When now former wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield met with reporters during the early National Signing Day period, he pointed out that the Nittany Lions wanted to add two transfer portal receivers. The reason was obvious: the wide receiver room needed it. Penn State is losing its top two wide receivers, with Mitchell Tinsley out of eligibility and Parker Washington forgoing his senior season to declare for the NFL Draft. That leaves the Nittany Lions with a lot of targets and catches to replace — 97 receptions, or 60.6% of all receptions by wide receivers, to be exact.
Penn State went searching far-and-wide for some transfer portal help. There was Donte Thornton who once again honeydick’d Penn State into thinking there was legitimate interest, to then not visit at all and end up at Tennessee. There was Kaden Prather, who also once again spurned the Nittany Lions for another local school; last time West Virginia, this time Maryland. And of course, there was Devin Carter, who got too fired up post-Rose Bowl (I was right there with you, Devin) and committed out of the blue to Penn State, to then make an official visit and change his mind after.
But hey, that is all in the past. Call me Mark McGwire and juice me up because I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here to talk about the present, which is former Kent State wideout Dante Cephas and former Florida State wideout Malik McClain. We’ve gone over a little bit of background on both of them when they originally committed to Penn State, but let’s take a closer look at how each impacts the wide receiver room.
Year: Redshirt Junior (for 2023)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 178 pounds
2022 Stats (9 games): 48 receptions, 744 yards (15.5 YPC), 3 TDs
Career Stats (28 games): 145 receptions, 2,139 yards (14.8 YPC), 12 TDs
Accolades: 2x All-Mac First Team (‘21 & ‘22)
First and foremost, when taking players from Group of 5 conferences, the production needs to be there. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but I wouldn’t want Penn State to get into the business of taking a toolsy G5 player who wasn’t a complete standout at that level. With Cephas, he dominated the MAC en route to back-to-back first-team all-conference selections. Does that guarantee Cephas success at the next level? Nope, but a move to the Power 5 level is certainly warranted given what he produced.
At Penn State, I’d expect Cephas to step into the starting X wide receiver spot that Mitchell Tinsley is leaving behind, but to be honest, I don’t think those “X-Z-Slot” receiver positions are going to be so rigid next season. Lambert-Smith can play all three, Cephas should offer similar versatility, and guys like Harrison Wallace and Malik McClain will cross-train at the Z and the X. More on them later though.
With Cephas, the question marks are basically the reason he ended up in the MAC: he has a thin, wiry frame compounded by the fact that he doesn’t have elite speed. He’s not slow by any means, but he’s probably closer to a 4.55 forty than a 4.45 forty. You can get away with a forty in the 4.5s if you are 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, but given Cephas’ lighter build, it presented concerns that colleges didn’t want to take a chance on out of high school.
There’s a reason Cephas had offers from programs like Georgia, Penn State, and Oregon once he entered the transfer portal though. Despite the slim build and lack of Tyreek Hill speed, Cephas has great short area quickness and strong releases which allow him to get open really whenever he wants; even when against “more athletic” cornerbacks. Against the likes of Maryland, Washington, and Oklahoma, Cephas put up receptions 20 receptions for 256 yards; proof that he wasn’t doing this *just* against MAC squads.
One unfortunate piece: Cephas isn’t expected to be at Penn State for the spring semester. He’s finishing up his undergraduate degree at Kent State, meaning he’ll miss out on winter workouts and spring practice, which is certainly a bummer. A winter with Chuck Losey and a spring going against Kalen King would do wonders for Cephas, but that just makes his transition in the summer all the more important.
Year: Junior (for 2023)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 200 pounds
2022 Stats: 17 receptions, 206 yards (12.1 YPC), 3 TDs
Career Stats (22 games): 33 receptions, 396 yards (12 YPC), 5 TDs
Accolades: ★★★★ (0.9056 247Sports Composite) in 2021 class
As evidenced by the thought-to-be addition of 6-foot-3, 215-pound Devin Carter, Penn State clearly emphasized bringing in a transfer wideout with some serious size. When you look at the wide receivers on the roster, there is just one scholarship wideout who is over 6-foot-3, and hits two bills on the scales: rising redshirt junior Malick Meiga. Talented in his own right, but after having just six receptions the last two seasons, Meiga’s trending more towards special teamer than viable rotational wide receiver.
That brings us to McClain, who checks the “size” box that Penn State lacks at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds. The key with McClain will be progression over the next year or two, because he’s still quite raw. You can see the flashes though in his highlights; the super long frame to go along with top-end straight line speed. When he gets the ball in space, he can go.
C2C/Devy Asset - Malik McClain— Dirty Mike and the Boyds (@FF_DirtyMike) April 4, 2022
▪️HT/WT: 6’4” / 201lbs
▪️Not a Y1 Zero
▪️Will add MPH in comment later
He’s inside my Top15 WRs for 2024, It’s only confirmed that he’s not a dub. Need FSU to fix the QB/ O-line situation. Most catches from 2021⬇️ pic.twitter.com/TAQ0KMtmKx
I’d expect for Penn State to primarily use him as an “Z” receiver given his traits — the size, straight line speed, and flashes of body control — but this isn’t a case of a plug-and-play starter. At least heading into the spring, I think Harrison Wallace would be looked at as the leader for the starting gig, as he comes off a solid introductory season himself. Really though, those are two similar guys — long athletes who are still trying to iron out the intricacies of being a wide receiver — which should make for an intriguing spring.
Heading into the portal season, it was imperative that Penn State improved its wide receiver corps. When you look at the offense, every other box is checked for the Nittany Lions. They have their quarterback in Drew Allar. They have two stud running backs in Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. The tight end room remains a strength with Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren. The offensive line, for the first time in forever, looks like one of the best in the Big Ten with the return of players like Olu Fashanu, Hunter Nourzad, and Caedan Wallace. So really, it was just the wide receivers that needed help via the portal.
As outlined above, it was a bumpy ride at times when it came to receivers in the portal. But being able to land a two-time All-MAC performer and a former four-star with plenty of upside still, and all of a sudden Penn State is in a much better, happier place with its wide receivers than it was a week ago. Talk about the beauty of the portal.