Hey, I don’t know if you heard, but Penn State football is back this fall. That’s great news in it of itself, but the other good news? No player will lose a year of eligibility this year. Obviously this is a good thing for every Penn State player, but let’s take a look at four players in particular who could benefit from the extra year.
Note: True freshmen not included.
CB DONOVAN JOHNSON (RS JR)
This is a pretty obvious first choice considering that Johnson is primed to miss the 2020 season with an undisclosed injury. That would have put the redshirt junior in a difficult spot heading into his final season in 2021, as Penn State has a trio of second-year cornerbacks — Keaton Ellis, Marquis Wilson, and Joey Porter Jr. — who would have made some headway in 2020.
Now with that extra year or eligibility, it certainly makes things easier for Johnson who knows that no matter what happens in 2021, he will still be able to take the field for another season in 2022. For Penn State, that’s a big time positive too because while Johnson doesn’t have elite size, he’s one of the fastest players on the team, and is an ideal fit for the slot cornerback spot. Let’s just hope health permits that.
QB SEAN CLIFFORD (RS JR)
Maybe this one is even more obvious, but generally the more years a quarterback is in an offense, the better they become. With Sean Clifford’s new football-marriage to Kirk Ciarrocca underway, the duo received a big boost by Clifford being eligible through the 2022 season, now meaning Clifford will have three seasons with KC instead of just two — again, obviously, a big time advantage.
Now sure, the plan should be that Clifford takes the steps necessary this year, and then has a big enough season in 2021 that he’s ready for the NFL Draft. But even in the best case scenario of Clifford’s next two seasons, it’s not like he’s going to be a dream NFL prospect. He doesn’t have an elite physical or athletic profile, and doesn’t have a cannon for an arm. So even if he puts up some Tanner Morgan-esque numbers in 2021, the likelihood of Clifford catapulting himself into a 1st round pick doesn’t seem all that likely.
Still, it’s a lot to ask of someone who will be 24 years old to come back for another season. Loving college and Penn State (and his brother, who will be on the team) or not, at some point, players want to move on and give the NFL a shot — even if they aren’t a high-round draft pick. So I’m not exactly putting Clifford as Penn State’s starting quarterback in 2022 as pen. But regardless, it’s good for Penn State that Clifford will have the opportunity.
DT JOSEPH APPIAH DARKWA (RS FR)
Darkwa is one of the more intriguing players on the roster. At 6-foot-5, 292 pounds, he’s an absolute behemoth at defensive tackle, but it’s the fact that he’s from Germany and never played football in America until he came to Penn State that makes him so interesting. As you can imagine, making the jump from a German football league to the Big Ten is a steep one, so Darkwa is as raw as one can get. With the extra year of eligibility, that gives Darkwa an additional year in the system which is massive when you consider his growth potential.
Darkwa’s already 21 as a redshirt freshman, so he’s old for his class as is. With the extra year, this means that Darkwa will be 24 and 25 years old during his redshirt junior and senior seasons. I mean, that’s a full-grown man at that point. And if you’re building a football team, I’ll take “full-grown man” on the interior.
OG JUICE SCRUGGS (RS SO)
Juice Scruggs came to Penn State as a pretty herald recruit. He chose the Nittany Lions over the neighboring Buckeyes, and very well could be the most nimble interior offensive line prospect that Penn State has landed during the James Franklin era. Everything was setting up for Scruggs to be a major player along the offensive line in the very near future.
Much of that was put into doubt after Scruggs was injured in a car accident during the 2019 offseason. Fortunately, the injury didn’t cause Scruggs to retire, but it did put into doubt just when he’d be ready to be a Big Ten caliber offensive lineman again. Over the spring, new offensive line coach said that Scruggs was “recovering” nicely.
#PennState OL coach Phil Trautwein says Juice Scruggs recovering nicely and can play all 5 positions on line.— Richard Scarcella (@nittanyrich) April 28, 2020
The keyword there? Recovering — as in, not fully back yet. That’s where the extra year will come in handy. Penn State can once again take it easy on Scruggs this season, knowing that he’ll have three full seasons to play after 2020.