Let’s finish the offseason in style by handing out some made-up awards!
OFFENSIVE MVP — Trace McSorley
Chris Lucia: Was there ever any doubt? It’s no secret that teams keyed on Saquon Barkley last year, asking Trace McSorley to beat them. And beat them he did! But with Barkley, Gesicki, and Hamilton gone, defenses can now focus all of their attention on the gunslinger. And you know what? McSorley isn’t going to bat an eye. Trace has been the starter in this offensive system for three years now – he’s now a master of it, and is poised to lead this team to new heights. Given that the defense may take a step back, the Nittany Lions will need to score points to win some games – and thanks to the offensive MVP, they’re going to score plenty.
DEFENSIVE MVP — Shareef Miller
Marty Leap: Penn State fans learned the hard way in 2017 that there is nothing more important to a defense than a lethal pass rush. In 2018, the Nittany Lions should have a strong pass rush and it will be led by redshirt junior defensive end Shareef Miller. Miller has all the tools needed to produce a double digit sack season, but he does more than just rush the passer. Miller has the size and length at defensive end that allows him to help set the edge and be strong against the run. With the retirement of Ryan Buchholz, there may not be a more important player on Penn State’s defense than Miller.
MR. RELIABLE (OFFENSE) — Ryan Bates
Patrick Koerbler: James Franklin has referred to Trace McSorley as “Steady Eddy” a couple times the past few months, and the same name could be used for Ryan Bates. Since making his starting debut along the offensive line in 2016, Bates has been extremely dependable, being an all-conference level performer both at guard and tackle. Now, as a redshirt junior, he’s the unquestioned leader of an offensive line that should be one of the best units in the Big Ten.
MR. RELIABLE (DEFENSE) — John Reid
Jared Slanina: John Reid is a vastly underrated player outside of State College, because he makes it so easy to go unnoticed. Reid provides the type of coverage that results in quarterbacks not looking his way often. You can easily go the entire game with little mention of Reid, which means he’s doing his job- being a consistently stellar corner who takes the opponents’ top receiver out of the game and shutting down his side of the field. Penn State’s secondary is in for a major boost by welcoming Reid back after he was forced out of action for the entirety of the 2017 season with a knee injury. With Reid on the sidelines, Penn State lost two games by a total of four points- a loss at Ohio State where the secondary was shredded in the second half, and another at Michigan State where the secondary couldn’t make that one stop to get the defense off the field. Those types of heartbreaking finishes will be much less probable with Reid back in the lineup.
OFFENSIVE FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR — Justin Shorter
Chris Lucia: Micah Parsons got all of the attention on the recruiting trail, allowing Justin Shorter to fly under the radar – as much as a consensus five-star receiver can fly under the radar. He’s tall, quick, and athletic, and joins a team looking to replace a significant number of receptions from last year, after Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton left the program. Juwan Johnson has the X position locked down, while DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk figure to have the inside track on the other positions, but Shorter will push all three of them for playing time. It won’t shock me in the least to see Shorter claim a starting spot before the end of the season, which he will not relinquish once he gets a hold of it.
DEFENSIVE FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR — Micah Parsons
Marty Leap: Parsons is big, physical, fast, and plays with a mean streak. While he will undoubtedly make some freshman mistakes at linebacker this fall, he will make more than enough splash plays that will wow the masses to make up for them. Look for Parsons to rack up plenty of sacks and TFLs this season as he punishes quarterbacks and ball carriers. It is not going to take long for Parsons to become a household name in the Big Ten.
BREAKOUT PLAYER (OFFENSE) — Miles Sanders
DLando: Yes, Saquon Barkley is gone, but Miles Sanders possesses the speed, athleticism, and perhaps most importantly, fresh legs to give defensive coordinators across the country headaches. Trace is getting a ton of attention (and rightly so), but the former WPIAL star will take a ton of pressure off the Heisman hopeful. Sanders has a chip on his shoulder the size of a certain Giant running back’s quads, and this will result in over 1,000 yards on the ground for the Nittany Lions-and don’t sleep on his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield either. 2018 is No. 24’s time to step into the spotlight, and he will help lead this explosive offense toward the top of the Big Ten.
BREAKOUT PLAYER (DEFENSE) — Yetur Gross-Matos
Dylan Callaghan-Croley: When Yetur Gross-Matos is on the field, it’s hard to miss him. At 6-foot-5 and 262-pounds, Gross-Matos is consistently one of the biggest players on the field. Gross-Matos saw strong playing time as a true freshman and didn’t disappoint giving that he was still raw and acclimating to the college game. This season however should be a big one for Gross-Matos who as he grows into a more developed player could become an unstoppable force on the defensive line.
BEST NFL PROSPECT (OFFENSE) — Juwan Johnson
Dylan Callaghan-Croley: There are very few words you can use to describe Juwan Johnson as a pure talent. One of them is “freak” and that’s in a good way. The junior wide receiver is 6-foot-4 and 231 pound, which is a dream size for an NFL wide receiver and is comparable size wise to that of A.J Green and Julio Jones. Not only does Johnson bring a ton of length to the field, he brings great hands and speed. He’s not a perfect wide receiver by any stretch, but he’s a pretty damn good wide receiver, and all that stands between Johnson and being a first or second round draft pick next spring is having a productive junior season.
BEST NFL PROSPECT (DEFENSE) — John Reid
Patrick Koerbler: While John Reid doesn’t have elite length for an NFL cornerback, make no mistake about it, Reid will have a long career at the next level. He’s an incredibly smart player who has a penchant for the film room, and to be honest, is a better athlete than given credit for. His short area quickness and ability to change direction is top-notch, two things that will aid him tremendously come draft combine time.
*Note: We only included players that are draft eligible in 2019. Sorry, Micah Parsons, Jayson Oweh, Yetur Gross-Matos, and a host of others.