When Juwan Johnson and Brandon Polk announced their intention to transfer, Penn State suddenly found itself in a bit of a bind at wide receiver. The Nittany Lions currently have just seven scholarship wide receivers on the roster, with hopes to land at least one more before the second National Signing Day, and potentially a graduate transfer. Although they bring back their most effective pass catchers, the unit will be extremely young, with no player being older than a sophomore eligibility-wise.
KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson are pretty much locked in as starters, as the duo have the most starting experience. From the outside looking in it seems like former five-star prospect and top receiver in the 2018 class, Justin Shorter, is in line to take the third starting spot. Had injuries not have sidelined him for most of his freshman season, he probably would have started more than a few games last season. Obviously, nothing is set in stone and he still could see a good competition from one of Penn State's other young receivers for that spot.
You can bet that we'll still see a ton of the receivers who don't end up starting, as James Franklin loves to rotate those guys. The depth chart isn't going to be nearly as deep this season, meaning we could see a more even split of reps between the starters and the reserves to keep guys fresh. Combine that lack of experience and the plethora of reps up for grabs and a golden opportunity opens up for a guy like Mac Hippenhammer.
Hippenhammer caught six passes for 103 yards and one touchdown in his redshirt freshman season. Though his numbers don't jump off the page the same way some of his first-year pass-catching teammates do, that's more catches and as many yards as DeAndre Thompkins and Juwan Johnson had in their redshirt freshman seasons, combined.
A noted two-sport athlete, Hippenhammer displayed elite athleticism and made some catches that some of Penn State's more experienced receivers had a hard time making. Of all his skills, his ability to contort his body and adjust to the ball were the most impressive.
Hippenhammer will be away from the program more than the receivers he's competing with as he makes his way through his second baseball season. While that could be seen as missing some meaningful opportunities to separate himself from the pack and build a relationship with new receivers coach Gerad Parker, it didn't affect him much when he did it last year. Hippenhammer received rave reviews for his play throughout spring ball and backed it up on the field with a two-touchdown performance in the Blue-White game.
It's still far too soon to predict how big of a role Hippenhammer will play, but he's certainly a name to keep on eye throughout the offseason. With all of the questions surrounding the wide receivers, it's the perfect time for him to lock up his spot in the rotation. His experience gives him an advantage over guys like George, Dunmore, any other receivers they may sign, and to an extent, Shorter. He now needs to turn that experience into results.