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PSU Football Recruiting

‘He’s an Instinctive Player’: National Recruiting Analyst Cooper Petagna Breaks Down Penn State Commit DaKaari Nelson

Penn State Class of 2023 Target DaKaari Nelson (Photo courtesy of Malik Melton)

Penn State football fans who have looked into the team’s most recent commit, DaKaari Nelson, have probably noticed that there are many things he can do, and 247 Sports National Recruiting Analyst Cooper Petagna has certainly noticed it as well.

At 6-foot-3 and 196 pounds, Nelson, a four-star safety from Selma High School in Alabama, can play deep safety or play close to the line of scrimmage and is capable of playing in sub packages, such as the dime. 

He has excellent size and an excellent feel for the football, picking off eight passes and running two back for touchdowns in 2021.

Here is one of the touchdown returns below.

Petagna, who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, described Nelson as a “multi-dimensional athlete.”

“On the back-end of the secondary, I think (Nelson is) a guy that can do a lot of different things,” Petgna said. “I think as he continues to develop and grow physically into his frame, he’s going to move closer and closer to the line of scrimmage. But I think (Nelson is) a guy that has more of a strong safety skillset that actually plays the pass pretty well.”

Petagna said that he sees Nelson eventually playing “above 210, 215 pounds.”

“As he grows,” Petagna said, “as he develops, I can continue to see him move closer to the line of scrimmage.”

Petagna sees Nelson matching up one-on-one with opposing tight ends at the next level. 

Along with Nelson’s physical capabilities, which are aplenty, he’s also strong in the mental aspect of the game.

Nelson told Nittany Sports Now earlier this month that he has been calling defensive plays since his freshman year, and Petagna feels that Nelson’s football knowledge is evident on film. 

“He’s an instinctive player,” Petagna said. “I think he shows flashes of that, and I think the ball production there. Eight interceptions is a lot, especially at the high school level. So I think that shows some indication of a guy that has a really good feel for the game.”

Petagna also pointed out Nelson’s offensive ability, as he is a standout receiver for Selma, and he said he could be used on offense at the DI level. Nelson’s ball skills stand out to Petagna more than anything else. 

The word that Petagna said best described Nelson as a player was “heady,” capable of intercepting a ball and tracking down somebody trying to run with it. 

“He’s around the football,” Petagna said, “not only in terms of ball production but in terms of finding the football as a tackler as well.”

Petagna posted an evaluation of Nelson’s game back in February, and since then, Nelson has posted highlights of his spring season.

Petagna said Nelson looked “a little bit more nimble” this spring. 

“Had a little bit more bounce to his step,” Petagna said. “I thought, at times, he looked a little bit heavy, which could be an indication of why I feel so convinced about him moving closer to the line of scrimmage.”

Petagna said Nelson showed some positive signs in the spring season.

“Some of the snaps I saw from this past spring were really encouraging,” Petagna said, “about some of his ability to play off-ball and play deep safety.”

Although Nelson can play closer to the line of scrimmage, Petagna expects him to stay at safety at the next level.


From a “big picture” standpoint for Penn State, Nelson was the second player to commit to coach James Franklin’s program in less than a week, with four-star defensive end Tomarrion Parker, from Central Phenix City High School, doing so four days prior. 

Petagna feels Penn State can continue to be a player in the state of Alabama, which is something that hasn’t historically been the case. 

“I think it could be a trend,” Petagna said. “I mean, obviously, I think you have to look at the dynamic in the Southeastern Conference. I think that’s going to have a lot to do with it. Living down here in the state of Alabama and being familiar with football in the southeast, I mean, this is a very deep and talented state. 

Petagna also feels that the recent struggles of Auburn’s football program under coach Brian Harsin, and Franklin’s experience as Vanderbilt’s head coach, could be factors.

“With Auburn down right now and so much, I would say just noise surrounding that program, that will leave the opportunity for teams like Penn State to come in and take advantage,” he said. “Especially with James Franklin and his time at Vanderbilt. Certainly, a lot of people are familiar with him down here as well.”

Like Parker’s commitment, Petagna feels Nelson’s coming to Penn State is significant for a program that looking to expand its recruiting horizons. 

“It’s not only going to pay dividends in the short term,” he said, “but in the long-term as well in terms of recruiting. If those guys (Nelson and Parker) can go up there and have success at Penn State, that’s only going to open up more possibilities for James Franklin and company.”

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