Although Penn State has yet to announce when fall camp will kickoff, it’s safe to say we are just about two weeks away from football being back in Happy Valley. With that will bring the real first look at the true freshmen class as a whole. Sure, there was a group that enrolled early in the winter and took part in spring practice, but with the whole class (minus Ken Talley according to 247Sports, for the record) now on campus, we’ll inch closer and closer to figuring out just who from the No. 8 ranked 2023 class will break through the depth chart and contribute year one as a Nittany Lion.
It’s funny how college football has changed since the early 2010s, where being able to redshirt a talented freshman was almost looked at as a blessing because you’d potentially get an extra year from them. Nowadays, that largely isn’t the case, with kids having the complete and total mentality of “three years and I am off” — i.e. Odafe Oweh and Brandon Smith.
Given how the game’s timeline has changed, it’s created a sense of urgency for schools like Penn State to get the most out of their most highly-touted recruits. That clock is ticking the second they step on campus, so making the most of just three seasons is paramount. The issue? Sometimes the most talented kids in a class are the rawest ones — case in point, the aforementioned Odafe Oweh. It puts a school like Penn State into a bit of a balancing act. You want to play a kid as much possible for his own progression, but at the same time, you don’t want to give too much too soon — especially to the detriment of the team.
We’ll continue to use the system James Franklin has utilized in the pass: the red, yellow, and green light system. As could be deduced: red means a redshirt, yellow means there may be a situation where they play, and green means they are off barring a surprise.
QB Beau Pribula, WR Tyler Johnson, TE Jerry Cross, OT Maleek McNeil, OT Drew Shelton, OG Vega Ioane, DT Kaleb Artis, DE Ken Talley, LB Keon Wylie, DB Mehki Flowers, DB Cristian Driver
I think most of these are pretty obvious. Really, only a few of these I wrestled with putting in the yellow group: Tyler Johnson, Keon Wylie, and Cristian Driver.
- Johnson: Wide receiver depth is mostly unproven so it wouldn’t be a total shock if he broke through for some rotation snaps here or there.
- Wylie: On a similar note, linebacker depth is *not* great. Wylie is making a transition from defensive end to linebacker though so I just don’t think he’ll be ready.
- Driver: Played big time Texas high school football, enrolled early, NFL genes, and there’s a belief he may be closer to his ceiling than much of the class. I don’t necessarily think he’s getting major snaps at safety, but maybe as a core special teamer? Penn State did something similar with Jesse Luketa.
QB Drew Allar, RB Kaytron Allen, WR Anthony Ivey, WR Omari Evans, OL JB Nelson, LB Abdul Carter, DB KJ Winston, DB Tyrece Mills, CB Cam Miller
Let’s start with the major name here: Drew Allar. If we’re being honest, he probably is closer to the Red Light category, but would you be *totally* stunned if Penn State’s season goes sort of like last year: hot start, Clifford gets banged up by the end of the season, and Franklin and Yurcich want to see what they have in the five-star kid? I know Christian Veilleux is standing in the way, but I’m just saying, it’s semi-plausible. A little? Maybe?
As for the rest, both JUCO guys are here. I have a tough time putting a running back as physically put together as Kaytron Allen into the Red Light category. Anthony Ivey is super polished, while Omari Evans has that good-good speed that could factor him into the PR/KR job. Abdul Carter is a physical freak who won’t be playing here as a fifth-year senior anyway. KJ Winston very well may be a starter in 2023, so it might be smart to throw him into the fire now. And lastly, Cam Miller, is a darkhorse favorite of mine from the 2022 class.
RB Nick Singleton, WR Kaden Saunders, DE Dani Dennis-Sutton, DL Zane Durant, P Alex Bacchetta
Remember that thing I said up top about playing the really talented guys right away? Well, Kaden Saunders and Dani Dennis-Sutton fit that to a “T.” A playmaker like Saunders and a five-star defensive end like Dennis-Sutton just can’t sit the year on the bench. They just can’t.
Zane Durant is a surprise here given his ranking coming out of high school, but from all reports he was a terror to block this spring. He’s still a bit small (272 pounds) for just defensive tackle, but he played a ton of defensive end in high school. Could absolutely see him in the rotation there.
Oh, and if Nick Singleton gets redshirted, I will have Dr. Neeli Bendapudi punt me off Old Main like a football.