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Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Which PSU pledge has best all-time shot?

By Josh Moyer

Take a long look at Penn State's 13 commitments. It's the 19th-best class in the country right now, so take your time. There's clearly a lot of good players to choose from.

But, from that list, who would be most likely to be picked in a future fantasy draft of all-time PSU greats? It's a question all of the RecruitingNation team sites have been asked to answer. So, once those college careers are finished, which 2014 commit is most likely to find himself on a list of legends that includes the likes of LaVar Arrington, John Cappelletti and Kerry Collins?

Earning a spot on a list like that isn't as easy as being the best player in a recruiting class. The current pledge has to rise above that. Linebacker Troy Reeder could become a senior All-American, and there's still no guarantee he'd be drafted a decade from now. (We did leave off several All-American linebackers during our draft, after all. Apologies, John Skorupan and Michael Mauti.)

Think about the weakest positions, historically, for Penn State. Read the scouting reports. Reflect on their backgrounds. And, maybe, you'll come up with the same name as NittanyNation: Troy Vincent Jr.

Surprised? He's not in the ESPN 300. He's the fifth-best prospect of this class, according to the ESPN scouts' rankings. Wideout De'Andre Thompkins -- the No. 54 athlete in the country -- or Michael O'Connor might be more attractive picks. But Vincent Jr. has something the other players here don't: Opportunity.

In coming up with a "cheat sheet" for NittanyNation's fantasy draft, the most difficult position to rank was cornerback. PSU has a tradition at linebacker and linemen that borders three centuries, has multiple receivers that belong in the conversation of best-ever in school history and has -- believe it or not -- a deceivingly good track record with old-school quarterbacks. (Chuck Fusina and John Hufnagel were both serious contenders in the Heisman race.)

O'Connor would need to be one of the top-five signal-callers in PSU history; Vincent only has to be in the top 10. And go on: Try to name 10 first-team All-Big Ten corners off the top of your head.

It's not easy. Stephon Morris said the 2012 season was the beginning of a renaissance for the PSU corner, and NittanyNation tends to believe him. Justin King was good, but he was no All-American. His closing speed was fantastic, but the old staff usually relied on zone coverage and didn't test its corners in one-on-one battles.

Ask an NFL scout about PSU's reputation at cornerback. Ask anyone. Morris even knew before the draft.

"[T]he only thing I really needed to prove to the scouts, especially coming up to Penn State, was that I wasn't a typical stiff, slow corner," Morris said, "because that's how I feel they judge us."

That's changed and, with those changes, comes new players and new opportunities -- and a better chance to display those skills. Vincent will likely be a boundary-side corner at Penn State, and he's had an NFL veteran teaching him every step of the way, his father.

Is there anyone on that list of 13 commits who's more prepared for a college-sized playbook? Is there anyone more polished? Definitely not. Is there anyone at a weaker position? Nope. (Good luck, Nick Scott and Mark Allen, for unseating the likes of Ki-Jana Carter and Lenny Moore.)

The answer has to be Vincent. At least Marcus Allen will have the likes of Mark Robinson, Darren Perry and Kim Herring to battle against. Vincent? Heck, one of historian Lou Prato's cornerback picks was Harry "Light Horse" Wilson, who played for PSU when the forward pass was a milk-swilling teenager.

That's not to say PSU hasn't had any good corners. But there's a difference between good and great and, with Vincent's background, he already has a head-start at "great." He transferred to Gilman last season and, within a few months, became the player whom coaches trusted enough to make adjustments for the entire secondary. He's trained in any variation of coverage you can name -- and even a few you can't.

One of PSU's starting corners this season will likely be Trevor Williams, who was listed about 10 months ago as battling Shawney Kersey for the starting wideout job. So it would surprise no one if Vincent contributed early. The four-star cornerback, popularly abbreviated as TVJ, has an opportunity.

Maybe no one from this 2014 class will belong in the same conversation as Cappy, "Mother" Dunn or M-Rob. Maybe more than one will pick up a cool nickname because of his play. But, if you look at the history and what each commit will have to go up against, the path to Penn State greatness might just be best set up best for Troy Vincent Jr.