BSD’s position-by-position previews continue at wide receiver. The Nittany Lions lost starters Parker Washington, a three-year standout, and Mitchell Tinsley, a portal-plug-in starter. They’ll also have a new position coach with Marques Hagans replacing Taylor Stubblefield.
The story with Lambert-Smith has been his inconsistency early in his career, but he comes off an outstanding finish to the 2022 season where he stepped up in the absence of the aforementioned Washington. Against Michigan State, he recorded five catches for 83 yards and a score. Then, in the Rose Bowl, the sophomore showed his explosiveness as he had three catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown, an 88-yard effort, was the longest in Rose Bowl history and put Penn State in control. The bad news is that Tinsley’s eight catches in those last two appearances accounted for one third of his catches on the year. Lambert-Smith did miss all of the Minnesota game and nearly all of the Northwestern game with an ankle injury. He’s shown a penchant for making big plays in the biggest games - his other two touchdowns came against Ohio State and Purdue respectively - but he will need to be more steady as the most seasoned of the receiving group. Meanwhile, at least one of us here at BSD is excited about KLS.
Harrison Wallace III
In his redshirt freshman season, Trey Wallace showed explosiveness that was missing with the rest of the receiving corps. Of his 19 catches, five went for at least 20 yards. This included a 27- and 20-yard catch in the Rose Bowl. You also might remember his 48-yard catch down the sideline against Michigan that helped set up a field goal to give the Lions a fast-forgotten second half lead against the Wolverines. In what will prove to be a recurring theme for this position room, Wallace has shown flashes of big-play ability but will need to continue to grow into being an every-down receiver.
Potential Starters/Rotation Guys
Look, this is a Spring Preview and the biggest name not here right now is transfer Dante Cephas, who accounted for more than 2,000 yards in his two-time all-conference career at Kent State. He’s finishing up course work before enrolling at Penn State. So, yes, we know he’s out there. Until then, let’s look at guys who will get a ton of reps this month and will push for major playing time.
The Florida State transfer brings elite size to the position - standing 6’4 and having proven to be a good red zone target with the Seminoles. He had 17 catches last year for 206 yards and three touchdowns. Take a look at this particular score and then imagine it happening in the South End of Beaver Stadium during a White Out win.
Speed. That’s what helped Evans get on the field early in 2022 and kept him somewhat in the wideout rotation, at least enough to burn his redshirt. The highlight of his season was being on the receiving end of Drew Allar’s first touchdown pass in the blue-and-white. In high school, Evans was, to put it simply, a football player. He spent a good deal of time at quarterback and was a standout defensive back, so his development into a full-time wide receiver is still a work in progress entering his sophomore year.
A year ago, Saunders was pegged as a potential early contributor. However, he wound up preserving his redshirt. He did appear in three games and hauled in two catches against Ohio. It’s a big spring for Saunders who came to Penn State as a highly touted, and incredibly productive, recruit.
Lil’ Cliff caught nine passes last year and now, with big brother Sean gone, has the chance to establish his own name. While he will forever be linked to Penn State’s 17-year starting quarterback, Liam was named Ohio Offensive Player of the Year back in 2020 and has already shown the ability to make plays for the Lions.
The 6’4 Canadian junior has found a home on special teams, where he played in 12 games in 2022 and was named the team’s top special teams player. He has caught three passes in each of the past two seasons, including a touchdown against Rutgers in 2021. This spring might show how many more opportunities he gets for regular snaps at wide receiver.
Tyler Johnson, Anthony Ivey, Christian Driver
All three of these guys are coming off redshirt seasons and none recorded any catches in 2022. Driver, the son of former Packers receiver Donald Driver, is making a shift from the secondary to wide receiver. Both Ivey and Johnson were honored with a developmental player of the week awards in 2022.