How the Nittany Lions could line up against West Virginia. Our depth chart projection

AUGUST 28, 2023 10:25 AM
Penn State opens its season Saturday against West Virginia, and keeping in line with the last couple seasons, it’s unlikely the Nittany Lions release a depth chart.
After seeing multiple practices, including a rare full practice that was open to the public, we’ll take our best crack at determining who will slot in where for Penn State against the Mountaineers.
Sophomore Drew Allar
Redshirt freshman Beau Pribula
Freshman Jaxon Smolik
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Allar is at the top here. He’s been the favorite to start this season since he enrolled and nothing has happened since that would change that. He has a chance to elevate the Penn State offense to levels it hasn’t seen in some time. Pribula slots in as the backup, but would bring in an added dimension because of his mobility, if he had to take over for any reason. Regardless, this offense goes as Allar goes this year.
Running back:
Sophomore Nick Singleton
Sophomore Kaytron Allen
Redshirt senior Trey Potts
Freshman Cam Wallace
Freshman London Montgomery
Singleton and Allen are really 1A and 1B here. The former is a big play machine who has the height-weight-speed combo to be the prototypical lead back in college football. The latter is a power-contact balance back who can make one cut and hit the hole, bursting through arm tackles with his strength. That’s not to say Singleton isn’t strong or Allen isn’t fast enough. Both are very good all-around backs who possess particular elite skills on top of that.
The third spot is the interesting one to watch here. Potts has the most experience of any back in the room after spending four seasons at Minnesota. He’s a solid all around back who can hold up well in pass protection. However, Wallace and Montgomery both provide more athletic upside, and that’s especially true for Wallace who has elite speed. For now, Potts gets the nod because of that experience but this could be a spot to monitor the rest of the year.
Outside wide receiver:
Junior KeAndre Lambert-Smith
Sophomore Omari Evans
Junior Malick Meiga
Outside wide receiver:
Redshirt sophomore Harrison Wallace III
Redshirt senior Dante Cephas
Junior Malik McClain
Slot receiver:
Redshirt sophomore Liam Clifford
Redshirt freshman Kaden Saunders
Redshirt freshman Cristian Driver
The top two are unsurprising here with Lambert-Smith and Wallace, but after that things get jumbled up. Right now the best bet on a third receiver is Clifford, as new wide receivers coach Marques Hagans looks for players to step up from a consistency standpoint. Saunders is listed as his backup, but odds are KeAndre Lambert-Smith would bump down to the slot with another receiver moving up on the outside if Clifford was out.
The biggest surprise here is Cephas not being with the first team. We have him with the second team, but there’s credence to having both Meiga and McClain ahead of him on the outside. We’ll stick with Cephas for now because of the success he had at Kent State, but the time it has taken him to adjust is interesting. It’s assumed that he has the most mobility when it comes to his depth chart placement because of that, but it is notable that he isn’t a starter at this point.
Tight end:
Junior Theo Johnson
Junior Tyler Warren
Redshirt sophomore Khalil Dinkins
Redshirt freshman Jerry Cross
No major surprises here. Johnson is the starter and a captain who has stepped up both on and off the field this offseason. In fact, he might be the odds on favorite to step up as the team’s third pass catcher behind Lambert-Smith and Wallace. Warren and Dinkins should both see plenty of time on the field when the team goes to two tight end sets. All three of them should be rotating in very frequently this year, with Cross having a chance to get action sparingly.
Left tackle:
Junior Olumuyiwa Fashanu
Sophomore Drew Shelton
Freshman J’Ven Williams
Left guard:
Redshirt sophomore Landon Tengwall
Redshirt junior JB Nelson
Freshman Anthony Donkoh
Redshirt senior Hunter Nourzad
Redshirt junior Nick Dawkins
Redshirt junior Addison Penn
Right guard:
Redshirt senior Sal Wormley
Redshirt freshman Vega Ioane
Freshman Alex Birchmeier
Right tackle:
Redshirt senior Caedan Wallace
Sophomore Drew Shelton
Freshman J’ven Williams
This group is fairly settled as it seems Wallace has beaten Shelton out for the right tackle position. The latter should still get playing time assuming the line rotates players. He’s the likely first man up if an injury occurs on either side. Tengwall has the left guard spot when he’s healthy, but he’s dealing with “bumps and bruises,” according to head coach James Franklin. He hasn’t been seen at the open portion of practice for multiple weeks, presumably putting his status for the season opener in doubt. Nelson will likely step into that spot, while Ioane rotates in on the interior.
The team’s freshmen have proven that they have a chance to contribute in a pinch this year, with Donkoh being the odds on favorite to get time among the group. Still, in an ideal situation, the Nittany Lions can roll with their main rotation players and save the young players’ year of eligibility with a redshirt.
Defensive end:
Junior Chop Robinson
Junior Amin Vanover
Redshirt junior Zuriah Fisher
Defensive end:
Redshirt senior Adisa Isaac
Sophomore Dani Dennis-Sutton
Freshman Jameial Lyons
There are really three players here who you could easily justify as starters — Robinson, Isaac and Dennis-Sutton. All three are excellent pass rushers and have proven themselves as capable producers. Dennis-Sutton is the most likely not to start because he’s the youngest of the group, but there’s a world where his snap count reaches the level of Isaac’s by season’s end. That’s not a knock on the veteran, but more an indication of how defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will be able to keep this group fresh.
Vanover and Fisher are both quality rotation defensive ends right now, while Lyons has the upside to make waves if he can turn his athleticism and strength into production during his first year as a Nittany Lion.
Defensive tackle:
Redshirt senior Hakeem Beamon
Sophomore Zane Durant
Junior Coziah Izzard
Defensive tackle:
Redshirt senior Dvon Ellies
Redshirt sophomore Jordan van den Berg
Redshirt freshman Kaleb Artis
This might be the spot that has the most up in the air. You can make a case for Izzard as a starter and even van den Berg or Durant, who has made strides this offseason. For now, we’ll go with the players who have the most experience in Beamon and Ellis. Durant is the most direct replacement for Beamon because he can rush the passer from the interior at a similar level. The other spots should have more of a space eater rather than a pass rusher, giving Ellies and the incredibly powerful van den Berg the leg up there. This spot could be shaken up depending on who steps up this season, with fewer proven starting commodities than other positions.
Will linebacker:
Sophomore Abdul Carter
Redshirt freshman Keon Wylie
Freshman Tony Rojas
Mike linebacker:
Redshirt sophomore Kobe King
Junior Tyler Elsdon
Freshman Ta’Mere Robinson
Sam linebacker:
Junior Curtis Jacobs
Redshirt sophomore Dom DeLuca
Freshman Kaveion Keys
This should be one of the sturdier groups on the defense, which is impressive considering where it stood entering last season. Back then, Jacobs was a certainty but everywhere else was a question mark of varying degrees. Now, Carter is the best of the bunch and that’s with Jacobs still playing at a high level, while the competition on the inside has allowed both King and Elsdon to step up. The former seems to be leading that competition and is a more mobile player than Elsdon.
The emergence of some of the freshmen — namely Rojas — could have a massive impact on the room. If he proves to be a quality starting linebacker, Carter could move inside and increase the speed on the field by a substantial margin. Rojas could be a game-changing type talent and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he burns his redshirt and ends the year seeing significant snaps.
Outside cornerback:
Junior Kalen King
Sophomore Cam Miller
Freshman Zion Tracy
Outside cornerback:
Senior Johnny Dixon
Redshirt senior Daequan Hardy
Freshman Elliot Washington
Nickel cornerback:
Redshirt senior Daequan Hardy
Senior Johnny Dixon
The top three here are virtual locks. King and Dixon are elite outside corners and Hardy has proven he can be elite as a nickel. He took a step back in 2022 but was at a very high level in 2021. His size limits his ability on the outside, but he can play there in a pinch until the youngest players in the room are ready. Miller could be the next elite outside corner in line beyond the top two on the depth chart, while Washington could be the one that follows him.
They’re both the future at the position and rotating in this season could help prepare both of them for the coming years — especially with King projected as a first round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Outside corner remains arguably the best position on the roster and a spot that you will likely be able to point to as a major reason for Penn State’s success if it achieves its goals this season.
Sophomore K.J. Winston
Junior Jaylen Reed
Freshman King Mack
Senior Keaton Ellis
Redshirt sophomore Zakee Wheatley
Redshirt sophomore Mehki Flowers
One of the most competitive positions on the roster at the top of the depth chart should end up producing a deep rotation for this season. Ellis remains one of the favorites to start and see a solid chunk of snaps because he’s reliable and well-rounded — he’s unlikely to be a problem for the defense if he starts even if he isn’t among the elite of the elite. Winston is a potential star who has continued developing this offseason after not redshirting as a freshman. He has good ball skills who plays with instincts — the type of player who could look similar to someone like Ji’Ayir Brown.
Reed is more of a big hitter at safety who needs to continue improving in coverage and would make sense on the field in obvious running situations, while Wheatley has a chance to usurp Ellis as a starter because of his nose for the ball and his willingness and ability to contribute in the running game. Mack seems unlikely to redshirt at this point because he should be good enough to make an impact and help this year’s team.
Field goal kicker:
Senior Alex Felkins
Redshirt sophomore Sander Sahaydak
Kickoff specialist:
Redshirt sophomore Gabriel Nwosu
Redshirt sophomore Sander Sahaydak
Senior Riley Thompson
Redshirt freshman Alex Bacchetta
Redshirt freshman Beau Pribula
Redshirt sophomore Tyler Duzansky
Penn State might see more rotation than it would like in the kicking and punting game this year. Felkins and Thompson get the nod at kicker and punter because they’re both more experienced, but Sahaydak and Bacchetta both enrolled as high end recruits for their position. There’s also a chance the team sticks with different kickers for long field goals and short field goals, but we’ll stick with Felkins for now.
Nwosu and Sahaydak both kicked off last year and could be in for a rotation there again.
Duzansky has locked down the longsnapper position after Chris Stoll’s departure and should be good there. Pribula has taken reps as a holder and would make for an interesting option there because it allows the unit to have more trick plays because of his athleticism and passing ability.
Punt returner:
Redshirt freshman Kaden Saunders
Redshirt senior Daequan Hardy
Freshman Zion Tracy
Kick returner:
Sophomore Nick Singleton
Sophomore Kaytron Allen
Sophomore Omari Evans
The punt returner spot is more exciting than the kick returner because of the rule that now allows teams to fair catch outside the end zone and still get the ball at the 25-yard line. Singleton, Allen and Evans are all reliable at catching kickoffs, which should be the primary focus for anyone back there.
Saunders gets the nod on punt returns because he presents more upside thanks to his ability with the ball in his hands. He and Hardy should both be reliable options and if Saunders ends up struggling, the team could revert to the veteran if he doesn’t have the job right off the bat.
Tracy has elite speed and could be an interesting option in big spots because of that.

Latest Player Notes

How a Wisconsin legend got his German protégé into Badgers pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Marlon Werthmann put his life on hold for the opportunity in front of him Friday at the McClain Center.Werthmann ...

Why former Wisconsin football running back Braelon Allen didn't run the 40 at pro day

Mar 15, 2024 Braelon Allen’s sweat covered his shirt and dripped off his beard as he approached a group of reporters Friday.The ...

How can UW recruit its best class ever? It starts with these five prospects

By Andy Yamashita Seattle Times staff reporter Jedd Fisch has lofty recruiting goals at Washington. He didn’t waste any ...

Texas football kicks off spring practice Tuesday. We answer 24 questions for the 2024 team

Things certainly look fresh for the 2024 college football season, especially on the Texas campus.There’s a new conference ...

College Football Playoff: Conferences solve their differences (for now) and agree on general framework for 2026 and beyond

The FBS conferences and Notre Dame agreed on Friday to continue the College Football Playoff beyond the 2025 season, signing ...

Ball security, leadership key as Aztecs look to identify starting quarterback

San Diego State seemingly auditions a new starting quarterback on an annual basis.In the past 12 years, the Aztecs have opened ...

Results and more: A look at what happened at Penn State football’s Pro Day inside Holuba Hall

Most of those at Penn State’s Pro Day Friday were relatively quiet throughout the afternoon’s workouts, but there was one ...

Defense dominates first two weeks of Oregon State spring practice as Beavers ready for 2-week breather

CORVALLIS – Oregon State hit the break of spring practices Saturday, not exactly the midpoint but a good place to assess ...

Dillon Gabriel to have similar input, autonomy as Bo Nix had in Oregon’s offense

Published Mar. 16, 2024, 6:26 p.m.By James CrepeaEUGENE — Dillon Gabriel will have much of the same autonomy as Bo Nix did ...

Two transfers, one underclassman who impressed in Missouri football's spring game

With that, spring camp’s a wrap.Missouri football held its Black & Gold spring game Saturday in front of a healthy crowd ...
See More Player Notes