EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth of our annual position preview series. Be sure to check back over the next couple of weeks as we preview the rest of the positions in the lead-up to the 2020 season.
The Starter: Pat Freiermuth
There seems to be a good chance the Freiermuth is named first-team All-American at the end of the 2020 season. If you’ve been paying attention the last two years, you know why.
Tight end was a major question mark heading into 2018, as the Nittany Lions needed to replace Mike Gesicki, who left with many school records to his name. Despite being a true freshman, Freiermuth was an immediate star. He proved to be a much-needed asset in the red zone, and averaged 14.2 yards per catch to go along with his eight touchdowns on the season. He also proved his mettle as a blocker, giving Penn State’s run game a much-needed boost that had been sorely lacking in previous seasons.
Freiermuth was well-established by his sophomore season, becoming a frequent target for first-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford. His best games of the season came against Buffalo, when he contributed 99 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and a 101-yard effort at Minnesota. Freiermuth had the option of departing for the NFL since he used a prep year after graduating from high school, but decided to return for at least one more season in Happy Valley.
The Key Reserves
There may not be too much behind Freiermuth in terms of experience, but there is heaps of potential, and more than likely, just waiting for the opportunity to see extended playing time.
Zack Kuntz and Brenton Strange are listed behind Freiermuth on the spring depth chart, and both have incredible potential. Kuntz is in the mold of Jesse James, a huge 6-7 target who can easily create mismatches, with he versatility to split wide when needed. Like Kuntz, Strange also entered Penn State as a four-star prospect. He used the past season to redshirt and add some weight, but his high school tape shows that he knows how to use his strength to get off the line of scrimmage and run through defenders for additional yards after the catch. Both should see the field this season in relief — and hopefully, in addition to — Freiermuth.
The Departure: Nick Bowers
Bowers had his best season as a senior, finally recovered from several injuries that kept him off the field at times throughout his stay in Happy Valley. All of his perseverance paid off, as he proved to be a reliable target when taking over duties from Pat Freiermuth. Bowers is now with the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrafted free agent, but the Nittany Lions have several highly-touted tight ends waiting for their turn to see the field.
The Additions: Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren
Johnson is the latest Nittany Lion to cross our norther border to join the Nittany Lions. He is one of the standouts of the 2020 class, coming in as a high four-star prospect with a who’s who of offer sheets that includes Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan and so many more. At 6-6, 242 lbs., he has the combination of size and athleticism you want in a tight end. While he may not need to pack on the pounds before he’s ready to see the field, it seems likely that Johnson will redshirt considering the overall talent on the depth chart. Johnson also lined up mainly at receiver in high school, and will probably need some time to adjust to being a full time tight end at the next level.
Warren is similar in size at 6-6, 235 lbs., and was also highly-recruited, receiving offers from the likes of Michigan, South Carolina and Virginia Tech. He was originally committed to the Hokies, before deciding that Penn State was the better fit. Warren also seems highly likely to take a redshirt year in 2020 as he works his way up the depth chart.
The tight end unit for Penn State is in outstanding shape, not just for now, but the immediate future. Freiermuth may depart for the NFL and become a first-round pick after this season, but the cupboard is well-stocked for the future.