Penn State needs to land these crucial recruiting targets who are in Happy Valley this weekend

Penn State has a talent group of high school players in town for official visits this weekend, but three players stand out as the highest priorities for James Franklin's roster.
Mission Viejo v De La Salle
Mission Viejo v De La Salle / Aubrey Lao/GettyImages

Penn State's first official visit of the summer recruiting cycle occurred on Friday, May 17, when five-star defensive lineman Iose Epenesa was in Happy Valley before the Illinois native spent time at Missouri and Iowa. Epenesa is still uncommitted as are 10 of the 11 high school recruits who visited the next weekend for the first of James Franklin’s summer football camps. 

That crop included key targets, Quincy Porter, a four-star receiver, Max Granville and Cedric Works, two four-star edge rushers, and four-star cornerback Graceson Littleton who has since committed to Clemson. On June 7, another group arrived, this one comprised of 10 players. 

  • Kainoa Winston, S: 4-star
  • Daryus Dixon, OL: 4-star
  • Phillip Bell, WR: 4-star
  • Jayden Woods, EDGE: 4-star
  • Jeff Exinor Jr. EDGE: 4-star
  • Rashad Johnson, S: 4-star
  • Jarquez Carter, DL: 3-star
  • Matthew Outten, WR: 4-star
  • Josh Johnson, S: 3-star
  • Amory Hills, OL: 3-star

Of that group, a few prospects stand out. 

S. . . 5'10" 185 lbs. Kainoa Winston. Kainoa Winston. 491. 4-star. Kainoa Winston. player

Kevin Winston Jr.’s younger cousin could be a perfect replacement in the Penn State secondary. The elder Winston could be the best-returning safety in college football and will almost certainly be heading to the NFL after this season. King Mack appeared to be the succession plan for Kevin Winston and Jaylen Reed in the defensive backfield, but after he left in the spring transfer portal, Penn State needs to reload. 

Keaton Ellis and Zakee Wheatley will be a key part of the safety rotation in 2024, but with Mekhi Flowers moving to the offensive side of the ball for his redshirt sophomore season, Tom Allen won’t have a ton of options in 2025 and beyond. 

Phillip Bell. Phillip Bell. Phillip Bell. player. . 491. 6'2" 195 lbs. 4-star. . WR

Wide receiver is the most glaring weakness on Penn State’s roster and bringing in Julian Fleming for 2024 is nothing more than a stop-gap solution. Penn State has continued to overcommit to the running back position and miss on targets for Drew Allar. 

The NFL has proven the value of the wide receiver position with the best pass catchers in the league commanding massive contracts and seven receivers going in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft. However, James Franklin hasn’t gotten the news. Only eight receivers are coming on official visits to Happy Valley this summer and just three are rated as four-star recruits. 

Ohio State, USC, and Tennessee are also in the running for Bell, one of the best receivers from the state of California. 

Matthew Outten. Matthew Outten. player. Matthew Outten. WR. 491. . 4-star. . 6'0" 200 lbs

Outten would be such an interesting weapon for offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki to deploy in his offense. His ability as a downfield receiver is questionable. He’s content to wait for the ball, not attacking it in the air which will hurt him in college football, but that lack of aggressiveness does not translate to his running style. 

Outten is a physical player with a low center of gravity who is a nightmare to bring down once he has the ball in his hands. Not overly shifty, Outten has great vision and can shed arm tackles with ease. Kotelnicki could feature him as a hybrid receiver/running back and design plenty of touches for him behind the line of scrimmage. 

Teams must be creative for Outten to produce, so while he’s a four-star, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse are the main competition for the Portsmouth Virginia native. 

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