James Franklin lived up to his bill as a strong recruiter when he brought in the 15th ranked recruiting class overall in 2015, the highest rated recruiting class Penn State had signed since 2010.
Since then, some members of that recruiting class — Saquon Barkley and John Reid — made big splashes as freshmen, but the majority of the group took a redshirt season. Let’s take a look at where those who redshirted stand as they see the field for the first time in 2016.
QB Tommy Stevens
After enrolling early at Penn State, Stevens has put himself right in the mix to take over the incumbent starting quarterback spot. While redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley might have had the edge in the spring and going into fall practice, it appears that Stevens has tightened the race, with both players getting time with the first-team thus far through camp.
Stevens has a lot going for him. At 6-foot-4, he’s much taller than McSorley, and he also possesses the stronger arm too. Add in that Stevens is just as good of an athlete, and it makes sense why he’s pushing McSorley to be QB1.
Whether he wins the starting job or not, it seems like a safe bet to assume Stevens will see the field in some capacity in the upcoming season.
RB Andre Robinson
Coming in the same class as Saquon Barkley, it’s easy to forget about Robinson. Although the former was the more highly-touted of the two, Robinson was no slouch either, picking the Nittany Lions over Ohio State and a slew of other notable programs.
It’s not inconceivable that Robinson gets a carry or two in 2016, but with Mark Allen (3rd-down blocking) and Miles Sanders (Barkley-ish) in the same backfield, it’s more likely that he’s another season or two away from seeing significant playing time.
WR Juwan Johnson
Wide receiver is probably the position where the Nittany Lions are strongest at and Johnson is a big reason why. He, along with Irvin Charles who we get to below, is what you want in a wide receiver — tall, long, and athletic.
Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, and DaeSean Hamilton will be the primary wide receivers on the outside, but it’s tough to envision a scenario where Johnson doesn’t see a decent amount of time this season. He won’t need to be depended upon as much as Godwin and Hamilton were so early in their careers, but Johnson is too talented to leave off the field in 2016.
WR Irvin Charles
To be honest, Charles is in the same boat as Johnson.. Similar players that are in similar spots on the depth chart. Like Johnson, Charles should see some time as a part of the rotation of wide receivers that Josh Gattis has at his disposal.
TE Nick Bowers
Following the losses of Adam Breneman and Brent Wilkerson, the depth chart has opened up for Bowers, who made headlines this offseason for his dunking ability. While his hops are impressive, it’s his blocking ability that will prove most crucial. It remains to be seen in game action, but Bowers is reportedly the best blocking tight end on the team. And for an offense that will feature its running game heavily, Bowers should see a major increased role this coming season because of it.
TE Jonathan Holland
Holland has the size and athleticism wanted for a tight end, but it looks like he’ll still need some time before he sees the field. With Mike Gesicki, Nick Bowers, and walk-on Tom Pancoast (apparently quite the player) ahead of him, Holland will have another season or two before he’s expected to take on a larger role.
OG Ryan Bates
After anchoring the offensive line at Pennsylvania football powerhouse Archbishop Wood, Bates spent his first season in Happy Valley redshirting to add weight and to become more accustomed to the college game (he grew an awesome beard, too). One year later, it appears the redshirt did him well as Bates weighs in at a solid 305 pounds and looks like the probable starter at left guard in 2016 and beyond.
OG Steven Gonzalez
After receiving rave reviews as a member of the scout team, it looked like Gonzalez would be the first of the 2015 offensive line signees to break into the starting lineup. But Gonzalez couldn’t build on his strong early performance, as he now finds himself fighting to crack the two-deep.
Still, there’s a lot to like about Gonzalez. Penn State will be losing three interior linemen (Brian Gaia, Wendy Laurent, and Derek Dowrey) after this season, so while Gonzalez may not figure into the plans in 2016, his name could be called upon as a redshirt sophomore.
OT Sterling Jenkins
Expectations have been high for Jenkins since he committed to Penn State, but despite his massive size (6-foot-8, 328 pounds), it’s always been known that he was going to be a longterm project. So although Jenkins won’t factor in the upcoming season, it appears that he’s still on track to eventually become the successor at one of the tackle spots, most likely in 2018.