On Tuesday, Bennett went over the projected depth chart for the defense. Today, I’m taking the reigns for the offense. Who do we expect to start at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, and of course, on the offensive line? Let’s get to it.
*Note: The class year used in parentheses is what they would be if the 2020 season counted. If they don’t have a + after it, it means they’d still have an additional year left. For example, Parker Washington is a junior because he played in 2020, 2021, and will play in 2022. Despite this, Penn State Athletics is listing him as a sophomore because 2020 didn’t count. I just think that is more confusing since most of these guys aren’t going to use that 6th year here anyway.
QB: Sean Clifford (RS SR+) — Christian Veilleux (RS FR) — Drew Allar (FR)
The starter is here is pretty straight forward, and really so is the backup job: it’ll be Christian Veilleux. I know all of us are excited for Drew Allar, and with him having enrolled early I am sure there was some hope he’d be taking control of that QB2 job. But at this point, Veilleux is just more polished and would give the Nittany Lions more of a chance to win should Clifford succumb to an injury. Perhaps Penn State is in enough blowouts that Allar gets into a game or two, but an ideal season would see Allar not put into a situation that is “too much, too soon” for the 18-year-old frosh.
RB: Keyvone Lee (JR) — Nicholas Singleton (FR) — Devyn Ford (SR)
I’ve been on record that I believe Nicholas Singleton will eventually be RB1, but at this point in camp and looking ahead to the Purdue game, I’d be surprised if Keyvone Lee isn’t given the start. He’s been Penn State’s most impressive back the last two seasons, and really started to put things together late in the season last year. Although he lacks that top gear and burst to be an all-conference level back, Lee certainly gives them someone who can churn out positive yardage.
Behind Lee and Singleton, I think we see Ford in a similar role like we did last year as a third down back, but he’ll be pushed by the other true freshman, Kaytron Allen. When I talked to running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider at Media Day and asked him about Singleton, he went out of his way to note that Allen is a player too.
WR: Mitchell Tinsley (SR+) — Malick Meiga (RS SO)
WR: KeAndre Lambert-Smith (JR) — Harrison Wallace (RS FR)
WR: Parker Washington (JR) — Kaden Saunders (FR)
The top three are pretty well set for the Nittany Lions. Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith are returning starters from last season, while Mitchell Tinsley will take Jahan Dotson’s spot in the lineup. While no one is expecting Tinsley to be another Dotson, the preseason reports on him have only been extremely positive. While Clifford will certainly miss having the cheat code that was Jahan Dotson, I think Penn State feels very good about its starting trio.
The more interesting battle is what’s going on in the two-deep. Despite the lack of experience there, James Franklin pointed out last weekend that their depth at wide receiver is much better this year compared to last year. He said something to the effect of there was a substantial drop off when they took one of the starters off the field last year, but that shouldn’t be the case this year. Now, we’ll see if that is the case. Malick Meiga, Harrison Wallace, and Kaden Saunders have a combined three receptions between them — and all of those were from Meiga last season.
For me, Saunders is the x-factor here. Really, the only thing holding him back from being a five-star prospect was his size — he’s just 5-foot-10, 178 pounds. Maybe that size will prevent him from playing a ton this season too, but the speed, quickness, and shiftiness are there.
TE: Brenton Strange (RS JR) — Theo Johnson (JR) — Tyler Warren (RS SO)
This was the three-deep last season too so an easy one here as far as betting on what the depth chart will look like. I personally would have Theo Johnson as TE1, but I’m just a harmless little blogger.
The real question is how the snap breakdowns play out and just how many targets these guys see. Despite Strange being the “starter” in 2021, his numbers were close to identical with Johnson — 20 receptions vs 19 receptions, 225 yards vs 213 yards, and three touchdowns vs one touchdown. Do we see a similar trend in 2022?
The other component in play is does Tyler Warren see his role increased. He’s the best blocker of the bunch, and could that serve him to see more snaps and thus an increased production? He only had 5 receptions last season which you’d have to think will be surpassed this coming season.
Tight end is an interesting one because I really don’t know how it plays out. I could see a world where Theo Johnson has 35+ receptions and establishes himself more as the tight end. I could also see Tyler Warren basically making it a true three-headed monster.
LT: Olu Fashanu (RS SO) — Jimmy Christ (RS SO)
LG: Landon Tengwall (RS FR) — JB Nelson (RS SO)
C: Juice Scruggs (RS SR) — Nick Dawkins (RS SO)
RG: Saleem Wormley (RS JR) — Hunter Nourzad (RS SR)
RT: Caedan Wallace (RS JR) — Bryce Effner (RS SR)
Alright, so this is where the fun begins. I think you can consider three of these guys locks: Olu Fashanu at left tackle, Caedan Wallace at right tackle, and Juice Scruggs at center. If one of those guys isn’t starting come Purdue, it’s because of an injury or suspension.
So that leaves us with two starting gigs up at the offensive guard spots, and what appears to mostly be a three-man competition between Landon Tengwall, Saleem Wormley, and the Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzard. Bryce Effner, the JUCO transfer JB Nelson, and Golden Israel-Achumba could maybe see some time this year too, but at least at this point, it’s shaking up to be between Tengwall, Wormley, and Nourzard.
Who has the edge? Tough to say, as all of them can make some sort of claim. Wormley very well could have been one of the offensive guard starters last season if he didn’t get injured. We saw a lot of promise from Tengwall last season, and just given his pedigree as a Top 50 recruit, the kid is uber-talented. Meanwhile, Nourzard was an All-Ivy League and an FCS All-American for Cornell last season.
I think the most likely outcome is that you see all three get some playing time, especially early in the season. I asked Phil Trautwein at media day if he believes in sticking with five guys or rotating in linemen, and he said that if more than five guys are ready to play, he prefers to rotate. So just given how close this battle appears to be, I think that’s what we’ll eventually see.