J’Ven Williams was a bad man.
Don’t believe it, just head over to HUDL and pull up the former Wyomissing star offensive lineman’s film from this past season and buckle up. It’s one heckuva ride filled with Williams annihilating opposing defenders. It was that talent, too, that helped earn Williams, who signed with Penn State and is already on campus, the nod as the top-ranked prospect in Pa. for the Class of 2023.
He looks like a sure thing, but how he fares from here on out depends on a lot of things. At least, that is what the history of the top-ranked player in Pa. tells us. Because taking a look back at the past 20 years of top-ranked guys, according to Rivals.com, is an interesting stroll through history to say the least.
There was a Hall of Famer in that stretch — Aliquippa cornerback Darrelle Revis — and a couple of sure-fire Hall of Famers, too, in Woodland Hills tight end Rob Gronkowski and Penn Hills defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
None of those guys were the top-ranked guys in their respective classes.
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Out of the guys who was the top-ranked player in Pa. for his class across the past 20 years, former Harrisburg High standout Micah Parsons (2018), seems to be the clear-cut best of the guys who earned the top-ranked label across the past decade. Current Penn State and former Governor Mifflin running back Nick Singleton (2022) looks like he has a shot to be in the argument someday, too.
The following is a look back at the top 20 years, the top-ranked player in each class, and who, given the benefit of hindsight, probably should have been the top-ranked player each year.
Check it all out below:
CLASS OF 2022
No. 1 ranked: Nick Singleton, RB, Governor Mifflin
Who should have been number one: Singleton looks like a home run so far after a freshman All-American season. But this was a talented class, and La Salle College linebacker Abdul Carter, who joined Singleton at Penn State, looks like he could be in the discussion when everything is said and done, too.
Other players of note: It’s still early for this class so there are guys still feeling out what it’s like to play big-time college football. That said, Downingtown West offensive tackle Drew Shelton, who was ranked third in this class, saw significant playing time for Penn State as a freshman.
CLASS OF 2021
No. 1 ranked: Nolan Rucci, OT, Warwick
Who should have been number one: Look, we love big Rucci and still believe he will be a fine player for Wisconsin, but it is hard to ignore Marvin Harrison Jr. who is sitting their at third in the rankings for this year. The former St. Joseph’s Prep receiver turned Ohio State Buckeye might just be the best receiver in college football and looks like a lock to be a high first-round pick when he enters the NFL Draft.
Other players of note: The second-ranked player in the class, St. Joseph’s Prep quarterback Kyle McCord, was just named Ohio State’s starting quarterback. The fourth-ranked player in the class, St. Joseph’s Prep linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., was an All-American for Clemson last season.
CLASS OF 2020
No. 1 ranked: Julian Fleming, WR, Southern Columbia
Who should have been number one: Fleming’s Southern Columbia teammate, Cal Haladay. Haladay was actually Rivals’ 10th-ranked player in the state for that season, and he signed with Michigan State where he has developed into one of the Spartans’ top defenders. He was in on 120 tackles last season with 1.5 sacks. He was in on 89 tackles in 2021. So, the guy has been productive. That said, we still believe in Fleming, and he is coming off a solid campaign for the Buckeyes this past year in which he caught 34 passes for 533 yards and six touchdowns.
Other players of note: The ninth-ranked player in the class, North Schuylkill linebacker Tyler Elsdon, made 13 starts for Penn State last season. The 13th-ranked player in the class, Downingtown West’s Will Howard, is the starting quarterback at Kansas State.
CLASS OF 2019
No. 1 ranked: Keith Maguire, LB, Malvern Prep
Who should have been number one: We liked Maguire, too, and he is coming off his best season with Clemson, who are a national powerhouse, after collecting 39 tackles. But North Allegheny cornerback Joey Porter Jr. was the 11th-ranked player in this class, and the former Penn State standout was just taken in the second round of April’s NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Other players of note: The 19th-ranked player in this class, Haverford School offensive lineman Asim Richards, was taken in the fifth round of April’s NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. The seventh-ranked player in the class, Imhotep safety Tykee Smith, is expected to have a starting role with the Georgia Bulldogs this season. The second-ranked player in the class, Harrisburg linebacker Andre White Jr., will likely start for Georgia Tech after a solid couple of seasons at Texas A&M, and the third-ranked player in the class, State College’s Keaton Ellis, will likely play a big role in Penn State’s secondary this season.
CLASS OF 2018
No. 1 ranked: Micah Parsons, DE, Harrisburg
Who should have been number one: Yes, Parsons was a pass-rushing defensive end back then, and it wasn’t even close then or now. He’s a two-time Pro Bowl pick, who won the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year honor last year and finished second in league Defensive Player of the Year voting this year. He also got a couple of league MVP votes after collecting 13.5 sacks.
Other players of note: This was a talented class. Nazareth’s Jahan Dotson, the fifth-ranked player in the class, went on to Penn State and was a first-round pick. Archbishop Wood’s Kyle Pitts, the ninth-ranked player in the class, was also a first-round pick. Neumann Goretti’s Christian Barmore, the sixth-ranked player in the class, was a Patriots draft pick. Former Camp Hill standout tight end Zack Kuntz, the third-ranked player in the class, was a seventh-round pick of the Jets in April. The 14th-ranked player in the class, Cathedral Prep’s Juice Scruggs, was drafted in April by the Houston Texans. The second-ranked player in the class, Pine-Richland’s Phil Jurkovec, is expected to be Pitt’s starting quarterback this season. The 15th-ranked player in the class, Imhotep safety Isheem Young, is a senior at Ole Miss and a third-team All-SEC preseason pick heading into the year.
CLASS OF 2017
No. 1 ranked: Lamont Wade, CB, Clairton
Who should have been number one: St. Joseph’s Prep running back D’Andre Swift was right behind Wade in the rankings, and he went on to Georgia where he was a star before being taken in the draft by the Lions. He’s been pretty good in Detroit across his first two seasons. He is easily the top player out of this class from Pa. Wade got off to a slow start at Penn State but finished his career as a safety with a solid couple of seasons.
Other players of note: The third-ranked player in the class, Steel Valley safety Paris Ford, has spent time in the NFL. The fifth-ranked player, Archbishop Wood’s Mark Webb, was a seventh-round pick of the Chargers in 2021. The 14th-ranked player in the class, Imani Christian’s Kenny Robinson, was in camp this year with the Steelers.
CLASS OF 2016
No. 1 ranked: Miles Sanders, RB, Woodland Hills
Who should have been number one: Hard to argue against Sanders here after he just finished up rushing for more than 1,200 yards while helping the Eagles get to Super Bowl LVII.
Other players of note: Well, one of the most famous football players on the planet, Central Catholic safety Damar Hamlin, was the fourth-rated player in the class.
CLASS OF 2015
No. 1 ranked: Jordan Whitehead, CB, Central Valley
Who should have been number one: Whitehead has been a really good pro since he was taken in the fourth-round out of Pitt by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He played for Tampa Bay through the 2021 season and signed with the Jets prior to last season. Whitehead got a Super Bowl ring with the Bucs, and had a strong season with the Jets last season with 89 tackles and two interceptions. As good as he has been, it is hard to say, with the benefit of hindsight, that he should have been ahead of Saquon Barkley, who rivals had at number two. The former Whitehall running back was a star at Penn State before going second overall to the New York Giants in the 2018 draft. He was the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018, and has been a two-time Pro Bowler. Despite dealing with injuries, he is coming off a big season in which he ran for 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns while catching 57 passes for 338 yards for the Giants.
Other players of note: The sixth-ranked player in the class, Imhotep receiver D.J. Moore, is a pretty, darned good receiver in the NFL.
CLASS OF 2014
No. 1 ranked: Montae Nicholson, S, Gateway
Who should have been number one: Nicholson was Washington’s fourth-round pick out of Michigan State in 2017, but he has had a bumpy ride off the field and last played in 2019. Meanwhile, a late bloomer has a claim to the throne here. La Salle College linebacker Zaire Franklin was the 10th-ranked player in the state. He went to Syracuse and was a seventh-round pick of the Colts in 2018. While Indy struggled in 2022, Franklin had a monster of a breakout season and was in on 167 tackles with three sacks.
Other players of note: The 15th-ranked player in the class, New Castle safety Malik Hooker, was a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2017 and is currently with the Dallas Cowboys.
CLASS OF 2013
No. 1 ranked: Alex Anzalone, LB, Wyomissing
Who should have been number one: Anzalone has put together a strong career in the NFL, and is coming off his best season when he was in on 125 tackles with 1.5 sack, a fumble recovery and an interception for the Detroit Lions. But if you were reshuffling the deck with this class, you would probably take Clairton receiver Tyler Boyd, who was ranked sixth, and move him up to the top of the board. Boyd has been to a Super Bowl with the Bengals and has 446 catches for 5,333 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career.
Other players of note: Cathedral Prep running back James Conner, who has had a nice career with the Steelers and Cardinals, was ranked 13th in this class. Roman Catholic receiver Will Fuller, the seventh-ranked player in the class, was taken in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans.
CLASS OF 2012
No. 1 ranked: Noah Spence, DE, Bishop McDevitt
Who should have been ranked number one: Spence was an electric pass rusher, and all things considered, if you were in the moment you would probably rank him atop the class again. But, again, we are working with the benefit of hindsight here, and so if you could reshuffle the deck on this class you would probably move McKeesport tight end Jesse James all the way up from 21 on the list. James went on to Penn State, and he is still listed on the Browns roster. He has started 62 games across his career after the Steelers took him in the fifth-round of the 2015 draft. He also had a stop in Detroit, and has 157 catches for 1,522 yards and 12 touchdowns across his career.
CLASS OF 2011
No. 1 ranked: Delvon Simmons, DT, McKeesport
Who should have been number one: Simmons went on to Texas Tech and eventually got a shot with the Indianapolis Colts. Nothing wrong with what he was able to do. But the guy you would probably move to the top of the list now would be Tyler Kroft. After leaving Downingtown East, the tight end went to Rutgers, and he was a third-round pick of the Bengals in 2015. He played with Cincy through 2018 and has since had stops with the Bills, Jets and he spent this past season with the 49ers. He has 105 catches for 1,081 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Other players of note: The fourth-ranked player in the class, Northeast DE Deion Barnes, is now the defensive line coach at Penn State. The 34th-ranked player in the class, Bishop McDevitt QB Matt Johnson, is the offensive coordinator at Kent State.
CLASS OF 2010
No. 1 ranked: Sharrif Floyd, DT, George Washington
Who should have been number one: Floyd was a monster at Florida and went on to become a first-round pick of the Vikings. Had it not been for a knee injury, who knows what the dude could have done. But there was a can’t miss in this class that everybody missed. Penn Hills defensive tackle Aaron Donald was the 14th-ranked player in this class. And that guy is going into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
CLASS OF 2009
No. 1 ranked: Corey Brown, CB, Gateway
Who should have been number one: Brown went to Ohio State, moved to receiver, and went on to have a respectable three-year run with the Carolina Panthers, catching 79 passes for 1,019 yards and seven scores. Former Penn State star Jordan Hill was in this class and he won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks. Another former Nittany Lions player, Garry Gilliam, was in this class and he started 31 games in the league between the Seahawks and 49ers. Either or the three could be the pick as this is the hardest class to pick.
CLASS OF 2008
No. 1 ranked: Terrelle Pryor, QB, Jeannette
Who should have bene number one: Pryor was the top-ranked player in the country and you wouldn’t have changed that. He was a freak athlete at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds who went on to Ohio State and then to the NFL. He made the switch to receiver in the league and had a couple of nice seasons there.
Other players of note: The second-ranked player in the class, Aliquippa receiver Jonathan Baldwin, was the Kansas City Chiefs first round draft pick in 2011.
CLASS OF 2007
No. 1 ranked: Derrick Morgan, DE, Coatesville
Who should have been number one: Morgan went on to play collegiately at Georgia Tech and was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. He was the Titans’ first round pick, 16th-overall, in 2010, and played for the team through 2018. His best season came in 2016 when he had nine sacks, and he finished his career with 306 tackles and 44.5 sacks. That is a really solid run and that would cement his status here if not for the fact that Woodland Hills tight end Rob Gronkowski was the eighth-ranked prospect that year. He went on to Arizona, then the Patriots and Bucs and “Gronk” will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
CLASS OF 2006
No. 1 ranked: Jared Odrick, DT, Lebanon Christian Academy
Who should have been number one: Odrick went on to Penn State and was the Dolphins’ first-round pick, 28th-overall, in the 2010 draft. He played for Miami through 2014 before moving on to Jacksonville for the 2015 and 2016 campaigns. He was an All-American player in college and a solid pro who had 170 tackles and 23 sacks. But the second-ranked player that year was Bishop McDevitt running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy, and that guy is probably going to end up in the Hall of Fame.
Other players of note: The 34th-ranked player in the class, Penn Hills safety Barry Church, played with the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars from 2010-2018 and collected 600 tackles and 10 interceptions.
CLASS OF 2005
No. 1 ranked: Justin King, CB, Gateway
Who should have been number one: King wasn’t a bad ball player. He went on to Penn State, was a fourth-round pick of the Rams and played through the 2013 season with stops with the Colts and Steelers along the way. But if you scroll down the Rivals’ rankings list for that season, Upper St. Clair linebacker Sean Lee is staring back at you as the 19th-ranked player. Lee, of course, went on to Penn State and was then a second-round pick of the Cowboys in 2010. He went on to be a two-time Pro Bowl pick who recorded 747 tackles and four sacks across a career that wrapped up in 2020.
Other players of note: The 27th-ranked player in the class, Conwell Egan running back Steve Slaton, turned out to be a pretty darned good player at West Virginia. He was selected in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans.
CLASS OF 2004
No. 1 ranked: Anthony Morelli, QB, Penn Hills
Who should be number one: Morelli went on to sign with Penn State, but Wilson’s Chad Henne, who just retired after getting his second Super Bowl ring as the backup quarterback in Kansas City, was at number two. Way, way, way down that rankings list, though, all the way at 25 is Aliquippa cornerback Darrelle Revis. That is Hall of Famer Darrelle Revis.
Other players of note: Former Wilson quarterback Chad Henne was the second-ranked player in this class, and he ended up winning a couple of Super Bowl rings with the Kansas City Chiefs. The third-ranked player in the class, Strath Haven linebacker Dan Connor, was a pretty darned good linebacker at Penn State and in the NFL, too.
CLASS OF 2003
No. 1 ranked: Joel Holler, T, McCaskey
Who should have been number one: William Penn’s Matt Ryan was 12th on this year’s rankings list. After a standout college career at Boston College, the Falcons made him the third pick in the 2003 draft. He was the NFL MVP in 2016, and currently has 62,792 passing yards to go with 381 touchdowns and 183 interceptions. He was the guy.
Other players of note: The 11th-ranked linebacker in the class was Hopwell linebacker Paul Posluszny, who turned out to be pretty, darned good at Penn State and in the NFL.