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Way-Too-Early Depth Chart: Penn State Offense

An early look into who could be lining up for the Nittany Lions offense at the start of the 2024 season.

Penn State v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

QUARTERBACK

Starter: Drew Allar

I know some fans will be calling for an open competition at quarterback heading into 2024, but I don’t see Allar losing his spot. His first year as a starter wasn’t as prolific as hoped, but he finished the season with 29 total touchdowns to just two interceptions, and has the physical presence and talent to be a very high draft pick when he leaves State College. The addition of new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki should help Allar’s development, as he is known for using the available talent to create an efficient offense.

Allar’s development was no doubt delayed by the poor wide receiver play in ‘23 — especially watching in-person, where it was painfully obvious the receivers could not get seperation. Allar’s choices were to either regulalry throw into coverage, or just use a small area of the field, making it much easier on defenses. Considering those options, he did his best with what he had to work with.

Allar has an incredibly high celiling, and will need to become more comfortable within the offense as he enters year two as a starter.

Next in Line: Beau Pribula (RS-So.), Jaxon Smolik (R-Fr.), Ethan Grunkemeyer (Fr.)

Pribula has added value to the offense with his legs, often being used on design runs and “gadget” plays in the vein of Tommy Stevens and Will Levis during their time as Nittany Lions. The jury remains out if the coaching staff feels he could be a full-time starter. However, the last time we saw him in action he was connecting with Nicholas Singleton for a 48-yard touchdown pass, one of the few highlights of the Peach Bowl. Smolik only made one brief apperance in his first season, but received rave reviews from the coaching staff on his development in year one. Grunkemeyer has seen his star rise on the recruting trail during the past year, and enters the program with plenty of buzz and expectations. While Pribula will be seeing the field, we could be heading into a three-man race for the true number-two spot in the event that Allar isn’t available.

RUNNING BACK

Starter(s): Nicholas Singleton AND Kaytron Allen

We’ll cheat here because it’s been well-established that Allen and Singleton both handle an equal share of the running back duties, even rotating who is on the field for the first possesion throughout the season. Now entering their junior seasons, the duo gives the Nittany Lions one of the best pair of running backs in the nation. Allen has continued to grow stronger as a between-the-tackles runner who is tough to bring down and always finds a way to eat up extra yardage. Singleton has rounded out his game, but the big plays were harder to come by in ‘23 — although it seemed to be due to safeties playing closer to the line of scrimmage without having to worry about the downfield passing game. Singleton saved his best performances of the season for the final two games of the year, amassing 322 yards from scrimmage against Michigan State and Ole Miss.

Next in Line: London Montgomery (R-Fr.), Quinton Martin, Jr. (Fr.) Tyler Holzworth (R-Jr.)

Penn State’s running back room is much deeper than heading into ‘23, when Trey Potts was added from the transfer portal as the only true option behind Allen and Singleton. Montgomery should see some carries after using a redshirt season to recover from a knee injury that prevented his senior season after committing to the Nittany Lions. Martin enters the program with some hype as the top prospect in Pennsylvania. He already has a Big Ten body at 6’2’’ and over 200 lbs., and might see his chance in short-yardage situations right off the bat.

WIDE RECEIVER

Starters: Julian Fleming, Trey Wallace, KeAndre Lambert-Smith

Fleming is the headline of this unit after transferring from Ohio State. While he never put up eye-popping numbers, he has proved a dependable receiver who is well-respected in the locker room. This will also be the first time where he won’t be behind multiple first-round draft picks at receiver. His best season came in ‘22, when he registered 34 catches for 533 yards and six touchdowns when catching passes from likely Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud, who lead the Texans to the Divisional Round of the playoffs as a rookie.

Wallace was set to be the team’s number one receiver in ‘23, but a slew of injuries kept him on the sideline for much of the year. It was clear that Allar was much more comfortable with Wallace on the field, and he was a steady presence who helped keep drives alive. He has the size and skill set to be a difference-maker, and could be in for a big season if he stays healthy.

Lambert-Smith recently announced he will be returning for a fifth year, and is coming off his most productive season after being a regular part of the offense since 2020. He has put together several big games during the past year-and-a-half, but was asked to do too much as the most-looked to receiver. It seems likely Lambert-Smith will be able to move back to the slot, where he should thrive, especially if Fleming and Wallace are able to produce.

Next in Line: Omari Evans (Jr.), Kaden Saunders (R-So.), Liam Clifford (R-Jr.), Anthony Ivey (R-So.), Josiah Brown (Fr.)

Evans and Saunders have both flashed big-play ability, but will need to find consistency to become a larger part of the offense. Both came to Penn State as highly-coveted recruits, and could do wonders to provide much-needed improvements to the vertical passing game. Clifford has proven to be a sure-handed possession receiver, and will help convert third downs and finding soft spots in the zone.

TIGHT END

Starter: Tyler Warren

The Nittany Lions offense - Allar especially - received a major boost when Warren announced he would return for the 2024 season. He has developed from an athletic gadget player who was featured in the Wildcat formation in ‘21, and gradually improved in ‘22 and ‘23 as a blocker and pass catcher. Now he will be primed for a potential first-team All-Big Ten season in ‘24 as Allar’s most trusted and reliable returning target.

Next in Line: Khalil Dinkins (R-Jr.), Andrew Rappleyea (R-Fr.), Joey Schlaffer (R-Fr.), Jerry Cross (R-So.)

Dinkins and Rappleyea both earned valuable time on the field in ‘23, especially as part of the Wing-T short yardage package. Dinkins was also looked to in the red zone, with two of his five receptions resulting in touchdowns. Both will see a significant uptick in snaps with Theo Johnson off to the NFL.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Starters: LT- Drew Shelton, LG- JB Nelson, C-Nick Dawkins, RG-Vega Ioane, RT-Anthony Donkoh

The offensive line requires the most guesswork, as James Franklin has made it a habit to recruit and develop versatlie “plug and play” linemen. The key will be getting everyone in the right spot with a unit that meshes well. The offensive line has showed major progress in the last season after several disappointing seasons, and this unit should have the talent and experience to build upon that.

Shelton has received extensive playing time in his first two seaons, and seems more than up to the task of becomming a full-time starter at tackle — possibly filling the large shoes of Olu Fashanu, who is set to be one of the top draft picks. Nelson plays with a nasty streak, and it was obvious that he was missed when he was out a few weeks of the ‘23 season. He will be an incredibly valuable piece of the puzzle while breaking in some new starters. Dawkins will be entering his fifth season, and his experience and knowledge of the offense should be a factor in replacing Hunter Nourzad. Ioane is a massive presence in the interior at 350 lbs., and played well in his time in the lineup in ‘23. He will need further development over the offseason to become an elite-level lineman in the Big Ten, and could be heading towards a long career in the NFL. I’m slotting in Donkoh as the starting right tackle after his performance in the Peach Bowl far exceeded expectations in his second year. Donkoh has progressed at light speed since stepping foot on campus, and seems to be poised to become a top-notch tackle in the coming years.

Next in Line: Nolan Rucci, Sal Wormley, Alex Birchmeier, J’Ven Williams, Jim Fitzgerald, Matt Detisch, Golden Israel-Achumba, Cooper Cousins

Both Rucci and Wormley will be competing for starting spots. Rucci is a former five-star prospect who comes via the portal from Wisconsin with two more years of eligibility, while Wormley will be in his sixth year with some starting experience under his belt. Both will see regular time regardless if it’s as a full-time starter or regular rotational player.