Breaking down the 2012 defensive class

As the first player to commit to Penn State following the NCAA sanctions, Brennan Franklin's the wild card of the class of 2012. If he develops, he could turn into the ultimate recruiting steal. Courtesy of Brandon Franklin

The defensive players in Penn State's 2012 recruiting class are not the most heralded the Nittany Lions have ever snagged. But defense has been a strength of Penn State since before some of these recruits' parents were born -- and that's not expected to change.

Four-star defensive tackle Brian Gaia heads the incoming defensive class, and several three-star players could see the field this year as most players might be asked to step up sooner than later due to the NCAA sanctions. So NittanyNation takes a closer look at each defensive recruit and breaks down what ESPN's scouts had to say before each player wound up in Happy Valley.

Da'Quan Davis

Position: CB

Hometown: Rosedale, Md.

Ht/Wt: 5-10/161

ESPN Ranking: Three-star, No. 54 CB

ESPN Scouting Report: Good instincts but lacks height and size. Smooth. Plays the ball and not the man. Could be a late bloomer.

Outlook: Coach Bill O'Brien said Davis was one of the freshmen who's impressed him. That's good news because Penn State's secondary needs a few extra bodies -- and Davis will likely be pressed into action this season as a result.

Derek Dowrey

Position: DT

Hometown: Winchester, Va.

Ht/Wt: 6-3/311

ESPN Ranking: Three-star, No. 31 DT

ESPN Scouting Report: Tough, gets off the ball well. Creates separation. Not flashy but displays hustle.

Outlook: He has already put a lot of weight on his frame — 31 pounds since January — and could be a force in just a year or two. If he doesn't slow down with the weight gain, he could be a nice prospect.

Brennan Franklin

Position: LB

Hometown: Peoria, Ariz.

Ht/Wt: 5-11/220

ESPN Ranking: Not Ranked

ESPN Scouting Report: N/A

Outlook: As the first player to commit to Penn State following the NCAA sanctions, Franklin's the wild card of the class of 2012. There was really no film on him until the middle of his senior season, so he was not heavily recruited. Still, like fellow freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman, he'll be able to challenge for some playing time as early as next year thanks to graduations among the linebacking corps.

Brian Gaia

Position: DT

Hometown: Pasadena, Md.

Ht/Wt: 6-3/271

ESPN Ranking: Four-star, No. 13 OG

ESPN Scouting Report: Frame could handle more bulk. Good quickness. Can disrupt backfield. Good balance, quick hands.

Outlook: Unlike Dowrey, Gaia recently weighed in about 14 pounds lighter than he was in January. He'll need at least a season to get to the size he needs to be, but he has enough ability that he should push for playing time once that happens.

Austin Johnson

Position: DT

Hometown: Galloway, N.J.

Ht/Wt: 6-4/297

ESPN Ranking: Not Ranked

ESPN Scouting Report: N/A

Outlook: Sure, Johnson was unranked by ESPN -- but he has enough potential that Boston College, Rutgers and Syracuse each extended offers. He'll still need some seasoning with defensive line coach Larry Johnson before he sees the field, though.

Jake Kiley

Position: S

Hometown: Plymouth, N.H.

Ht/Wt: 6-0/170

ESPN Ranking: Two-star, No. 114 CB

ESPN Scouting Report: Good instincts and awareness. Needs to fill out, improve upper-body strength. Decent recovery speed, needs to polish footwork.

Outlook: Kiley is still listed on the roster as a cornerback, but O'Brien recently said he's now playing safety. He could see some playing time as a reserve and might be pressed into action if an injury hits the secondary.

Jordan Lucas

Position: S

Hometown: New Rochelle, N.Y.

Ht/Wt: 6-0/188

ESPN Ranking: Three-star ATH

ESPN Scouting Report: Quick playmaker. Good hands, good range. Not tested often in high school.

Outlook: Lucas is likely a little ahead of Kiley at this point. He could see some time this season but should really hit his stride next year.

Evan Schwan

Position: DE

Hometown: Media, Pa.

Ht/Wt: 6-6/223

ESPN Ranking: Not Ranked

ESPN Scouting Report: N/A

Outlook: Penn State has a lot of talent on the ends, so Schwan's going to need to add some weight if he wants to get some playing time. He likely won't get on the field this season and will have to work hard if he wants to become a situational defensive end in the next two years or so.

Nyeem Wartman

Position: LB

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa.

Ht/Wt: 6-1/236

ESPN Ranking: Three-star, No. 108 OLB

ESPN Scouting Report: Needs to work on flexibility. Good range, good tackler. Reads coverage well but pursues high. Good size.

Outlook: He's one of only two linebackers in this class, so he'll likely be seeing some playing time down the road -- just not this season. Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti both graduate after this season, though, so he could push for one of the top four spots next season.