Newcomers: De'Andre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin, Troy Apke
Projected Starters: Lewis, Zanellato, Anderson/Thompkins
Highlights from 2013
Allen Robinson is arguably the greatest wide receiver to ever play football at the Pennsylvania State University. During the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Allen Robinson was responsible for 24.22% of the Penn State offense. Allen Robinson was responsible for nearly 1/4 of the entire offensive output for the Nittany Lions. For the sake of comparison, Sammy Watkins, over the same stretch of time, was responsible for 17.44% of Clemson's offense. Make no mistake, Penn State is losing the soul of its offense, not to mention its steady number two option as well.
Allen Robinson in 2013 was responsible for one of the greatest statistical seasons a Penn State wideout has ever known, catching 97 passes for 1,432 yards, good for an average of 14.8 yards per reception (and 6 touchdowns). And, ya know, this..
It's safe to say that Christian Hackenberg and the Penn State passing attack will miss him. To pair with Robinson, Brandon Felder emerged as a reliable option as the number two receiver in the offense, frequently finding himself on the end of big third and fourth down catches after improvising and finding open space in the defense.
It was quite clear early on last season that Hackenberg had a very solid rapport with Robinson, and one that was continuing to grow with Felder. As he gradually worked the tight ends into the passing game more and more, the production was spread more evenly around the field. However, Allen Robinson was still the beneficiary of the majority of the passes. Geno Lewis and Richy Anderson got their feet wet last season as well, combining for 345 yards on 31 catches and 3 touchdowns for Lewis. The only other returning receiver with a box score line last season was Zanellato, with 53 yards on 4 catches.
Penn State is not lacking athleticism and options in the receiving corps. Eugene Lewis seems primed to take a step forward and become a big time target. Zanellato appears poised to take over a leadership role on the offense and become the team's newest arm tattoo target (Miss you, Devon!). Richy Anderson was seemingly ready to take a big role in the 2013 offense, but never really got a chance to get going. A year of practice and some experience should help get him in the coming years. DaeSean Hamilton will be fully healthy and ready to go for the Croke Classic and the former 4* recruit will surely be chomping at the bit to show the Blue and White faithful what he is capable of.
Finally, there's De'Andre Thompkins (yes, I did start a new paragraph for him). Thompkins enters Penn State as a 4*, highly touted speedster with as much potential as any Penn State recruit in recent memory. Thompkins will likely earn playing time right away as a returner, but it appears that early reps at receiver are not out of the question either. Penn State also has three other wide receiver recruits coming in (Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin, Troy Apke) to restock the depth of this unit, all three of whom could earn early playing time as well.
While Penn State appears to have plenty of exciting options going into the 2014 season, very few of them have game experience. Of course we all know how well the last guy to be thrust into the starting role with limited time turned out, but his performance is no indication of how others will fare in his absence. Geno Lewis, Matt Zanellato, and Richy Anderson are the only returning players on the roster with game experience. I can go on and on about the potential of Thompkins, Hamilton, Blacknall, Godwin, and Apke all I want, but the fact of the matter is that this is a very green unit. Having a fantastic quarterback like Christian Hackenberg surely helps, but there will certainly be a growing period.
What to Watch for in the Blue/White (and Gray) Game
There will be plenty to watch for in the Blue/White game in terms of the wideouts. None are so proven and entrenched in a starting role that they won't see meaningful time in the game, and they all have plenty to prove. It will be interesting to see who lines up alongside who, as that will give us a look into who Franklin is favoring at this point for the first snap of the season.
As far as specific things to watch for, I will personally be paying close attention to the candidates for slot receiver (Anderson and Thompkins), how Geno Lewis looks matched up against Jordan Lucas, and who seems to have the best connection with Hackenberg thus far. I'll be watching the battle between the slot receivers for a few reasons. First, I think De'Andre Thompkins is going to be a superstar here. Second, with the talent Penn State has at tight end, every linebacker they face should be occupied and worrying about them. The slot receiver role has the potential to be a devastatingly productive position for the Penn State offense if the right player in there, and frankly either one of Thompkins and Anderson could be that destructive force. Geno Lewis matching up against number one cornerbacks will be a point of interest all season, so seeing how well he fares against an improved Jordan Lucas should be fun. Finally, it was no secret who Hackenberg's favorite target was last season. Someone is bound to step up as his new favorite pass catcher, and the Blue/White game could very well give us the first indications as to who that person is.