It’s a busy time in college football. You have the normal high school recruiting signing period coming up. You have the newfound transfer portal period that is getting busier and busier each year. You have a Penn State team that is preparing for a Rose Bowl matchup with Utah. Plus, you have the impending declarations from a number of Penn State players on whether they will be in Happy Valley next season.
So far, the Nittany Lions have received word that left tackle Olu Fashanu will be back next season, while cornerback Joey Porter Jr. announced that he would be off to the NFL. Over the next few weeks though, a number of players will have to make similar decisions on where they are playing football in 2023.
Let’s take a look at some Nittany Lions who will be deciding between the NFL, Penn State, or maybe elsewhere.
WR PARKER WASHINGTON
2022 Stats: 46 receptions, 611 yards, 2 TDs
Career Stats: 146 receptions, 1,920 yards, 12 TDs
Following an extremely productive three years in Happy Valley, Washington would certainly get drafted should he declare for the 2023 draft. He’s proven to be a reliable slot target who has great hands and can makes defenders miss in the middle of the field. The question for Washington though is the same one I posed when he was a recruit — he’s just 5-foot-10 with average length, doesn’t have elite speed, and can only really play on the inside so his upside is limited.
Perhaps he could sneak into the third round as a Day 2 pick, but I think it’s likelier he’s a Day 3 guy. The question then becomes: what does Washington gain by coming back another season? While I think playing in an offense with a quarterback who can stretch the field a bit more could help Washington show his ability as a down the field target, his main weaknesses (size and long speed) will remain.
The other factor Washington will have to consider is his injury. Of course, we don’t know much of anything about it since Penn State treats injuries like it’s the nuclear code, but if it’s a broken foot that takes 2-3 months to heal, how does that impact Washington’s ability to train for the combine/pro day?
It’s a tough choice for Washington with a lot of variables in play. Obviously as a Penn State fan, I’d love to see what Washington can do in a bit more open of an offense next season. But the kid has already played a lot of football, and perhaps he’s just ready to be a professional.
LB CURTIS JACOBS
2022 Stats: 47 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2 sacks
Career Stats: 117 tackles, 13 TFLs, 5 sacks
In the summer, I predicted that Jacobs would finish the season with 100 tackles and 12 TFLs. He was making a move from the Sam to the Will, and that would provide him the opportunity to be more involved on a snap-by-snap basis.
Well, I was wrong by about 50 tackles and 7 TFLs. Whoopsies. So yeah, wasn’t the season Jacobs and the Penn State staff probably had hoped for. But on the positive side of things for Penn State’s 2023 team, I think this season increases the likelihood that Jacobs comes back for one more year — one that will see him move back over to the Sam spot he played so well as a sophomore.
If Jacobs were to go, I have no doubts he’d kill it at the combine/pro day. He has good size at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, and he’d probably throw up some ridiculous testing numbers — talking a vertical in the 35-inch area and a sub-4.55 forty. But another season of production at his natural spot would really help his draft stock.
TE BRENTON STRANGE
2022 Stats: 32 receptions, 362 yards, 5 TDs
Career Stats: 70 receptions, 755 yards, 11 TDs
Coming off far-and-away the best season of his career, I think it’s safe to say that Strange’s stock has never been higher. He really solidified his role as a safety valve in the passing attack, while taking a massive step as a run blocker. Like Washington, he’s played a lot of football at Penn State, having been the starting tight end since taking over for an injured Pat Freiermuth during the 2020 season.
Keeping with the similarities to Washington, I think Strange’s biggest question marks will be his size and athleticism. He’s smaller for a tight end at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds, and while he’s a good athlete, he isn’t an elite one — something he kind of needs to be considering he’s a bit smaller than you’d hope for.
Coming back can obviously help his stock if he continues to make strides. It’s not like Strange is a totally complete player yet. But — and I realize I say this as the leader for the Theo Johnson Hype Train — there’s absolutely a scenario where his numbers dip a bit considering what is behind him in the tight end room.
Really, I think this just comes down to what Strange is looking for at this point of his life. The idea of coming back to Penn State, trying to solidify his draft position as a Day 2 player, and helping the Nittany Lions compete for a title could be something that really entices him. Or he might think he’s ready and realize that there’s no guarantee that his stock gets higher with another season.
DE ADISA ISAAC
2022 Stats: 23 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks
Career Stats: 50 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 7 sacks
Coming off an achilles injury, it took a bit of time for Isaac to get going. You could see early in the season that he was just a tick too slow or a second too late to react to something, which wasn’t all that surprising considering his layoff. But as the season wore on, Isaac began playing much better, as evidenced by 3 of his 4 sacks coming in the month of November.
The late season surge has made this decision a more interesting one for Isaac. On one hand, he’s a good athlete with solid length and given his family’s situation, getting a professional contract could really help things for all involved. Plus, like Strange and the tight end room, the defensive ends behind Isaac could take away some snaps. Dani Dennis-Sutton should see more time. Zuriah Fisher will be fully healthy. Amin Vanover really flashed during his snaps.
On the other hand though, it feels like Isaac is just breaking through and showing what he could be. As a former Top 100 prospect, his talent has never been doubted. If he could put together a more complete season next year — while adding a bit of mass to his 243-pound frame — it seems like he could end up a Day 2 pick.
OL CAEDAN WALLACE
Stats: 7 starts at right tackle
Career Stats: 27 starts at right tackle
A three-year starter at right tackle, Wallace finds himself in an interesting spot within the roster. He didn’t play the five games of the season due to an undisclosed injury, which paved the way for Bryce Effner and Drew Shelton (in the place of Olu Fashanu) to get a whole lot of playing time. Now, Penn State is scheduled to return four players with starting experience at offensive tackle. While that’s inherently a good thing, it does create a bit of a logjam for three guys fighting for one starting spot.
For Wallace, I think every option is on the table. One, he can return to Penn State where he can compete for not only the right tackle job but also a starting guard spot. Two, he can enter the NFL Draft, likely with the hopes that an NFL team likes how he projects at guard. Three, he can enter the transfer portal, where he would have little trouble finding a landing spot as a starting right tackle at another Power Five program.
My hope — and I’m sure Penn State’s hope — is that option number one is the choice Wallace goes with. Although he’s had his struggles dealing with speed on the outside, if there’s one thing the portal has shown, it’s that viable starting offensive tackles are hard to come by.
OL BRYCE EFFNER
Stats: 5 starts at right tackle
Career Stats: 5 starts at right tackle, 2 starts at left tackle
Let’s stick with the offensive tackles and talk about Effner, who has an extra season of eligibility thanks to the 2020 COVID season. I think all-in-all Effner performed quite well this year, and showed that he’s a legitimate starting Power Five right tackle. Like we said before, that’s a good thing for Penn State. The more starting caliber tackles you have, the better. Unfortunately, that’s a double-edged sword because those “starting caliber tackles” generally like to, you know, start.
This isn’t to say that I think Effner specifically portals. Perhaps Penn State favors Effner over Wallace? I just have a hard time seeing both Wallace and Effner returning when one of them could be guaranteed a starting spot elsewhere the second they step into the portal. That can be hard to turn down, especially for someone like Effner who heads into their absolute last season of eligibility.
DE NICK TARBURTON
2022 Stats: 18 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 2 sacks
Career Stats: 49 tackles, 10 TFLs, 3 sacks
First and foremost, I was wrong about Tarburton. I have to be honest: I thought he kind stunk in 2021 and was not all that jazzed about him heading into 2022. But he proved to be a much better player than I thought he could/would be. Is he going to fly off the edge and wreak havoc as a gamebreaker? No, not at all. But he’s tough as heck, strong against the run, and just a solid football player.
That being said, I’m not sure Tarburton’s prospects as a longterm NFL player are all that high. With that being the case, would he be interested in using his sixth season of eligibility in Happy Valley? While I’m sure the staff would be happy to get him back, it could be a tough sell considering the talent that’s in the defensive end room. We talked about it a bit with regards to Adisa Isaac, but Chop Robinson, Dani Dennis-Sutton, Zuriah Fisher, Amin Vanover, and the potential return of Smith Vilbert — there’s just a lot of dudes in that room. Does Tarburton want to go through that process when it’s probably likely that his snaps get eaten into? That’s the $64,000 question Tarburton will be answering here in the coming days or weeks.