With so much young talent on the Penn State roster, there’s plenty of reason for optimism for the future of the program. And in less than a week, we’ll beginning learn which incoming players are ready to make an immediate impact and become key contributors in 2016. So with yet another young team set to take the field this fall, which of the 46 (46!!) true and redshirt freshmen will have the biggest impact on Penn State’s season?
Just for clarity’s sake, today’s question will take all freshmen into consideration- both true and redshirt.
While far from an exhaustive list, here are some of the more likely candidates:
RB Miles Sanders- Probably the most popular choice, and for good reason. Sanders was the unanimous top running back in the 2016 class, and one of the top overall players. Yes, he’ll be behind one of the best running backs in the nation in Saquon Barkley and will also share carries with Andre Robinson and Mark Allen. But after taking a quick look at his film, it becomes apparent that he has the skillset to step on the field and immediately become a playmaker for the Nittany Lions.
DT Kevin Givens- Coaches can’t stop raving about Givens’ lightning-quick first step and brute strength. If he lives up to the hype, he should develop into a disruptive force for a Penn State defensive line looking to replace three major playmakers from 2015.
OG Ryan Bates- Bates has already locked down a starting spot as the team’s left guard and will be the sole new face among the starters uprfront. If Penn State’s offensive line can make major strides, even if they can become just slightly better than average, the offense can make light years of progress after two disastrous seasons. Bates nearly had his redshirt burned in 2015, and seems to be ready to become the future of Penn State’s offensive line, brimming with young talent (and depth!).
P Blake Gilliken- During the past two seasons, how many times have we witnessed a shanked punt force a tired defense to defend a short field? If you lost count, that’s because it basically happened on a weekly basis, sometimes multiple times per game. Gilken has been given the “green light” to play as a true freshman, and will almost assuredly be the starting punter beginning week one. As the top punter in his class, he should play a major part in helping Penn State finally eliminate their regular losses in the field position battle.
DT Tyrell Chavis- OK, so he’s not a freshman, but as an incoming JUCO player he could become a significant part of the defense, which needs to quickly find its next dominant defensive tackle to finish near the top of the Big Ten in 2016.
DE Ryan Buchholz- With three-fourths of Penn State’s starting 2015 defensive line now in the NFL, Buchholz should see time immediately. He’s demonstrated his ability to get into the backfield in a hurry in practice, and with his non-stop motor he could develop into the next version of Carl Nassib.
K Alex Barbir- Barbir enters Penn State as one of the top kickers in his class, but may end up behind junior Tyler Davis this fall. If he does wind up as the team’s starter, perhaps he shoots up the list after nailing 50-plus yard field goals to beat Ohio State and Michigan as the clock hits 0:00 (we can dream, can’t we?).
OL Connor McGovern- While he’s not listed as a current starter, McGovern will push the veterans ahead of him and could find himself in a starting role sooner rather than later in 2016. James Franklin has already given him the “green light” to play as a true freshman. He has the size and strength to be able to play immediately, and the versatility to “plug and play” wherever the need pops up in the trenches.
WR Juwan Johnson- Like Sanders, Johnson will be in the midst of a very skilled and crowded position group. However, Johnson has an incredible combination of size and speed and could do wonders in stretching Penn State’s offense to add an extremely dangerous wrinkle that could result in many big plays throughout the season.
So what say you, honorable BSD reader? Which of the aforementioned freshmen will have the biggest impact on Penn State’s 2016 season? Or will it be someone not listed, say Irvin Charles or Andre Robinson- who if not for being in crowded position groups, would be getting loads of hype? Or someone else entirely who comes out of nowhere?
Either way, we’ll start to find out in just five more days!