Many would refer to the current landscape of college football as the golden age of recruiting. There is more available information for the public, both paying and non-paying, about high school prospects than ever before. One of the best developments of the said golden age is how accessible prospect highlight tape has become. Watching the very best high school athletes in the country out-athlete their peers is often quite entertaining.
One of those very best high school athletes was none other than Penn State tight end Nick Bowers. From skying over cornerbacks as a wide receiver, receiving jet sweep carries, and even taking snaps as a wildcat quarterback, Bowers' highlight tape had it all (including the most pop-gun armed quarterback of all pop-gun armed quarterbacks). Oh, and keep in mind that he was doing all of that as a 6'4, 245 lb. future collegiate tight end.
Sadly, the big tight end's struggles with injuries over the past four seasons have kept him from being much of a contributor. But as a redshirt senior, that is finally changing.
When it comes to the depth chart, there's no discussion as to who the number one tight end is. Pat Freiermuth is a dynamic playmaker whose ability as both a pass-catcher and a blocker have vaulted his name into the very top group of tight ends in the nation. He's the alpha dog of this group, no question.
But it seems like that suits Bowers just fine. As defenses have placed more and more attention on Freiermuth, it's continued to open things up more for the Kittanning native.
Through five games in 2019, Bowers has already more than doubled his previous production totals in terms of yards and has nearly matched his career totals in receptions and touchdowns. The big tight end has already caught 5 passes for 136 yards (27.2 ypc) and a touchdown. Not only that, but he's done it in style.
Bowers has become one of Sean Clifford's favorite targets on plays such as this one. On the play above, the Purdue defense is already forced to deal with the threat of KJ Hamler and Jahan Dotson, a feigned bubble screen to Pat Freiermuth, a potential handoff to Ricky Slade, and the threat of Clifford's legs. Presenting four legitimate options of moving the ball downfield in a matter of seconds is a great way to stress the defense to the point of feeling forced to make a decision, and not accounting for the final piece of the puzzle when Bowers leaks out after initially appearing to be acting as a blocker.
This marks the second, long catch and run for Bowers in as many weeks, both times due to the defense just not having enough bodies to account for him. James Franklin told everyone before the season began that Bowers was in for a big senior season, and clearly he wasn't just providing lip service. Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has not been shy in calling two-tight end sets, and it's clear why. Bowers is taking a mile when defenses give him an inch.
That's not to say that his success has solely been a result of overly aggressive defensive play, however. If you checked out his high school highlight tape at the top of this article, you surely saw his ability to win one-on-ones with sure hands and impressive catches. Against Purdue, we got to see one of those plays when Bowers fully extended to make this diving grab (sure, it may have hit the ground, but shut up).
It's really difficult for a defense to account for one tight end who can catch anything thrown his way. It's nearly impossible to account for two tight ends who can catch anything thrown their way. The Nittany Lions' opponents are quickly discovering that they have to deal with just that, as the Freiermuth and Bowers tandem has been incredibly effective to open the 2019 season.
Nick Bowers may not end up with the career statistics he envisioned when he signed on the dotted line for Penn State, but he's making the most of his opportunities in his final year on campus. And if he can keep this up, he'll have more than a few NFL coaches reaching out to him by the time the 2020 NFL Draft rolls around.