2020 Penn State Football Preview: Tight End

By Matthew Filipovits on October 9, 2020 at 8:00 am
Oct 19, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Pat Freiermuth (87) reacts to a touchdown run by quarterback Sean Clifford (14) against the Michigan Wolverines during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
© Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Bill O'Brien days, Penn State has been a destination for premier tight end talent. That has only continued under James Franklin and Tyler Bowen, as the Nittany Lions have a position room loaded with talent. This unit could be the deepest we've ever seen in Happy Valley, with as many as five players vying for playing time.

Last year

Pat Freiermuth put together a fantastic sophomore season, hauling in 43 catches for 507 yards and eight touchdowns, becoming a favorite target of Sean Clifford in his first year as a starter. Nick Bowers gave the Nittany Lions another great option, adding in 214 yards and three scores of his own. Zack Kuntz added in two grabs for 18 yards, while Brenton Strange hauled in one pass for a touchdown while preserving his redshirt.

The starter

No. 87 Pat Freiermuth (Jr./Jr., 6'5, 260 lbs.)

Despite rumors that he was planning to opt-out, Pat Freiermuth is back to cement himself as one of the best all-around tight ends in program history. Kirk Ciarrocca's offense hasn't used the tight all that much in years past, but Freiermuth could be option No. 1 more often than not with all of Penn State's receiver issues. Freiermuth has been adamant about wanting to win the Mackey Award and after the hot start Kyle Pitts has had to the season, he'll need to produce at an other-worldly rate to catch up. Still, this is the man who tied Mike Gesicki for the most touchdowns receptions by a tight end in program history in just two years, so I wouldn't bet against him.

The backup

No. 82 Zack Kuntz (Jr./So., 6'7, 252 lbs.)

Zack Kuntz was always going to be a long-term project for the Nittany Lions as he had a lot of filling out to do of his 6'7 frame. Entering his third year in the program, it's finally his time to make an impact. As I mentioned above, Penn State needs reliable pass-catchers and Kuntz can be a matchup nightmare. So while no one will confuse him for Nick Bowers out there, he has the potential to exceed the production of his predecessor.

The reserves

No. 86 Brenton Strange (So./Fr., 6'3, 248 lbs.)

No. 84 Theo Johnson (Fr./Fr., 6'6, 258 lbs.)

No. 44 Tyler Warren (Fr./Fr., 6'6, 239 lbs.)

Brenton Strange is going to battle Kuntz for that No. 2 spot, as he's more of a complete tight end but I still think he's one year away. Still, he should see the field on special teams a good bit and could find himself on the field in certain packages. Theo Johnson was a glorified receiver in high school so he has a lot to learn, but he can catch and that's what will get him on the field early. It will probably be in a tight end-receiver hybrid role, but getting him onto the field (when ready) is a must. Tyler Warren is the true wild card here. He technically played quarterback in high school, but really did just about everything you can do on a football field. The staff seems to like the progress he's made already, but he's probably going to get his reps mainly on special teams. Still, he has the athletic pedigree and versatility to make an impact even within a talented unit and could quickly work his way up the tight end depth chart.