2017 Penn State Football Preview: The Four Most Important Members of the Sophomore Class

By Dan Vecellio on July 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm
Apr 22, 2017; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Juwan Johnson (84) runs with the ball after a catch during the second quarter of the Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium

Rich Barnes - USA Today

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This might end up being the hardest list to put together and cut down given the immense amount of talent found within this class. Many of these Penn State sophomores have already produced on the field in some capacity, but 2017 will be the year when this youth movement in Happy Valley allow for the Nittany Lions to take significant strides. 

Juwan Johnson, wide receiver

From the day he committed, Penn State fans have been waiting to see Johnson unleashed on the rest of the Big Ten. He has all the measurables you want in a number-one, star wide receiver: 6-4, 218 pounds with a 4.4 40 meter dash. Now that Chris Godwin has moved to the NFL, Johnson seems to be the heir apparent to take over primary pass-catching duties for the Nittany Lions. In 10 games last year, he caught a mere two receptions for 70 yards. It might be apt to compare Johnson's redshirt freshman year with Allen Robinson's freshman campaign, when the current Jacksonville Jaguar caught only three passes for 29 yards before exploding for a 77-1,018 yard, 11 TD stat line as a sophomore. Expect Johnson to eat in 2017.

Blake Gillikin, punter

Before Gillikin arrived at Penn State, when the offense sputtered, which was more often than not, the Lions were rarely ever able to flip the field due to the poor legs of their punting specialists. Last year's record-setting year from Gillikin (42.8 YPP - freshman record) provided field position advantages not seen in Happy Valley for ages. His 50+ yard average in the Rose Bowl kept Penn State close with USC when McSorley and company were still trying to gain their footing in the first half. His quick thinking of taking an intentional safety when a snap sailed over his head in the Ohio State game rather than giving the Buckeyes a chance to fall on it for a touchdown was probably just as important as Marcus Allen's blocked kick and Grant Haley's subsequent touchdown return. The Ray Guy Award watch list member will look for an even bigger 2017, although I don't anyone would complain with the offense putting points up and giving the Georgia native less work to do. 

Connor McGovern, center

McGovern started nine games at right guard last season, but is expected to shift to center in 2017 after Brian Gaia's graduation. McGovern, along with fellow sophomore Ryan Bates, is one of the most versatile offensive linemen on the Nittany Lion roster, due in part to the outstanding work of Coach Matt Limegrover as well as McGovern's work ethic in the weight room and with the playbook. To the former, the Pennsylvania native has gained 15 pounds since making his way onto campus. If his transition to center goes smoothly, he will be the keystone to an offensive line that could help Saquon Barkley break record after record this season.

Shareef Miller, defensive end

Miller broke out in his debut as a Nittany Lion last year, garnering two sacks in the season opener. While he didn't reach the quarterback again for the rest of 2016, he proved to provide dependable depth at DE, ending the year with 22 tackles in nine games played. Miller should see increased time at defensive end and perhaps even start in 2017 opposite Torrence Brown, providing the pass-rushing compliment to compliment Brown's run-stopping. 

Others: Cam Brown, (linebacker), Ayron Monroe/Garrett Taylor (safety), Steven Gonzalez/Ryan Bates (offensive guard), Kevin Givens/Robert Windsor (defensive tackle), Ryan Buchholz (defensive end), Miles Sanders/Andre Robinson (running back)

 

Other others, but probably not really: Tommy Stevens (quarterback)

 

Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments!

Previously in the series:

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