With the news yesterday that quarterback Michael Johnson, Jr. decided to enter the transfer portal, it got me thinking about how things have gone for Penn State in the portal era.
I think overall we could say that the transfer portal hasn’t been that unkind to the Lions. Admittedly, there was a pretty big exodus a couple years ago, but in truth that had more to do with underclassmen outperforming upperclassmen more than anything else. On a player-by-player basis, you could see how they fit into the depth chart, what was coming behind them, and them moving on made sense.
The biggest benefit to the Lions has been kicker/punter Jordan Stout, by far. Some others like receiver Weston Carr haven’t really panned out, but Stout has made himself a valuable commodity in Happy Valley.
If there were one player that I would have liked to have back, it would have been Juwan Johnson. Did JJ ever really explode the way we all hoped? No, I think you could say he did okay, given his size, but was never a true game-changer. His stats with the Lions were as follows: 81 catches for 1,123 yards, and two touchdowns. His best season was in 2017 as a redshirt sophomore, wherein he tallied 54 catches for 701 yards and a score. In the blue and white, he averaged 13.9 yards per catch.
Unfortunately, the offense regressed in 2018, and Johnson opted to transfer to Oregon. He battled some injuries, but ended up with a solid season. In 2019 he reeled in 30 catches for 467 yards (15.6 yards per catch), and four touchdowns. JJ went undrafted, but was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the New Orleans Saints.
Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and I think given the benefit of hindsight, it would have been nice for the Lions if Juwan had opted to stay at Penn State for his last season. The idea at the time was that Justin Shorter had pushed toward the top of the depth chart, and with the combination of injuries and drops, Johnson sought greener pastures.
Of course, Shorter proceeded to have a very pedestrian season in 2019, ultimately choosing to enter the transfer portal as a starter during the middle of the season. In eight games in 2019, Justin managed 12 catches for 137 yards, and no touchdowns. Could Johnson, an established starter by that point, have outperformed Shorter in 2019? I think the answer is who knows, but it would be hard to have a poorer statistical season than Shorter did.
Would Johnson have made a huge difference in losses to OSU and Minnesota? Who knows. I’d be willing to wager that the OSU game doesn’t change all that much, but perhaps Juwan doesn’t get bullied by Antoine Winfield? Again, who knows - Johnson transferred, had a good-if-not-great season at Oregon, and Penn State’s receivers had an overall mediocre season.
It was what it was, but looking back, I can say that the Lions most likely could have used JJ for his last season. Here’s hoping that we don’t look back on some of the players currently transferring out, and wish they could have stayed in hindsight.