Penn State will open another spring with a good handful of questions about their roster moving into the 2019 season. For James Franklin, he once again must find ways to react to a handful of transfers and early departures to the NFL as he continues to recruit talent capable of keeping Penn State in contention for a Big Ten title shot. This year, he has a crop of early enrollees that figure to get to work right away to find their path to being an impact player for the Nittany Lions.
Franklin’s 2019 class is ranked 13th in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, placing them second in the Big Ten this recruiting season. Only Michigan had a better class in the composite ranking, while Ohio State slipped to third, although with a smaller class that does not include the transfer of Justin Fields. So who will be the stars of the Class of 2019 in Happy Valley, and will any of them begin to enter the picture this fall? It turns out, there are more than a few names to follow.
Adisa Isaac, DE
With Penn State losing a pair of defensive ends from last season, the Nittany Lions will look to a few players to fill the vacancies on the edge of the defensive line this season. Isaac may be one of those players getting a chance to see what he can do, especially after getting a chance to get a jump start on his career with spring football this semester. The four-star talent may not land a starting role, but the NCAA’s redshirt rule seemingly gives him the best chance to get his feet wet at the very least in the fall, and more playing time may not be out of the question if he performs well enough.
Brandon Smith, LB
The top player in Penn State’s newest class, it should be expected the coaching staff will find some playing time for the five-star linebacker out of Virginia. Smith was among the early enrollees this spring, so getting a chance to get to work right away and play in the spring game should help put Smith on a fast track to contributing in the defense in the fall.
Noah Cain, RB
After Miles Sanders decided to go to the NFL after one year as the starting running back, following Saquon Barkley, Penn State could have some competition for some carries this fall. Ricky Slade likely remains the next in line, but Cain, a four-star from IMG Academy in Florida, should get some opportunities as well. Cain also enrolled early, so he’ll get a chance to work out this spring and get a handle on the offense. A solid showing this spring could lead to some chances to carry the ball in the fall as Penn State sorts out the running game.
Michal Johnson Jr. and Taquan Roberson, QB
This may be a list of five players to watch, but this one comes with a bonus pick given the position.
The quarterback position may actually be in solid hands this season with Tommy Stevens the projected successor to Trace McSorley, and Sean Clifford the likely backup, but Penn State has a pair of dual-threat options in this class in Johnson and Roberson. Both are four-star recruits and both enrolled already, making them available for the spring. With two talented dual-threats in the class, how the staff handles them now could go a long way to determining the future of the position in this day when young quarterbacks may be quick to transfer if they don’t get their shot.
Anthony Whigan, OL
Penn State could use an extra body to fill up the offensive line, and Whigan addresses that need right away. The junior college transfer from Lackawanna (Pa.) College has the ability to play multiple positions on the offensive line, which could come in handy as Penn State reworks that unit a bit this season.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback s well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.