STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – We’ve reached the middle of this week’s countdown, which is ranking Penn State’s most impactful recruiting classes of the past decade.
Up next is a class that was responsible for a half-dozen All-Big Ten selections.
No. 3 most impactful class: Class of 2006
Top prospects: CB A.J. Wallace, RB Evan Royster, TE Andrew Quarless, DT Ollie Ogbu, DT Jared Odrick, DE Aaron Maybin, LB Bani Gbadyu, DE Maurice Evans, OT Lou Eliades, WR Brett Brackett, LB NaVorro Bowman
Biggest surprise: Royster. ESPN’s scouts gave him a grade of 72, which was equivalent to a low-tier three-star prospect. Out of the 20 prospects that ESPN rated, Royster had the lowest grade. But he certainly left his mark at Penn State. He left the university as its all-time leading rusher, surpassing such greats as Curt Warner, Ki-Jana Carter and Franco Harris. He averaged 5.7 yards a carry, rushed for 3,904 yards and scored 29 touchdowns. He wasn’t the best tailback ever to wear the blue jersey, but he certainly belongs in the top-10 conversation.
Impact player: Bowman. He basically took the place of All-American Dan Connor in 2008 and didn’t skip a beat. He led the team with 106 tackles that season and finished behind Maybin in tackles for loss with 16.5. PSU finished with the No. 8 defense in the nation that year, and Bowman came right back the next season and was an All-Big Ten selection before declaring early for the NFL draft. He had 17 tackles for loss in 2009, a half-dozen more than Odrick, who was an All-American. Like Royster, Bowman might not have been the best at his position ever to matriculate through "Linebacker U," but he belongs in the top-10 conversation.
Why this class is important: Just take a look at these names. The talent here is incredible, as this class produced a half-dozen All-Big Ten selections and a pair of All-America picks. Many of the players here were skilled enough to play in the NFL, as six were taken in the draft.
But if there’s one thing that prevents this class from moving up a spot or two, it was the fact a few entered the NFL early or found a way into Joe Paterno’s doghouse. Quarless was incredibly skilled, but spent two seasons trying to work his way back into Paterno’s good graces after marijuana possession charges. Maybin and Evans had short, but bright careers and clearly weren’t ready for the next level when they declared. (Evans might have declared early because he also found himself in Paterno's doghouse.) Bowman also declared early – but clearly was prepared. If those players stayed through their senior seasons or stayed out of trouble, this class goes down as one of the best of all time.
It’s still a very good class, one filled with NFL talent and solid college contributors. But this class had the potential to be even better; it could have been legendary.
More impactful recruiting classes: