James Franklin has had great success bringing some of the top running backs in the nation to Penn State
“Linebacker U” has been the moniker given to Penn State for a long time. And while the haul of top linebackers in the 2019 class shows that it’s still alive, head coach James Franklin has somewhat quietly amassed some of the best running backs in the nation during his time in Happy Valley.
When looking at the current running backs on the roster and analyzing the ones to come in the future, as well as thinking back to Saquon Barkley, it’s clear that running back has been a position of strength for Penn State, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
“Running Back U” seems to be an appropriate new name for the Penn State program.
Franklin’s success at finding running backs started when he was able to get running back who wasn’t heavily recruited to commit to Penn State. That unknown player quickly — Saquon Barkley — turned into one of the best players in Penn State history. He then was the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft and put together a Pro Bowl season as a rookie.
Although Barkley was on the team, Franklin didn’t hesitate to go out and nab the best running back in the 2016 class. Franklin landed five-star prospect Miles Sanders to ultimately be Barkley’s replacement.
Sanders put up strong numbers this season as the starter, rushing for over 1,200 yards with nine touchdowns. He will certainly be the starter in 2019 unless he leaves early for the NFL Draft.
In 2017, Franklin recruited Journey Brown, a three-star running back with blazing speed. Brown saw limited action this past season, but could be an intriguing piece of the offense moving forward.
For the 2018 class, yet another top running back joined the Penn State program. Ricky Slade, rated as a five-star recruit and the top all-purpose back by 247Sports, chose to join the Nittany Lions over offers from Florida State, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The talented back rushed for just 230 yards as a true freshman, but did score six touchdowns.
Slade appears to be the future, and could find himself in the lead role as early as next season.
Despite having a stockpile of talented running backs, Franklin didn’t shy away from running backs in the current 2019 class. During the first day of the early signing period, Penn State continued to stock its cupboard by signing two top-10 running backs.
Devyn Ford, a four-star prospect from Virginia, is the No. 5 running back according to 247Sports. He committed to Penn State back in May and made it official on the first day of the early signing period.
Joining Ford in the 2019 class is four-star Noah Cain. Considered a heavy Texas lean, Cain offered up a bit of a surprise on signing day when he chose the Nittany Lions over the Longhorns.
Ford and Cain will join a 2019 Penn State backfield that will be loaded with guys who were some of the best high school running backs in the nation.
“Linebacker U” is still alive and well at Penn State, but based on what James Franklin has done in the past few recruiting classes, it’s safe to say that Penn State could easily be called “Running Back U.”