Getting over the hump in college football has never been more difficult. You look at the likes of Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State, and it seems like the entire roster is filled with future NFL players at each position group. I mean, look at what Kirby Smart and Georgia did the past two NFL drafts. The Bulldogs had nine players drafted in 2021 and then a record 15 players drafted in 2022 — that’s an astounding 24 players taken in a two-year span. Essentially, if you start at the University of Georgia, you will likely need to be an NFL draft pick.
All of this is to say: Penn State has a long way to go if it wants to reach Georgia’s level. The Nittany Lions certainly haven’t had an issue with getting talent to the next level though, having 14 players drafted over the last two seasons with six of those players going in the first two rounds. But what sticks out when taking a closer look is that none of those six players were offensive linemen. Instead, the three offensive linemen that have gotten drafted — Will Fries, Michal Menet, and Rasheed Walker — all went in the 7th round.
For a program that is at a talent deficiency when it comes to comparing it with the elites of the college football world, it goes without saying but one of the larger deficiencies can’t be along the offensive line. Unfortunately for Penn State, that was shown last season as the Nittany Lions struggled to run the football against just about every team it faced. They averaged just 3.21 yards per rush which placed them No. 12 in the Big Ten, just ahead of Indiana and Purdue.
Signs of optimism are coming though, as Penn State’s No. 3 ranked 2023 recruiting class is headlined by the offensive line. Five-star guard Alex Birchmeier has been a longtime commitment of the Nittany Lions, and provided he sticks with his pledge through signing day, will be the first consensus five-star offensive lineman that has signed with Penn State during the James Franklin era.
Just behind Birchmeier is Pennsylvania product J’ven Williams, who while not a five-star, is still an incredibly talented prospect with a 97.07 rating. Williams would be the fourth highest rated offensive linemen to sign with Penn State during Franklin’s tenure, coming in behind Michal Menet and current redshirt freshman Landon Tengwall.
Of course, a strong recruiting pedigree does not guarantee success along the offensive line. Along with quarterback, it could very well be the most difficult spot to project future achievement. But Penn State being able to potentially start Landon Tengwall, Alex Birchmeier, and J’ven Williams on the same offensive line is not insignificant and is proof that progress continues to be made in Happy Valley.