Penn State Football Recruiting: Ranking James Franklin's Biggest Misses

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Penn State Football Recruiting: Revisiting 5 Biggest Misses of The James Franklin Era

Penn State Football Recruiting has experienced a boon since head coach James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley in 2014.

The Nittany Lions have consistently produced top 20 recruiting classes with Penn State averaging top 15 classes and recruiting two top-10 classes to Penn State in his 10-year tenure, including these five massive recruiting wins.

Penn State Football, Penn State Football Recruiting, James Franklin
Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

However, despite all this success in recruiting, Penn State has still seen its fair share of big recruiting misses over the past ten seasons. Here are the five biggest recruiting misses for Penn State under head coach James Franklin.

Penn State Football Recruiting: Ranking James Franklin’s 5 Biggest Misses

No. 5 – Brandon Wimbush (2015)

Although 2014 quarterback Trace McSorley would go on to bring Penn State back to the forefront of college football and win Penn State their only Big Ten Championship under James Franklin (2016), missing out on Brandon Wimbush is still a top-five recruiting miss for Penn State under James Franklin.

Wimbush had committed to Penn State before ultimately de-committing in favor of Notre Dame. While his career may not have worked out at Notre Dame, the former top-50 quarterback would have been a big recruiting win early on in James Franklin’s tenure.

No. 4 – Nolan Rucci (2021)

Penn State Football, Nolan Rucci
TAMPA, FL – JANUARY 01: LSU Tigers defensive tackle Mekhi Wingo (18) rushes against Wisconsin Badgers offensive lineman Nolan Rucci (66) during the ReliaQuest Bowl on January 1, 2024 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire)

Penn State had everything going for it in this recruitment ahead of the world being shut down by COVID.

Rucci was a five-star in-state recruit with a family legacy with the Nittany Lions. However, once COVID shut down the country and Nolan spent months working out with his brother, Wisconsin tight end Hayden, Penn State could not seal the deal to get Rucci’s commitment, who followed his brother to Wisconsin.

Yet, although Penn State was not able to secure Rucci’s commitment out of high school, the relationship built with Nolan ultimately paid off when Nolan transferred to Penn State in January after three seasons with Wisconsin.


No. 3 – Julian Fleming (2020)

Penn State Football, Julian Fleming, Penn State Football Recruiting
Penn State Nittany Lions cornerback Kalen King (4) breaks up a pass intended for Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Julian Fleming (Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch)

Like Rucci, Julian Fleming seemed to be a Penn State lock as a local five-star player who spent countless visits on Penn State’s campus.

However, after 2018 five-star wide receiver Justin Shorter struggled in the Nittany Lions offense, Fleming committed to the Ohio State Buckeyes. Like Rucci, the relationship built between Fleming and the staff over the years of high school recruiting ultimately paid off as Fleming transferred to Penn State this January after four seasons with the rival Buckeyes.

No. 2 – Christian Wilkins (2015)

Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins seemed like a Penn State lock during the 2015 recruiting cycle before his surprise commitment to Clemson.

Penn State held 83.3 percent of the crystal ball projections from 247Sports for the number 24 overall, five-star prospect out of Connecticut that eventually turned into a difference maker for the Clemson defense before his selection in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft.

When looking at the pieces that Penn State was missing during the high point of 2016 through 2019, Wilkins would have been a massive difference maker and could have been the difference between a college football playoff birth and coming up just short.

No. 1 – Justin Fields (2018)

By far and away, Justin Fields is the biggest recruiting miss of the James Franklin era, despite the fact that there might not have been anything more the staff could have done to keep his commitment in 2018.

Coming off of the 2016 Big Ten championship win, Penn State identified Justin Fields very early on in his recruitment and secured his commitment, similar to what Penn State did with Drew Allar.

However, once Fields’ recruitment blew up following his junior year, Penn State could not hold off other national powerhouses and Fields decommitted. Fields eventually ended up at Georgia for his freshman year, and then transferred to Ohio State, where he beat Penn State twice on route to two College Football Playoff appearances.

It’s safe to say that the trajectory of both Ohio State and Penn State would have been much different if Penn State had kept Fields commitment in the 2018 class.

Despite these misses, Penn State Football Recruiting has seen plenty of success under James Franklin. Penn State has also seen that even if a recruitment does not work out the first time, the relationships built during high school recruiting could help the Nittany Lions years down the road through the transfer portal.

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