Projecting Penn State's Pre-Spring 2021 Depth Chart

By Matthew Filipovits on March 3, 2021 at 12:34 pm
Dec 19, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Sean Clifford (14) warms up on the sideline during the fourth quarter against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Illinois 56-21. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
© Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
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The calendar has flipped to March, and after what has been a hellish 12 months, some sense of familiarity is beginning to descend upon college football. For Penn State, the start of the return to normalcy comes with spring ball later this month. This is going to be a crucial spring for James Franklin's team with a handful of new coaches, big-name transfers, and a new group of freshmen to get acclimated. There's a lot to work out before Labor Day.

Let's take a look at what Penn State's depth chart looks like as we head towards the first spring practices for the 2021 team.

Offense

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
QB Sean Clifford Ta'Quan Roberson Christian Veilleux
RB  Noah Cain OR Keyvone Lee OR Devyn Ford Caziah Holmes OR Jon Lovett -
WR-X KeAndre Lambert-Smith Daniel George Norval Black
WR-H Parker Washington Jaden Dottin Lonnie White OR Liam Clifford
WR-Z Jahan Dotson Cam Sullivan-Brown Malick Meiga
TE/H Brenton Strange Theo Johnson Tyler Warren
LT Rasheed Walker Des Holmes Landon Tengwall
LG Juice Scruggs Des Holmes Landon Tengwall
C Mike Miranda Juice Scruggs Nick Dawkins
RG Eric Wilson Anthony Whigan Nate Bruce
RT Caedan Wallace Bryce Effner Olu Fashanu

Notes: 

  • Quarterback: There are only three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster and it's pretty obvious where each will be to start the season.
  • Running Back: A lot of this depends on how healthy Noah Cain is, but if he is good to go, he'll be near the top of the depth chart. Keyvone Lee runs similar to Cain, and Mike Yurcich is smart enough to realize Lee needs carries. Ford provides a good change of pace, so it's fair to say he'll get starter-esque reps in more than a few games. Lovett is the wild card. The transfer from Baylor will be a key guy to watch this spring. Holmes is probably a year away from having his opportunity to be the lead man in the position room.
  • Wide Receiver: Dotson, Washington, and Lambert-Smith are your starters, no questions asked. Daniel George and Cam Sullivan-Brown have been around forever and could see their reps increase if they earn it on the field. Jaden Dottin, a 2020 early enrollee, didn't see the field much in 2020 thanks to his freshman classmates, but he could quickly rise as the group's fourth option. Lonnie White and Liam Clifford are two names to be excited about, but as neither of them are on campus yet meaning they'll have a lot of ground to make up when they arrive later this year.
  • Tight End: This could be the spot to watch this spring. With Pat Freiermuth preparing for the draft, there are a ton of snaps available this fall. The group also has a new coach in Ty Howle. Brenton Strange came on strong last season and should thrive in Mike Yurcich's offense. Theo Johnson also showed flashes, and is super talented. The big question will be how Yurcich uses the position. A year after Kirk Ciarrocca showed plenty of two-tight end sets, it's anyone's guess at this point how much the new guy goes there. That will go a long way to deciding how much time the reserves see. 
  • Offensive Line: Walker and Wallace are no brainers to hang onto their starting roles, Miranda was always going to move to center, and a now-healthy Juice Scruggs is going to get one of the guard spots, likely the left side. That leaves the right guard spot up for grabs and I'm picking Harvard transfer Eric Wilson to fill it. He had his choice of big-time programs and he picked Penn State. I'm guessing he's a pretty smart guy and knows that's a starting job he could win. Des Holmes should be the sixth guy of this group, but Landon Tengwall is going to push him. I'm expecting him to be a full-green light and get reps at both guard and tackle. 
Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
DE Adisa Isaac   Nick Tarburton Rodney McGraw
1-DT Derrick Tangelo Fred Hansard D'von Ellies
3-DT PJ Mustipher Hakeem Beamon Coziah Izzard
DE Arnold Ebiketie Smith Vilbert Bryce Mostella
SLB Brandon Smith Curtis Jacobs Charlie Katshir
MLB Ellis Brooks Jesse Luketa Tyler Elsdon
WLB Jesse Luketa Charlie Katshir Zuriah Fisher
CB Joey Porter Jr. Keaton Ellis OR Daequan Hardy Joseph Johnson
S Jonathan Sutherland Ji'Ayir Brown Enzo Jennings
S Jaquan Brisker Tyler Rudolph Jaylen Reed OR Zakee Wheatley
CB Tariq Castro-Fields Johnny Dixon OR Marquis Wilson Daequan Hardy

Notes:

  • Defensive End: Losing Jayson Oweh hurts, but adding Arnold Ebiketie should numb at least some of the pain. The Temple transfer appeared in only six games last season but still managed to rack up 42 tackles and four sacks. Adisa Isaac is going to be on every breakout list in the country and rightfully so. He should be a force in his third year with the program. The picture gets a lot less clear after those two. Smith Vilbert and Nick Tarburton have been with the program for a while, but neither has seen all that many meaningful reps. Bryce Mostella and his massive 6'7 frame could have a role and early enrollee Rodney McGraw could benefit from any reps he can get. This will be a crucial time for John Scott Jr. to figure out what he has behind the starters.
  • Defensive Tackle: You can go ahead and put PJ Mustipher's name in ink here as one starter. With Antonio Shelton transferring to Florida, however, there is plenty of intrigue at the other spot. Derrick Tangelo figures to have the inside track after transferring from Duke. Behind them, Hakeem Beamon continues to improve, and could be in line for a big step forward in his third season. Fred Hansard has been a fixture, but will be pushed by Coziah Izzard, and D'Von Ellies as they establish themselves more in the program.
  • Linebacker: It's going to be Smith-Brooks-Luketa, at least to start the season. Luketa will play inside a good bit, and I expect Curtis Jacobs and Charlie Katshir to play a pretty equal amount spelling him on the outside when that happens, depending on the latter's health. Zuriah Fisher could also be a factor here, but he seems a likely candidate to move to end given the depth chart situation we just outlined.
  • Cornerback: Joey Porter Jr. was one of the few bright spots in 2020 and should only get better in his second season as a starter. He'll be paired with Tariq Castro-Fields, who now hopefully fully healthy, can really boost his draft stock with a good fifth-year. Keaton Ellis, Johnny Dixon, Marquis Wilson, and DaeQuan Hardy can all make a case for that third spot, but if I had to pick a guy, it would be Dixon. The other three will still get a ton of reps, but they'll need to prove the missteps they made in 2020 were just a fluke. If the last two seasons have shown anything, however, it is that the Lions will need to tap into their depth here at some point during the season.
  • Safety: Jaquan Brisker (wisely) opted to run it back for one more year. He was playing his best ball down the stretch, and should be one of the best in the conference. That spot opposite of him is about as up for grabs as it gets. I'm going with Sutherland because he's been around the longest and probably compliments Brisker best. Brown is probably going to be the guy to come in on obvious passing downs and Tyler Rudolph is the future of the position, so he's going to need at least a few series each game. It's a fresh start for everyone, however, with Anthony Poindexter taking over for Tim Banks. 

special teams

Pos. First Team Second Team Third Team
K (FG) Jake Pinegar Jordan Stout Sander Sahaydak
KOS Jordan Stout Sander Sahaydak Sander Sahaydak
P Jordan Stout Levi Forrest Jake Pinegar
H Rafael Checa Jordan Stout Levi Forrest
LS Chris Stoll Michael Wright Max Chizmar
KR Devyn Ford Caziah Holmes Parker Washington
PR Jahan Dotson Parker Washington Marquis Wilson

Notes:

  • The coaching carousel is fun, but let me introduce you to the kicking carousel. Kicking was a disaster last year, which was unacceptable for a team with two scholarship kickers. Pinegar and Stout will rotate field goals based on distance and Stout will still handle kickoffs (crowd cheers). Incoming freshman Sander Sahaydak should relieve Pinegar of any kickoff duties he would have had to take on in event of an emergency and allow the senior to focus purely on field goals. Also in the spirit of taking things off of guy's plates, I'm going to go with Checa as the primary holder to give Stout, who will also handle punting, one less thing to worry about.
  • Devyn Ford is your kick returner and Jahan Dotson is your punt returner. Hope they score.
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