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Best player? Highest ceiling? Hidden gem? Breaking down Penn State's 2020 recruiting class

JOSH MOYER AND JON SAUBER
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State head football coach James Franklin is expected to have a 2020 recruiting class featuring 27 players.
  • The early signing period for college football starts on Wednesday.
  • Penn State's top recruits include TE Theo Johnson and LB Curtis Jacobs.
  • OT Jimmy Christ and DE Bryce Mostella are among PSU's hidden gems.
  • WR KeAndre Lambert and RB Keyvone Lee may have the highest ceilings.

The “new” national signing day is right around the corner, so we thought now would be the perfect time to break down Penn State’s class with superlatives.

Who’s the hidden gem of the 2020 class? And who could make an immediate impact? We recently took a deeper look at the Nittany Lions’ class to share our takes ahead of the early signing period, which kicks off Wednesday and ends Friday.

PSU head coach James Franklin is expected to sign 27 players.

Here’s what we’re thinking:

BEST OVERALL PLAYER:

Josh Moyer: TE Theo Johnson

Say hello to the Nittany Lions’ most recent commit — and their highest-rated offensive prospect. The 6-foot-6, 242-pound tight end pledged to PSU on Dec. 9 and, according to 247 Sports, he’s the No. 84-ranked prospect in North America. (We can’t really say “nation” here since he’s Canadian.) He’s got fantastic speed for a big man; his 4.63-second 40-yard dash was the fastest among players heavier than 220 pounds at The Opening Finals. He’s already garnering comparisons to former PSU tight end Mike Gesicki and, when Pat Freiermuth likely leaves for the NFL in 2021, Johnson should ensure the Nittany Lions still have a tight end with the talent to win the Mackey Award.

Jon Sauber: LB Curtis Jacobs

Jacobs could slot into most of these categories, but at the end of the day, he’s the best player in the class and that’s the highest honor he can get. Jacobs is a 4-star linebacker from Maryland and one of the top 50 players in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Jacobs has the requisite size and athleticism at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds to play all three linebacker spots at the next level, but projects to play on the outside. He’s a high-level run defender who can shed blocks with ease. Jacobs is going to make an impact for several years at Penn State, and has the upside to make a similar impact in the NFL.

HIDDEN GEM

Josh Moyer: OT Jimmy Christ

Can we still classify Christ, a 3-star prospect, as a hidden gem? Sure, 247 Sports ranks him as the nation’s No. 39 offensive tackle, just outside the overall top 500. But the 6-foot-7, 295-pound prospect boasts 40 scholarship offers. (No other Penn State 3-star prospect has more than 28.) He was originally committed to Virginia last month, before turning around and committing to Ja’Juan Seider and Matt Limegrover. He has the frame to add weight, the speed to hit the second level and the potential — per 247 Sports analyst Brian Dohn — to become a “multi-year starter” at a top-20 program.

Jon Sauber: DE Bryce Mostella

Penn State has several players in this class who qualify here, but none fit better than Mostella. He’s all projection at this point with the size and length to grow into an elite defensive end at the next level. He has tremendous bend and uses it well for someone that’s 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds. Mostella, who is a 3-star prospect, will need to fill out when he gets to Happy Valley, but fortunately for him, Penn State has the kind of strength and conditioning program that can add weight to his massive frame in no time. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the defender from Michigan making a major impact at Beaver Stadium down the road.

HIGHEST CEILING

Josh Moyer: WR KeAndre Lambert

Lambert is a special athlete, and he would fit just fine in most of our categories here. Quickest impact? Best get? He could be those, too. He can create separation with what 247 Sports analyst Brian Dohn called “elite change of direction,” and he’s the nephew of former Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor. Yes, the 6-foot-1 and 176-pound Virginian could stand to add some weight. But he’s driven, he’s talented — and he might not be here all four years. Better become familiar with his name sooner rather than later.

Jon Sauber: RB Keyvone Lee

Lee comes into a crowded running back room at Penn State but has a chance to force his way onto the field quickly. He’s got good size at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds and has the athleticism to go with it. John Garcia Jr. of 247Sports projects the Floridian as a potential three-down back with upside for more.

”(Lee is) more of an accelerator than sprinter but plenty elusive and crafty in the open field with good vision, change of direction and natural instincts,” Garcia wrote. “(He) can play space game or power game from (the) running back position.”

Even if he doesn’t see the field early, Lee has the kind of upside that could land him in the early rounds of the NFL draft in a few years.

QUICKEST IMPACT

Josh Moyer: WR Norval Black

There’s clearly an opportunity at receiver, and fellow WR recruits such as Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert were tempting picks here, too. But Black, a junior-college prospect from Lackawanna, isn’t being brought in to be slowly brought along as a project. The under-the-radar prospect caught Penn State’s eye over the summer, and the 6-foot-1 burner seems to fit the speedster role of Dan Chisena or previous wideout DeAndre Thompkins. The Nittany Lions like to stretch the field, and Black can play the role of the Seattle Seahawks’ DK Metcalf — run downfield 40 yards, catch the ball and make a big play. He can’t enroll early, and he won’t lead this team in receptions. But he could be another big-play threat in certain situations. He might not have the “biggest” impact, but he’ll have a noticeable one. Quickly.

Jon Sauber: WR Parker Washington

Penn State’s need at wide receiver is no secret, which helps explain why the Nittany Lions currently have five of them in their 2020 recruiting class. Washington stands out among the group as the most likely to see the field early. He stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 201 pounds, and has shown off his talent on multiple occasions this season. That includes an insane one-handed catch in October that quickly went viral on social media.

Washington is the most refined of the wide receiver group and has plenty of talent to match his refinement. Given their need for playmaking on the outside, the Nittany Lions should have a hard time keeping him on the sideline as a freshman.

BEST GET

Josh Moyer: RB Caziah Holmes

This is the “best” for a couple reasons. For one, Holmes’ commitment reinforced the pipeline to Florida — thanks to RB coach/recruiting guru Ja’Juan Seider. And, two, Happy Valley has fast become a destination for running backs, and the best way to keep that location on the map is to continue the trend with talent like Holmes. Penn State’s riches at running back are ridiculous, and Holmes only adds to it. Any two of Penn State’s backs could transfer this offseason and the Nittany Lions still wouldn’t skip a beat with someone like Holmes waiting in the wings. The 4-star all-purpose back has the talent to play immediately; with the current depth, it’s just no guarantee he’ll see a significant role early.

Jon Sauber: TE Theo Johnson

The Nittany Lions’ best offensive player is also its best “get.” Johnson is a 4-star tight end and a top-5 player at his position in the 2020 class. Penn State picked up Johnson over a host of high-level schools and some of the best schools for tight ends in the country. He chose the Nittany Lions over the Michigan Wolverines, who are close to his home Windsor, Ontario, Canada and the Georgia Bulldogs, a consensus top-5 team in the country. Most impressively, he picked them over the Iowa Hawkeyes, a school that produces tight ends like Penn State does linebackers. The Hawkeyes most recently had two tight ends selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft. That’s a massive “get” for the Nittany Lions.