These position previews, at least on the offensive side of the ball, have featured a lot of "what if?" What if the offensive line, under the tutelage of Matt Limegrover, will put it together and be a nice, solid unit? What if the young group of tight ends are used more like they were under Bill O'Brien than they were the last two years? What if this, what if that, etc.
So let's stop with the what ifs and say something a little more concrete: Penn State's wide receivers are going to be awesome in 2016. In fact, it's possible that this is the best unit on Penn State's depth chart on either side of the ball heading into this season.
A brief recap of what we've seen the last two years: in 2015, DaeSean Hamilton balled all the way out en route to a bunch of honors, including the All-Big Ten second-team by the media and College Football News' freshman All-American second team. He hauled in 82 catches for 899 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Geno Lewis also performed admirably that season with 55 catches for 751 yards.
Last year, Hamilton took a minor step back – his touchdown numbers went up (a team-high six scores) but he had fewer catches (45) and yards (580) – but this was partly because Chris Godwin turned into a guy that received a lot of comparisons to Anquan Boldin. The Delaware native caught 69* balls for 1,101 yards and five touchdowns, plus he made it onto a whole bunch of All-Conference teams.
Of the three dudes who played the best over the last two years, only one of them is gone (Lewis). Hamilton is a redshirt junior while Godwin is a true junior. Penn State isn't just in a position to have a really talented group of receivers this year, but in 2017, this unit is going to be insanely good.
Godwin is going to be one of Penn State's receivers on the outside, so let's say he's Penn State's WR (X). Barring something unforeseen happening, this is about as big of a lock as "Saquon Barkley will start at running back." Hamilton is also going to start, but the interesting thing with him is that he can start at one of two positions, WR (Z) or WR (F), mostly depending on the other guys. So let's talk about those other guys.
The two dudes who seem most likely to start at WR (Z) are Saeed Blacknall and Juwan Johnson. Both guys are apparently playing really, really well this spring. Blacknall has received so many positive reviews from the coaching staff as a guy who, in year three, is really starting to put it all together. Johnson is essentially the Megazord, only with the ability to run routes and he doesn't have a bunch of teenagers inside of him trying to fend off Rita Repulsa. Odds are Blacknall gets the nod, but Johnson will really push him.
This would then push Hamilton inside as the WR (F). However, let's pretend that Blacknall and Johnson both plateau and a guy like Brandon Polk really balls out during preseason camp. This would lead to Hamilton playing at WR (Z) with Polk in the slot as the team's WR (F). And as we saw last year (in the smallest sample size imaginable), when he is used properly, Polk is a big-time weapon and the type of guy who can break a game open with his game-changing speed.
So yeah, the starters are Godwin (WR (X)), Hamilton/Polk (WR (F)), and Hamilton/Blacknall/Johnson (WR (Z)). This is fun.
Along with Polk/Blacknall/Johnson (two of those three), there are a two of guys who can (and should) get run during 2016. First up is DeAndre Thompkins, who has all of the talent on the planet but was mostly used as a punt returner last year. Sure, he seemed like he had a few issues getting used to the college game, but now that he's in year three of his college career, he could be in for huge year as a guy who is used all over the field. Additionally, Penn State has Irvin Charles, who like Johnson is a gargantuan human being and is a much better athlete than anyone thought he was when he was in high school. At the very least, he has the potential to be a matchup nightmare in the red zone.
* – nice