BSD’s position-by-position previews continue at tight end. The state of the position is in great shape, as the Nittany Lions welcome back two experienced and talented players, along with several other highly-touted prospects who are now working their way up the pecking order.
Theo Johnson- Johnson came into his own during the second half of the season once he returned to full health and became more comfortable in Mike Yurcich’s offense. Starting with the Minnesota game on Oct. 22, Johnson had a six-game streak where he caught at least one pass for 25 or more yards. Yurcich found ways to get him looks in the vertical passing game, and Johnson took full advantage of the opportunities. Johnson has a 6-6, 260 lb. frame, yet moves like much lighter wide receiver. The next step in his evolution will be to continue to improve as a blocker and become a safety valve for the first-year quarterback in 2023. It could easily result in Johnson becoming a first-team All-Big Ten selection or an All-American.
Tyler Warren- Warren does a little bit of everything, and he does it all well. He can block, he can lineup in the wildcat and be an asset in short-yardage situations, and he’s shown great value as a pass catcher. Warren can make the typical plays you’d expect from a tight end, but he can also get downfield. He’s also shown a penchant for making acrobatic catches (perhaps most notably on the game-winning drive at Purdue in the ‘22 opener), which will help gain trust from the new quarterback room.
Next in Line
Khalil Dinkins- The staff worked to get Dinkins on the field last season, as he appeared in 10 games on special teams and as a reserve tight end. He showed flashes of his potential as a threat in the passing game, especially when he connected with Drew Allar for a 17-yard touchdown strike against Ohio. You can expect Dinkins to receive more meaningful snaps at tight end this season, as he will be in place for a starting role in 2024.
Mega Barnwell- While Barnwell is just a true freshman, Yurcich must be itching to get him on the field this fall. Barnwell is an absolutely massive target at 6-6 and 270, and like Johnson, moves extremely well for someone his size. The Frederickson, Va. product enters Penn State as a four-star prospect, selecting the Nittany Lions over a long list of powerhouses such as Ohio State, Oregon, Tennessee and many others. He will have to work his way up a crowded room, but the potential is there for a massive career during his time in Happy Valley.
Joey Schlaffer- Schlaffer is likely destined for a redshirt season considering the depth and talent of the tight ends room. He’ll also need to continue adding bulk to his current 6-5, 227 lb. frame. He’ll see time eventually though as a composite four-star prospect and sixth-best player to come out of Pennsylvania in the 2023 class.
Jerry Cross- Cross will be entering his first year of eligibility after using a redshirt season in 2021 when he did not appear in any games. While he has no expereince, he has mounds of potential as a four-star prospect who selected Penn State over offers from Michigan, Iowa, Iowa State and others, with ESPN even placing him as the fifth-best tight end in the class. Cross is another big target at 6-5, 251 lbs. who should become a valuable member of the special teams units as he looks to get snaps at tight end in 2023.