Last week, we kicked off our top 10 players of 2016 countdown. Today, we continue with the top five players who helped lead Penn State to a Big Ten title.
5. Mike Gesicki (TE)
2016 Stats: 48 receptions, 679 yards, 5 touchdowns
Mike Gesicki had the most improved season of and Nittany Lion in recent memory. As a sophomore in 2015, Gesicki was often a liability due to costly drops and penalties. As a junior, he found his mojo and had the most productive single season for a tight end in program history, which is decorated with many standouts at the position. With Gesicki returning for his senior season, the sky is the limit as he could end up as a first-team All-American and a first round draft choice in the 2018 NFL Draft.
4. Brandon Bell (LB)
2016 Stats: 89 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 passes defended, 1 fumble recovery, 3 forced fumbles
The importance of Brandon Bell was made obvious when he missed time with injuries earlier in the season as well as the ending of the Rose Bowl. Not only was he the team’s spiritual leader, his ability for momentum-shifting plays brought the defense to an entirely new level. Bell had several Lavar-esque moments throughout the year, and he fed off the energy of the Beaver Stadium crowds to combine for 37 tackles against Ohio State and Michigan State to deliver an upset for the ages and a Big Ten East-clinching victory.
3. Chris Godwin (WR)
2016 Stats: 59 receptions, 982 yards, 11 touchdowns, 13 rushing yards
Chris Godwin’s greatness was so profound that the eye-popping, highlight-reel plays just became expected on a weekly basis. He was the definition of a complete receiver. While Godwin was an incredible deep threat, he never shied away from the dirty work. Whether going across the middle in traffic to gain a key first down or making a sustained downfield block to spring a big play for one of his teammates, he did it all. Godwin was one of the best wide receivers ever to put on a Penn State uniform, and will make one lucky GM look like a genius before too long in the NFL.
2. Trace McSorley (QB)
2016 Stats: 224 of 387, 57.9 completion percent, 3,614 passing yards, 29 touchdown passes, 8 interceptions, 365 rushing yards, 7 rushing touchdowns
The quarterback position was somewhat of a question mark at the start of 2016. By the end of the season, Trace McSorley had made quite the name for himself and enters 2017 on many Heisman lists. McSorley showed a penchant for the deep ball, regularly taking advantage of mismatches created by Penn State’s bevy of big, physical receivers. But it was McSorley’s involvement in the ground game that gave the Nittany Lions offense the element needed to really allow it to flourish and become one of the nation’s best by season’s end. McSorley has the obvious intangibles needed to lead the offense, and with two more years of eligibility and many dangerous weapons at his disposal, the future looks extremely bright.
1. Saquon Barkley (RB)
2016 Stats: 1,496 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns, 28 receptions, 402 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns
Saquon Barkley’s greatness is undeniable, and it’s quite obvious with each game that he is easily the most talented player on both sides of the ball for either team. He is one of the most complete players you will see- he can run between the tackles to pick up tough yardage just as easily as he weaves through a defense for a long scamper to the end zone. He’s also a tremendous threat out of the backfield. His ability to score with each touch also opens things up for the offense, as he demands so much attention each and every down he is on the field. It’s hard not to become giddy imagining what Barkley will do in 2017 after another offseason in the weight room, running behind an experienced line that should be much more capable of creating wide open lanes for him to sprint through. College football’s best player may very well reside in Happy Valley this fall.
Here is how the overall voting tallied worked out:
1. Saquon Barkley- 126
2. Trace McSorley- 120
3. Chris Godwin- 91
4. Brandon Bell- 78
5. Mike Gesicki- 69
6. Jason Cabinda- 41
7. John Reid- 38
8. Garrett Sickels- 34
9. Marcus Allen- 32
10. Ryan Bates- 26
11. Blake Gillkin- 25
12. Brendan Mahon- 18
13. Brian Gaia- 5
13. Connor McGovern- 5
15. Kevin Givens- 4
16. Chasz Wright- 2