s injured running back and frustrated Oak Park with a series of speedy jet sweeps. He also blocked a punt. And, yes, sacked the opposing quarterback — who’s headed to Ohio State. (Dixon’s team earned the 27-21 upset.)

Both Michigan and Michigan State also offered him a scholarship, but he couldn’t turn down the allure of playing for Linebacker U.

He may not start from Day 1, but his potential led to more than two dozen scholarship offers. His pass-coverage skills border on elite for a linebacker and, with the right development, he could be a critical cog to this defense.

13. OT Anthony Whigan, 4 stars (JUCO)

Height/weight: 6-4/292

School (hometown): Lackawanna C.C. (Great Mills, Md.)

Synopsis: A graduate of Great Mills High School in Maryland, Whigan impressed at Lackawanna in Scranton. In 2018, the Falcons averaged 203.9 rushing yards per game.

Whigan — the No. 10 overall JUCO prospect and No. 3 offensive tackle — had offers from 15 schools, including South Carolina, Nebraska, Maryland, Arkansas and Louisville.

He was teammates at Lackawanna with safety Jaquan Brisker.

14. RB Noah Cain, 4 stars

Height/weight: 5-10/209

School (hometown): IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)

Synopsis: Penn State’s run on running backs continues.

After signing four-star Devyn Ford earlier in the morning, Cain picked the Nittany Lions over Texas, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State and just about every other national title contender.

Cain — the No. 7 running back in the country and No. 104 overall prospect — had 27 offers in all, making him one of the most sought-after rushers in the 2019 class.

Gabe Brooks of 247 Sports compared Cain to two-time Pro Bowl back Alfred Morris. “Broad-shouldered, stout running back with high-volume ability,” Brooks wrote. “Prototypical body and overall build for an every-down back who can carry the ball 20-plus times a game if needed. … Willing to finish runs with authority.”

15. QB Taquan Roberson, 4 stars

Height/weight: 5-11/193

School (hometown): DePaul Catholic (Wayne, N.J.)

Synopsis: In a way, Roberson has been a Nittany Lion longer than Micah Parsons. Roberson was the second member of James Franklin’s 2019 class, verbally committing on Oct. 25, 2017, a month after Keaton Ellis pledged.

Roberson’s stock has skyrocketed since his commitment, moving from a three-star QB to a four-star recruit. His play supported that jump, too. The No. 9 dual-threat quarterback in the country put up 4,898 passing yards, 887 rushing yards and 67 total touchdowns the past two seasons.

Roberson earned an Ohio State offer after committing to Penn State, but never visited Columbus. He also held offers from Kentucky, Maryland, Boston College and Virginia Tech.

16. S Jaquan Brisker, 3 stars (JUCO)

Height/weight: 6-1/190

School (hometown): Lackawanna C.C. (Scranton, Pa.)

Synopsis: Don’t let the star rating or the junior-college status fool you. Brisker has all the tools, and he has the potential to battle for a starting spot next season.

He had 10 offers — from the likes of Alabama annd Mississippi State — and he also boasts the ability to play as a hybrid linebacker. In fact, for his junior college this season, he finished with 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks while playing that hybrid role.

Assistant coach Terry Smith also knows him well. He used to be the waterboy for Smith’s high school team, Gateway, nearly a decade ago.

He won’t be able to join the program until the summer. But the native of Monroeville, Pa., still has “hidden gem” written all over.

17. WR John Dunmore, 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-2/172

School (hometown): Chaminade-Madonna Prep (Hollywood, Fla.)

Synopsis: Dunmore, the No. 17 prospect in Florida, verbally committed to the Nittany Lions on July 4 — but his recruitment was far from over.

The No. 21 wide receiver in the 2019 class unofficially visited Miami on Sept. 28, Nov. 3, Nov. 21 and Nov. 24. He took an official visit on Dec. 13 and hosted the Hurricanes’ staff for an in-home two days prior.

But James Franklin and Florida recruiting savant JaJuan Seider held off Mark Richt and company.

Dunmore racked up 730 yards and six touchdowns as a senior and gained a reputation for pulling off acrobatic scores. With DeAndre Thompkins and possibly Juwan Johnson moving on, Dunmore could compete for time right away.

In addition to heavy interest from Miami, Dunmore held offers from Auburn, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

18. TE Brenton Strange, 4 stars

Height/weight: 6-4/214

School (hometown): Parkersburg High (Parkersburg, W.Va.)

Synopsis: Perhaps Strange’s commitment to the Nittany Lions went overlooked. The No. 14 tight end in the country picked Penn State over Ohio State two days after James Franklin’s team lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Buckeyes.

But if Penn State fans missed his verbal commitment on Oct. 1, they should get to know the name.

Strange — the No. 3 prospect from West Virginia — is the third four-star tight end the Nittany Lions have nabbed in the last two cycles. Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz picked Penn State in 2018. Freiermuth broke out with seven touchdowns as a starter, while Kuntz redshirted.

Nick Bowers, Danny Dalton and Jon Holland also have eligibility remaining, so Strange might not play in 2019. But should Freiermuth continue his upward trend and possibly leave after 2020 for the NFL, Strange is a good option to have.

In four years at Parkersburg, Strange caught 186 passes for 2,660 yards and 23 touchdowns. In addition to Ohio State, he also held offers from Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Maryland and Cincinnati.

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