Pennsylvania Football Recruiting History, 2000-2020

Recruiting has come a really long way over the past 21 years. In 2000, the website ranked the top high school recruits in Pennsylvania – well, at least the top four recruits in the state. Before that, die-hards need to subscribe to newsletters or (if you can believe it) call recruiting hotlines for the latest information. Today, you can find recruiting profiles for tons of players all the way through the class of 2024. I don’t follow recruiting closely because it has never really engaged me. However, there’s no denying the widespread popularity of following one’s favorite college program’s recruiting efforts or the importance the process can play for the athletes themselves.

What I wanted to do was find if there were any trends, notable statistics or other interesting facts in the world of recruiting as it pertains to Pennsylvania football players. The 2000 class is the first one that can be found in the 247Sports archives today and the 2020 class signed early last month. During that time period, 1,471 players have been included in the 247Sports rankings of top players in Pennsylvania. Of those, I’ve found at least eight chose to play another sport in college. That leaves us with 1,463 graduates of Pennsylvania high schools who signed letters-of-intent to play football following their senior year. A small handful of those players went to prep school and then reappeared in the rankings the following year, but this is a negligible amount.

Now, before we get too far, I want to lay out a few basic points:

  • I chose to use the 247Sports Composite rankings for each year because it covers the entire span of 2000-present. As I said earlier, I’m not a recruiting nut, but I do know that 247Sports is widely held as the best site in the business, so that made the decision even easier. 247Sports was founded in 2010 and bought in 2017, allowing them to display the backdated rankings online.
  • That being said, rating and evaluating thousands of athletes does leave room for errors and I’ve found several on the 247Sports pages. I’ve fixed all of the ones that I’ve found, but more certainly remain. If you find an error, please let me know. The most common errors are misidentified high schools, typos in player names and duplicating a player so he appears twice in the same year’s rankings.
  • The data I gathered contains where the player signed, not necessarily where he played or where he ended up spending his whole career. For example, you’ll see that in 2006 LeSean McCoy is listed as signing with Miami; he later chose to attend prep school and enrolled at Pitt the following year.
  • Other players choose to attend prep schools or junior colleges before signing day. Because my focus was on which four-year colleges players signed with, I chose not to include the name of the prep school or junior college the player went with; this would have added a significant amount of time to an already lengthy research project. Instead, you’ll just see “Prep School” or “JUCO” as where that player signed.
  • Despite researching for quite a while, there are still 12 players whose whereabouts I couldn’t find. These players are listed with a question mark in the “Signed With…” column. If you can fill me in, let me know. I also found evidence of four additional players not playing football or another sport collegiately after high school. Their signing column says “none.”
  • Finally, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will: Nothing written in this post is meant to be disparaging in any way. There are tons of athletes across the state who go on to play college football who exceed their rankings and there are some who aren’t able to live up to them. Getting a D1 offer is not the end all, be all for an athlete and nothing in this post suggests that other levels of football are inferior – I just don’t have complete data for FCS, DII, DIII, etc.

The entire list of recruits can be found here. Let’s get started.

Recruits by Year

The total number of Pennsylvania football players ranked by 247Sports has varied quite a bit over the years, peaking at a high of 111 in 2012. The average is about 70 athletes per year:

Ranked Pennsylvania High School Football Players by YearPerhaps more interesting than the total number of ranked recruits each year is the number of recruits by star rating. Every fan wants their college team to scoop up as many “blue chip” recruits as possible, but there has been a sentiment in some recent years that Pennsylvania is not producing these players in the volume it used to. I wanted to see if the rates of four-and-five star recruits from Pennsylvania had changed over time:

5-Star and 4-Star Players from Pennsylvania by Year

As you can see, Pennsylvania has produced a pretty stable number of blue-chip football players each year for the past two-plus decades. There has been a dip in the past two recruiting classes, but it’s too soon to tell if that will develop into a long-term trend. I was surprised to see how consistent the data was for this question, particularly from 2006-2018. Overall, Pennsylvania has produced a total of 22 five-stars and 170 four-stars since 2000. The five-stars are listed below:

Player School Year
Jeff Smoker Manheim Central 2000
Kevin Jones Cardinal O’Hara 2001
Cecil Howard McKeesport 2001
Marlin Jackson Sharon 2001
Dan Connor Strath Haven 2004
Anthony Morelli Penn Hills 2004
Chad Henne Wilson (West Lawn) 2004
Justin King Gateway 2005
Callahan Bright Harriton 2005
Marques Slocum West Catholic 2005
LeSean McCoy Bishop McDevitt 2006
Terrelle Pryor Jeannette 2008
Jonathan Baldwin Aliquippa 2008
Dorian Bell Gateway 2009
Sharrif Floyd George Washington 2010
Noah Spence Bishop McDevitt 2012
Rushel Shell Hopewell 2012
Robert Foster Central Valley 2013
Miles Sanders Woodland Hills 2016
D’Andre Swift St. Joseph’s Prep 2017
Micah Parsons Harrisburg 2018
Julian Fleming Southern Columbia 2020

There is a final way we can evaluate the quality of each class. By averaging the national rank of each year’s top five recruits in the state, we can get a more detailed look at how Pennsylvania classes stack up to the rest of the country on a year-by-year basis. Selecting the top five is certainly somewhat arbitrary, but it also gives an idea of how strong that year’s elite recruits are (lower is better in this chart):

Average Rank vs. Year

Of course, it’s important to remember that all recruiting rankings are based largely on subjective opinions and some states may be overrated or underrated based on the amount of talent they have historically produced. However, this method suggests that while Pennsylvania’s rate of producing blue-chip players has been fairly stable, the average ranking of those blue chips has been lower on average in recent years. This method also highlighted the fact that since 2000, Pennsylvania has produced just six players ranked in the top ten nationally:

  1. Kevin Jones, RB, Cardinal O’Hara – the state’s only top-ranked player (2001)
  2. Terrelle Pryor, QB, Jeannette – #2 (2008)
  3. Sharrif Floyd, DL, George Washington – #6 (2010)
  4. Noah Spence, DL, Bishop McDevitt – #5 (2012)
  5. Micah Parsons, DL, Harrisburg – #5 (2018)
  6. Julian Fleming, WR, Southern Columbia – #3 (2020)

The chart shows evidence of the cyclical nature of talent production; you can clearly see ups and downs from year-to-year. But the trend line that I added is telling, too – and it’s not headed in the direction we’d all hope it would. Again, this is all just based on signing day rankings and lots of players over-perform low ratings (more on them later).

Recruits by High School

Twelve schools in Pennsylvania have produced at least 20 ranked recruits from 2000-2020. The chart shown below clipped some of the school names; Pittsburgh Central Catholic is first, Bishop McDevitt is fourth, Valley Forge Military Academy is ninth and Archbishop Wood is 11th. Only two schools statewide have produced two five-star players:

  • Gateway (Justin King and Dorian Bell)
  • Bishop McDevitt (LeSean McCoy and Noah Spence)

Interestingly, despite leading the state in ranked players (41), Pittsburgh Central Catholic has never had a five-star recruit according to 247Sports. Central Valley, on the other hand, has had only two ranked recruits in its brief history, but they were a five-star (Robert Foster) and a four-star (Jordan Whitehead). Both players were rated as the best in Pennsylvania during their respective senior seasons.

Schools with the Most Ranked Recruits, 2000-2020

In all, 346 different high schools have had a player ranked by 247Sports since 2000, including defunct programs like Schenley, Duquesne, Cardinal Dougherty, Delaware Valley Charter, Strong Vincent and all three former Wilkes-Barre high schools, among others.

When we narrow our focus to five-star and four-star recruits, the graph changes a bit:

Blue Chip Recruits by School, 2000-2020

(Again, the chart clipped some names. Bishop McDevitt is 2nd, North Allegheny is 6th, Pittsburgh Central Catholic is 7th, Archbishop Wood is 8th, Cardinal O’Hara is 9th, Downingtown East is 10th, and Thomas Jefferson is 14th. I apologize for my lack of technical skills.)

Not surprisingly, this chart (and the one before it) double as a roll call for blue-blood programs in the state. Perhaps the most notable omission is St. Joe’s Prep, which just missed the cutoff by having three blue chips.

Recruits by College Choice

Over the past two decades, coaches from the three FBS programs in Pennsylvania have made concerted efforts – and attached slogans – to keeping the best in-state recruits within the state’s borders. From “Dominate the State” to “building a wall around western Pennsylvania,” coaches at Penn State, Pitt and Temple have worked hard to keep local talent, well, local. If you’re a fan of one of the three in-state FBS programs, you may want to skip over this next table; it’s a little tough to look at. The college choices of the top-five recruits in Pennsylvania since 2000:

Screen Shot 2020-03-23 at 8.50.50 PM

With Pennsylvania’s long history of producing talent, it’s no surprise to see a variety of different programs fill this chart; after all, any program worth its salt will recruit nationally and pursue the best players no matter where they are. But it’s still a little disconcerting for fans of our state’s three programs to see an invasion of out-of-state teams in this chart, especially in the column listing the top recruit each year. Penn State has snagged the state’s top recruit just four times in 21 recruiting classes (the same as Ohio State). Pitt has done it twice and Temple has only gotten one top-five player ever (Karamo Dioubate in 2016).

As it does in nearly every state, Notre Dame has made inroads during this timeframe, particularly since 2017. Michigan was a strong threat in the early 2000s and various southern schools have garnered commitments over the years. Top-ranked recruits aside, Penn State has held its ground pretty well in the James Franklin era, managing to grab the 2nd-through-5th ranked player pretty frequently. Pat Narduzzi has had a tougher time at Pitt, receiving commitments from four top-five recruits since taking over in 2015.

A total of 136 different collegiate programs have gotten commitments from ranked Pennsylvania recruits since 2000. The top ten are:

Pittsburgh 161
Penn State 119
Temple 119
West Virginia 60
Akron 55
Connecticut 45
Syracuse 40
Rutgers 39
Toledo 34
Buffalo 31

While it’s no surprise to see the three in-state programs at the top of the list, Pitt leads all college programs by a wide margin. In fact, 11% of all ranked Pennsylvania recruits from 2000-2020 committed to Pitt. West Virginia is the most common out-of-state destination, which shouldn’t be surprising. What did surprise me was the fact that Rutgers ranked just 8th by this measure. I had assumed it would be in the top five based on geographic location and the fact that its home state gets raided for talent by out-of-state programs on an annual basis.

Pennsylvania’s 22 five-star recruits have gone to Penn State five times, Ohio State four times, Michigan three times and Pitt twice. Schools that nabbed one five-star apiece are Syracuse, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Florida, Miami, Florida State, Alabama and Georgia. For four-stars, Penn State has gotten 52 while Pitt has 27. Notre Dame has signed 18 and Michigan got 11.

When we narrow our focus to the in-state universities, we can see how they stack up against one another in terms of getting Pennsylvania recruits. Let’s look at another graph!

Commitments by Star Rating, 2000-2020 (1)

Of Pitt’s 161 in-state commits, 112 of them are three-stars. Penn State and Temple each have a total of 119 in-state commitments during the same period. Penn State is evenly balanced between three-stars and four-stars, while Temple’s commits historically have mostly been rated as two-stars or, less frequently, three-stars. It’s important to note that the program Temple is today is a far cry from the program it was in the early 2000s, so the long-term nature of this study doesn’t clearly reflect the strides Temple has made in the past several years.

Nationally, there are 130 FBS programs and 39 have failed to sign a Pennsylvania recruit over the past 21 years. You likely won’t be surprised by many schools on this list; many of them are geographically distant and others have been Division I programs for only a short time. Remember, this doesn’t mean these schools have zero Pennsylvanians on their rosters – they just haven’t signed any state-ranked ones out of high school since 2000. Think of this list as the bingo card we can use for future recruiting classes:

Appalachian State Louisiana-Lafayette Oregon State Tulsa
Arkansas Louisiana-Monroe Rice UNLV
Arkansas State Louisiana Tech San Jose State UTSA
Auburn Memphis SMU Utah
Boise State Middle Tennessee South Alabama Utah State
California Nebraska Southern Miss Washington
Charlotte Nevada TCU Washington State
Florida Atlantic Northern Illinois Texas Western Kentucky
Fresno State Oklahoma State Texas State Wyoming
Houston Ole Miss Troy

Finally, many of the 1,463 ranked recruits have signed with FCS or Division II programs over the years. The most common non-FBS destinations are Villanova (24 recruits), Delaware (17), Duquesne (10) and Towson, IUP and Bucknell with 6 each.

Recruits by Position

Would it surprise you if I told you that linebacker is the most common position for ranked players from Pennsylvania? Well, I guess it probably shouldn’t, given the state’s history of producing pretty good ones. Of the 1,471 recruits listed (remember, we removed 8 guys who pursued other sports in college for the previous analyses), 172 – or 11.7% – were linebackers. The least common positions were long-snappers (3) and punters (5); center (13) had the fewest representatives from either offense or defense.

The full list:

Linebackers 172 11.7%
Offensive Tackles 146 9.9%
Wide Receivers 144 9.8%
Running Backs 122 8.3%
Defensive Ends 122 8.3%
Quarterbacks 113 7.7%
Guards 108 7.3%
Athletes 108 7.3%
Safeties 101 6.9%
Defensive Tackles 95 6.5%
Cornerbacks 95 6.5%
Tight Ends 91 6.2%
Fullbacks 18 1.2%
Kickers 15 1.0%
Centers 13 0.9%
Punters 5 0.3%
Long-Snappers 3 0.2%

Odds and Ends

  • Ranking and evaluating high school prospects is far from an exact science, so there are bound to be misses here and there. Remember, hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s easy to pick and choose misses after the fact. That being said, some of the guys I was surprised to see ranked so low coming out of high school are listed below. These are just a few of the ones I found notable – there are others to be discovered in the spreadsheet, I’m sure.
    • Way back in 2002, Larry Fitzgerald was ranked as the 11th-best player in Pennsylvania after spending a year at Valley Forge Military Academy. He turned out to be…pretty good.
    • The following year, Matt Ryan was considered the 23rd best prospect in the state.
    • Darrelle Revis – Before he became a 7-time Pro Bowler and 4-time First-Team All-Pro, Revis was considered just a three-star prospect coming out of Aliquippa. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that Revis ranked just 27th out of all Pennsylvania recruits in the class of 2004 despite a heralded high school career for a football power. Nationally, he was considered just the 42nd best cornerback recruit in his class.
    • Sean Lee – A year after Revis’ class, Lee placed 28th among all Pennsylvania recruits in 2005. Despite an injury-riddled career, Lee has been among the better linebackers in football when healthy. The 2005 class also had several other notable omissions from its statewide top-ten: Steve Slaton (15th), LaRod Stephens-Howling (27th), Daryll Clark (32nd), Tommie Campbell (41st) and Pat McAfee (47th – although that’s not a bad ranking for a kicker/punter).
    • Vincent Rey – While not truly a Pennsylvania recruit, Rey is one of the lowest-ranked players to have a substantial NFL career. Originally from New York, Rey played as a post-graduate at Mercersburg Academy, which placed him in the Pennsylvania class of 2006. He was ranked 57th overall in the state that year. Rey went on to Duke and then played nine years for the Cincinnati Bengals.
    • The Nassib Brothers – Ryan was rated as the 62nd-best player in the class of 2008; Carl wasn’t ranked at all in the class of 2011. Ryan went on to a strong career as a quarterback at Syracuse and played as a backup for two years in the NFL after being a fourth-round pick. Carl became a consensus All-America defensive end at Penn State who won the Lombardi Award in 2015. After being selected in the third round of the 2016 draft, he has accumulated 18 sacks in four NFL seasons.
    • The 2009 Class had several notable players receive low rankings: Jordan Hill (36th), Devin Street (37th), Bernard Pierce (47th), Justin Pugh (49th) and Brandon McManus (66th).
    • Although it’s still too early to tell for many guys, the rankings seem to have fewer big misses over the past six to eight years. Perhaps 247Sports’ evaluation system is better than the one Scout used (because all of the pre-2010 rankings shown on 247Sports are the old Scout ones, more or less).
  • There was one strange case I found during my research and it led to the only time in which I chose to omit a player from the rankings. In the class of 2014, Marcus Johnson, a wide receiver from University Prep, was ranked as the top player in the state and as a four-star prospect. When I investigated the “N/A” under where his college choice should have been listed, I found that Johnson spent his freshman year at Thiel before transferring to Slippery Rock. Johnson was a very good player who had a terrific career at Slippery Rock, but I found it difficult to believe that a player whose recruiting profile said he was the 99th best prospect in America went to a Division III school after high school. Additionally, the fact that Johnson’s 247Sports profile had a composite ranking but no individual ranking provided by 247Sports was strange for a guy with such a high rating. In the end, I came to the conclusion that Johnson’s profile or information was somehow confused with another athlete’s or had other errors, so I chose to remove him from the data I collected. However, he was clearly still a very good football player and I wanted to describe his story here.
  • I discussed the prevalence of five-star recruits earlier, but here is the data showing how many players from Pennsylvania since 2000 earned each star rating. The percent column shows the share of that rating out of all 1,471 ranked players:
    • 5-Stars 22 1.5%
      4-Stars 170 11.6%
      3-Stars 672 45.7%
      2-Stars 582 39.6%
      1-Stars 25 1.7%
    • One-star athletes were only recognized from 2014-2016 in this dataset, which helps to explain the low number of them overall.
    • Over the past 21 recruiting classes, about 13% of ranked recruits earned four or five stars. Keep in mind that ranked recruits constitute just a sliver of the players statewide who will end up playing college football at some level. If all players statewide were ranked, that percentage would be much, much lower.

It’s easy to see why recruiting rankings have such a passionate (rabid?) following. Everyone wants their college team to do well and it’s exciting to hear an expert say that the incoming crop of players is outstanding. Family, friends, teammates, coaches and community members love seeing their guy highly ranked and given the recognition he worked for. And, let’s be honest – there are many among us who like the entire process because it “proves” that (insert hated rival) is cheating. But beyond that, it’s clear that these rankings hold some value. There’s plenty of analysis out there saying that recruiting rankings do matter. I don’t disagree with any of that; following it closely is just not my cup of tea. But it sure can make the basis for some great discussions and stories, and I’m definitely here for that.