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Penn State’s 2018 Breakout Player: Justin Shorter

The incoming five-star prospect has the chance to be Trace McSorley’s top target from year one.

JD Shorter

I’ve written about Justin Shorter quite a few times in the past, so it should come as no surprise that I’m extremely high on the incoming freshman wideout. Here’s what I said about Shorter in January:

No surprise here, but Shorter won’t be redshirted, and should see plenty of playing time right away. While I expect he’ll push Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins for playing time on the outside, I could also see a scenario where Shorter sees some time inside. With Penn State losing Mike Gesicki, I think you’ll see the Nittany Lions go with more four wide receiver sets, which means Ricky Rahne will have the opportunity to get creative with Shorter.

It’s tough to place such high expectations on a true freshman, but the Nittany Lions haven’t had a wideout of Shorter’s caliber in a very long time. He has the chance to be the No. 1 wide receiver year one, and has the potential to have an All-American level career — he’s that good.

Simply put, if the football gods were building a wide receiver, there’s a good chance Shorter would be the outcome. He combines his elite 6-foot-4, 220-pound size with elite athleticism; most notably, his acceleration and jumping ability. While I think there will be an initial adjustment from his high school’s Wing T offense to the college game, it should only be a minor hinderance for Shorter. He’s too talented — and from all accounts, too hard of a worker — not to have a role in Penn State’s 2018 offense.

The question, though, isn’t if Shorter will have a role. With Penn State having to replace the pass-catching production of wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton (53 receptions, 9 touchdowns) and tight end Mike Gesicki (57 receptions, 9 touchdowns), there’s targets to be had. And even those who don’t follow the recruiting trail all too closely are probably familiar with the five-star Shorter, and realize that he’ll see some of those targets come the fall.

Rather, the question is the significance of his role. In my blurb from January, I said that Shorter had the chance to be Penn State’s No. 1 wide receiver as a freshman. I still believe that, and that isn’t a slight at the wide receivers the Nittany Lions are returning. I think Juwan Johnson will have another 55-plus reception season. I think that DeAndre Thompkins is one of the more underrated receivers in the country. I think Brandon Polk and KJ Hamler will have major roles on the inside, giving the Nittany Lions a speedster slot receiver that they haven’t truly had.

All of that being said, I continue to stand by what I said in January: Shorter will be the best of the bunch. It might not be right away — I don’t expect an Allen Robinson 2012 breakout — but I believe by mid-October, he’ll start to separate himself from the rest of the pack. It’s a lot to heap on a freshman, especially when someone like Juwan Johnson returns, but that’s just how good Shorter can be.