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Thursday, April 18, 2013
ESPN 150 targets: Penn State

By Josh Moyer

With a relatively small 2014 class, the Nittany Lions' big board isn't brimming with talent in the ESPN 150. But there are still more than a half-dozen targets here -- including at least one recruit who has PSU near the top of his list.

Here are the ESPN 150 recruits whom PSU has offered:

1. CB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic)
6-foot-1, 205 pounds
ESPN 150 rank: 2

Why PSU wants him: Where to begin? He's the top overall player on Penn State's big board for good reason. He boasts incredible top-end speed, can play offense or defense, and ESPN's scouts used the term "playmaker" three times in a brief scouting report to describe his talents. He could make an immediate impact in his first year.

Who else wants him: Just about everybody. He holds offers from the who's who in the college football world: Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Stanford, etc. It's hard to see any team turning down Peppers.

Odds PSU gets him: It's a big longshot. Peppers came away impressed during an unofficial visit in February, but his excitement with the Nittany Lions has died down considerably. PSU isn't one of his top schools at this point, and it would take a tremendous recruiting effort for the Lions to slide into his top 5 -- let alone persuade him enough to commit.

2. ATH De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro)
5-11, 167
ESPN 150 rank: 54

Why PSU wants him: During a time with reduced scholarships, Thompkins is exactly the type of player PSU's hoping to find more of. Although PSU primarily projects him at wideout, the staff has also told Thompkins he could become a slash-type player who also takes on nickelback and returning duties. He's a natural athlete who can run well after the catch and would be a solid pick-up.

Who else wants him: He's up to a dozen offers right now, but there are likely quite a few more to come. Some of his bigger ones include Clemson, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame and Tennessee.

Odds PSU gets him: PSU is standing pretty well right now. Out of everyone on this list, PSU likely has the best shot with Thompkins -- the Nittany Lions' main enemy might just be time. They can't hold an offer for Thompkins forever, but he could end up being the headliner of this class. He's high on PSU -- as is his high school coach -- and he'll be on campus again this weekend. It's likely between PSU and a team from the SEC right now. The longer it takes Thompkins to make a decision, the worse PSU's chances become.

Alex Bars
ESPN 150 tackle Alex Bars has older brothers at Penn State and Michigan while his father graduated from Notre Dame.
3. OT Alex Bars (Nashville, Tenn./Montgomery Bell)
6-6, 285
ESPN 150 rank: 55

Why PSU wants him: He's a balanced lineman who shows good flexibility and push, and ESPN's scouts believe he "displays some promising upside." The staff has been after the Tennessee native for awhile now, and they're impressed by how he manages to block linebackers and move so well.

Who else wants him: He boasts nearly two dozen offers from the likes of LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Stanford.

Odds PSU gets him: Michigan is likely going to be difficult to beat here, but Bars has remained relatively quiet with his recruitment -- so it hasn't been easy to get a good read on him. He has one brother at Michigan and the other, Brad Bars, is a defensive end at Penn State. His father also played for Notre Dame. Penn State isn't the favorite here, but it's too early to count the Lions out.

4. DT Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln)
6-4, 285
ESPN 150 rank: 93

Why PSU wants him: He has the highest ceiling out of any of PSU's other DT targets. He's been playing football for just about one full year now, and DL coach Larry Johnson told him he hasn't yet formed any bad habits. He's very moldable, very coachable and is incredibly quick for a big guy.

Who else wants him: His recruitment has exploded since the New Year. He's up to 20 offers already and has them from the likes of Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Ole Miss and USC.

Odds PSU gets him: Well, Holley's coming back up to campus this weekend after an unofficial visit in February -- so it's clear he's interested. But it appears PSU plans on taking just one defensive tackle in this class, and at least one other prospect might be closer to committing. Holley's still early in his recruitment and is taking as many visits as he can, so it's difficult to label what schools he might like more than Penn State. If PSU wants to wait on this DT, its odds are up there with the other top teams.

5. QB Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy)
6-5, 223
ESPN 150 rank: 123

Why PSU wants him: He's playing in a relatively similar offense under high school coach Chris Weinke, a former Heisman winner, and he impressed quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher with his advanced knowledge of PSU's playbook. He's a smart quarterback, and ESPN's scouts said he has "one of the higher ceilings of development this class has to offer."

Who else wants him: He holds 11 offers from the likes of Michigan State, Mississippi State, Rutgers, Syracuse and Vanderbilt.

Odds PSU gets him: Penn State is sitting in a nice position right now. Fisher plans to visit him next month, and he raved about his unofficial visit to Happy Valley. Michigan State won't be easy to beat, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see O'Connor wearing the Blue and White. He wants to commit somewhere in June.

6. ATH Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa)
5-11, 181
ESPN 150 rank: 127

Why PSU wants him: He's a versatile athlete and PSU sees him as a great fit in an aggressive secondary. He's a ballhawk and, with his skills as a running back, he's always a threat once he makes an interception. ESPN's scouts love his range and speed, and he's high on PSU's big board.

Who else wants him: He holds nearly 20 offers, and some of his bigger ones include Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Odds PSU gets him: He named his top four schools last month, and PSU made the cut -- as did Ohio State, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. That's subject to change, Henry's father said, but PSU stands well with the athlete right now. Pitt's obviously a strong contender since the school is in his backyard, but PSU has also shown the athlete a lot of attention.

7. OT Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mt. Lebanon)
6-6, 295
ESPN 150 rank: 140

Why PSU wants him: ESPN's scouts used words like "big," "physical" and "tough" to describe Bookser -- and that's what PSU wants to see in an offensive lineman. He has a frame that can stand to add more weight, and his coach believed Bookser might still be able to add 20-30 pounds. He picked up an offer Saturday.

Who else wants him: Bookser is up to 20 offers now, with interest coming as far away as USC. Some of bigger-name schools that offered include Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State.

Odds PSU gets him: There are other offensive linemen right now who are higher on PSU than Bookser, so the odds he lands in Happy Valley aren't all that great. The Nittany Lions certainly came in late when it came to offering, and it would be a surprise to see him suit up in the Blue and White -- even though his teammate, Troy Apke, has already committed to PSU.