Exciting Options Mixed with Inexperience and Uncertainty: A Breakdown of the 2018 Receivers and Tight Ends
After taking a look at who will be throwing the ball and running the ball, For The Glory takes a look at who will be catching the ball this year for the 2018 Nittany Lions. Let’s look at this year’s wide receiver and tight end groups.
To start, the Penn State receiving corps took a huge hit after the graduations of all time leading receiver DaeSean Hamilton, 2nd round pick Mike Gesicki, and big play receiver Saeed Blacknall. Also, Saquon Barkley was tied for 2nd in receptions on the team last year despite coming out of the backfield.
The leader in the receivers group this year is junior Juwan Johnson. Johnson hauled in 54 catches, which was good for second on the team with Barkley. However, Johnson only caught one touchdown pass last season, the game winner at Iowa. The 6’4’’ 230 lb monster will look to take the next step toward becoming a red zone threat to complement his skills as a threat on the outside for the Nittany Lions.
The other returners that fans should remember are senior DeAndre Thompkins and junior Brandon Polk. Both are under 6 feet tall, but possess game breaking speed that has been on display the last few seasons.
Thompkins caught 28 balls last season and 3 touchdowns while serving as the team’s primary punt returner, averaging 13 yards per return with one touchdown. With Thompkins showing explosiveness and reliability throughout the last two seasons, he will look to take on a bigger role in 2018, perhaps serving as the 3rd down target that Hamilton thrived as.
Polk burst on to the scene as a freshman on his first play as he took a jet sweep for a 33 yard gain. Despite his success as a runner in 2015, Polk did not have a carry during the 2017 season after using a medical redshirt in 2016. However, his 13 yards per catch average from last season shows that Polk still has the ability to make some plays. His size at 5’ 9’’ would profile him to be more of a slot receiver in the Nittany Lion offense.
Despite a limited number of experienced receiving options, there are some fresh faces that Nittany Lions fans should be excited about this season.
Jahan Dotson and Daniel George were both 4 star recruits in the 2018 class. In addition, Justin Shorter was ranked the top receiver in the 2018 class and possesses a 6’4’’ 220 lb frame similar to Juwan Johnson. Meanwhile, despite taking redshirt seasons last season, KJ Hamler, Mac Hippenhammer, and Cam Sullivan-Brown will all look to crack the field and play a role in the receiving game.
Last season, Mike Gesicki was the primary and for the most part only tight end target in the Nittany Lion offense. With his departure and the loss of second string tight end, Tom Pancoast, there is plenty of opportunity for somebody to step in to the starting role.
The three returners at the tight end position accounted for 4 catches for 31 yards and one touchdown last season. Nick Bowers and Jonathan Holland accounted for those catches and are both large 6’4’’ targets entering their redshirt junior seasons. Meanwhile, despite not recording a catch last season, redshirt sophomore Danny Dalton will look to make an impact this season, as well. Gesicki’s production as a receiver probably won’t be replaceable, but this group should be an upgrade in the blocking aspect of the position in 2018.
Coach James Franklin brought in highly touted recruits at the tight end position in the 2018 class. 6’7’’ target Zack Kuntz and 6’5’’ target Pat Friermuth were both top 10 players at their position as high school prospects and it will be interesting to see if Franklin decides to use these two in an expanded role or redshirt them and rely on his returners this season.
The wide receiver and tight end groups lost a lot of production from last season. However, returning options ready to take on bigger roles and young players looking crack the field should have Nittany Lions fans excited to see who will break out in 2018.