2022 Penn State football roster breakdown
After opening the 2021 campaign by winning its first five contests, Penn State failed to keep its success alive in the second half, winning just two of its last eight and finishing with a 7-6 record.
In the offseason, the Nittany Lions lost several key pieces from a year ago, with Jahan Dotson, Arnold Ebiketie and Jaquan Brisker declaring for the NFL Draft.
Despite losing a lot of its core, the blue and white reloaded with the help of the transfer portal, and it hauled in the eighth-best recruiting class in the nation.
Here’s a breakdown of James Franklin’s squad entering 2022.
The Big Ten has several quarterbacks returning for a sixth season, and Penn State is one of those programs.
Sean Clifford is expected to be the starter for the fourth consecutive season and is looking to build upon a promising start to last season.
During the Nittany Lions' red-hot start to the year, Clifford tossed 11 touchdowns and three interceptions while throwing for 1,336 yards and completing 67.8 percent of his passes.
Over his next eight games, the Cincinnati, Ohio, native battled through injuries, and the numbers indicate a major dip in production as he threw for 1,771 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 53.8 percent of his passes.
Although many fans criticize Clifford for his poor play, he was a driving force of Penn State’s success in 2021 and could duplicate that success when healthy and in year two of Mike Yurcich’s system.
As for his backups, Christian Veilleux appeared in two contests during his true-freshman season, and he became the first true freshman to throw a touchdown since Christian Hackenberg in 2013.
Veilleux came in for the injured Clifford during the blue and white’s 28-0 victory over Rutgers, and he dominated, throwing for 235 yards and three touchdowns while only completing one three-yard pass in the bowl game.
In their elite recruiting class, the Nittany Lions added five-star Drew Allar and three-star Beau Pribula.
After enrolling in the program early, the pair of signal-callers have made great strides this offseason.
Penn State’s backfield doesn’t lack depth heading into the season, as four different tailbacks will see the field at some point this season.
Two of the four said running backs offer a veteran presence in the locker room, while the other two are freshmen who have caught the eyes of many during fall camp.
During Keyvone Lee’s first two seasons, he led the program in yards and is looking to continue his success for a third straight season.
Lee saw significant playing time since his true-freshman season, but the redshirt-sophomore running back has eclipsed the 100-yard mark just once in his career, with the feat occurring against Michigan in the 2020 season.
The other veteran back is Devyn Ford, who saw his role diminish in 2021, only tallying 14 carries compared to his 119 from the 2019-2020 seasons.
Similar to the quarterback spot, the blue and white brought in two highly-rated recruits, Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
Singleton was the No. 1 running back in the 2022 class and appears to be second on the depth chart entering the season, while Allen was the No. 12 running back in the class and looks to slot right behind Singleton.
The duo of Singleton and Allen gives Penn State a thunder and lightning duo, with Singleton flashing elite speed and Allen possessing great strength.
Despite losing one of the program's top playmakers in recent memory in Dotson, Penn State boasts one of the top receiving cores in the nation.
During the offseason, it added Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley, who was one of the best pass-catchers a season ago.
With the Hilltoppers’ pass-heavy offense, Tinsley finished with the eighth-most receiving yards in the FBS in 2021, with 1,402, which was 220 more than Dotson.
Tinsley looks to form a dynamic duo with Parker Washington, who will finally have the chance to be the featured receiver in an offense.
Last season, Washington racked up 64 catches for 820 yards, just behind Dotson on the team in both stat categories.
The Sugar Land, Texas, native did most of his damage toward the middle of the field on posts and slants, using his speed and athleticism to come down with the football.
Washington was the featured receiver in the bowl game loss against Arkansas, and he made a highlight reel one-handed snag while tallying 98 yards.
The third weapon in Clifford’s arsenal is KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who offers the big-play ability for the offense. Lambert-Smith was Penn State’s third-highest receiver in yards and receptions with 34 and 521, respectively.
The Norfolk, Virginia, native lined up as an outside receiver, often losing defenders in coverage or catching short passes and maneuvering around them for a big play.
The tallest wide receiver in the room is Malick Meiga, who stands at 6-foot-4, but hasn’t seen much action in his first two seasons.
The Saint Jerome, Quebec, native only had three receptions for 78 yards and one touchdown last season, with a 67-yard touchdown claiming most of that production after a blown coverage against Rutgers.
Penn State added four receivers in its recruiting class, and Kaden Saunders and Omari Evans have the chance to make an impact right away.
Saunders was the blue and white’s highest-rated receiver for the class of 2022 and picked the Nittany Lions over Alabama, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Texas and Oregon.
The 5-foot-10 receiver is smaller in size but has a lot of speed and agility that was on display in high school to run past defenders for big plays. Despite being a lower three-star recruit, Evans surprised many during camp with his ability to make people miss.
Over the summer months, Franklin has noted several times he feels his tight end room is one of the best in the nation.
The blue and white utilize three different options for the position, including Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren.
Leading the group in receiving a year ago was Strange, who tallied three touchdowns and 225 receiving yards on 20 catches.
2021 marked the 6-foot-3 tight end's best season after he saw an increase in playing time in 2020 as he started five out of the nine games while hauling in 17 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
The second part of the trio is Johnson, who came to Happy Valley in 2020 as a highly-touted recruit and hasn’t lived up to expectations so far.
During his first season, he played in seven contests making four catches for 56 yards, but he saw an increased role in 2021.
Last season, Johnson had 19 catches, 213 receiving yards and one touchdown that came off a 23-yard reception against Ball State in the home opener.
While Strange and Johnson are used as the receiving tight ends, Warren has a unique role in offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s offense.
Warren took snaps and launched himself high above the defense, using his size to pick up the short gain or the touchdown.
He tied for the second-most rushing touchdowns behind Cain with two and also racked up 61 yards on five catches and a touchdown.
It's no secret Penn State struggled on the offensive line last season, and it was one of the glaring weaknesses of the team.
Out of 130 FBS teams, the Nittany Lions ranked No. 118 in the country for team rush yards per game, No. 106 in tackles for loss per game and No. 94 in sacks allowed per game.
However, Franklin has emphasized offensive line improvement throughout the offseason, and the group is building chemistry.
Olu Fashanu made nine appearances last season and started in the bowl game against Arkansas in wake of a Rasheed Walker injury.
Fashanu impressed in his first in the contest and during the offseason, and it’ll be important for him to build on it this fall.
Many around the program are ecstatic for year two of Landon Tengwall as he was a high four-star recruit and the class of 2021’s No. 54 overall ranked player.
Tengwall made three appearances last season to maintain his redshirt eligibility, but he’s the favorite to start at left guard entering the season.
Juice Scruggs has the most experience in Happy Valley as a redshirt senior, but the 2021 season was his first season as a starter.
Scruggs started the campaign at right guard but switched to center near the end of the year, and he was one of the few bright spots. Scruggs is the cornerstone of the offensive line and will retain his leadership role in a relatively young group.
Last year in training camp, Sal Wormley was in a position to win the left guard spot, but an injury cost him his entire season.
Wormley is back healthy and seems to have regained that favor with Penn State’s coaching staff, as Franklin called him “the buzz of camp on the offensive line.”
Wormley looks to have edged out Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad for the starting right guard spot, but expect Nourzad to play often this year.
Caedan Wallace has played right tackle since his redshirt freshman season in 2020, making him the most experienced offensive lineman in terms of starts. However, he struggled mightily in 2021, prompting speculation that he’d bump down to guard this offseason.
Wallace gave up 26 quarterback hurries, four quarterback hits and five sacks last season but will assume an important leadership role on the offensive line.
Penn State thrived last year, generating pressure on the quarterback, and it recorded 27 sacks. That number could increase with Manny Diaz in the fold.
In fall camp a year ago, the Nittany Lions suffered a serious loss when Adisa Issac suffered a season-ending injury. After a long and strenuous recovery process, Issac is back and ready to help cause havoc on the defensive line.
He’s appeared in 20 contests, tallying 27 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, and he displays a similar archetype as Ebiketie did last year.
Similar to Issac, fellow defensive lineman P.J. Mustipher suffered a season-ending injury in the blue and white’s loss to Iowa in week six.
Mustipher has been a staple on the defensive line, making 15 starts at defensive tackle over the past two seasons. The fifth-year senior opted to return for one last campaign, which is great news for Franklin and the entire defense.
Another veteran on the defensive line is fifth-year senior Nick Tarburton, who saw limited action during his first three years with the program. Last season he made eight starts and only recorded two tackles.
Starting next to Mustipher appears to be Hakeem Beamon, who has had little game experience in his Penn State career. The Midlothian, Virginia, native appeared in 11 games during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, but he took a step back in 2021 and never saw the field for undisclosed reasons.
With Mustipher and Beamon out last season, Cozziah Izzard stepped up to fill their roles and started seven games. In those matchups, Izzard had 21 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble but with Mustipher and Beamon back, Izzard provides depth for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions made headlines by bringing in Maryland transfer Chop Robinson. Robinson appeared in all 13 of Maryland’s games as a true freshman but only made one start as a Terrapin, and his role with the blue and white is unknown.
The blue and white also have two true freshmen turning heads in training camp in Dani Dennis-Sutton and Zane Durant.
Dennis-Sutton arrived on campus as Penn State’s highest-rated recruit in the class of 2022, while Durant has been impressive, outperforming his four-star rating in practice.
With three starters from a year ago and longtime defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Brent Pry leaving the program, this year’s group will look much different than it did in 2021.
Led by Diaz, the linebacking unit has emphasized creating turnovers, but it remains to be seen if the strategy is sustainable.
Brandon Smith’s departure to the NFL created a huge hole at Will linebacker, and Curtis Jacobs looks to fill Smith’s shoes.
Jacobs made a significant jump in production in his second season with the program in 2021, tallying 61 tackles, seven tackles for loss and three sacks.
Another possibility is that Robinson plays both defensive end and outside linebacker, similar to the role Jesse Luketa played last fall.
The blue and white have a serious question at Mike linebacker, with Tyler Elsdon beating out Kobe King for the starting spot.
Elsdon appeared in 12 games last fall, tallying 12 tackles, while King appeared in just four games, holding onto his redshirt by sitting out of the Outback Bowl.
Backing up Elsdon and King are two freshmen, Abdul Carter and Keon Wylie, who may not see the field at the start of the campaign but could become faces of the linebacker unit in the future.
With Jacobs switching to Will linebacker, filling in his spot is one of the oldest players in the program, Jonathan Sutherland.
Entering his sixth season with the Nittany Lions, Jonathan Sutherland will make the full-time switch from defensive back to linebacker and will be the special team's captain for the fourth straight season.
The cornerback position has been a strength over the past few years, with players such as Tariq Castro-Fields heading to the NFL.
Following in Castro-Fields' footsteps is Joey Porter Jr., who in 2021 had 51 tackles, one interception and four pass breakups. Porter Jr. struggled with drawing pass interference calls last fall and is looking to improve.
Alongside Porter Jr. is sophomore Kalen King, who entered his freshman year with big expectations placed on him. While King struggled at certain times, he gained invaluable experience as a freshman and is in the mix to start.
Former South South Carolina transfer and fourth-year Johnny Dixon has been the talk of the coaching staff this summer and could impact new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s plans.
Fourth-year Daequan Hardy returns and seems to have a firm hold on the nickel back spot.
Penn State had one of the best safety groups in the nation last campaign, with Brisker and Ji’Ayir Brown playing lockdown defense all year.
In 2021, Brown was tied for first in the nation in interceptions, and having him return to Happy Valley was excellent news for the team.
In his first year starting for the Nittany Lions, Brown tallied 73 tackles, six interceptions, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries en route to a third-team All-Big Ten selection.
With Brisker moving onto the NFL, several Nittany Lions are in the running to start next to Brown.
Zakee Wheatley has been the talk of the town during spring and fall camp after transitioning from cornerback to safety.
Wheatley was crowned the takeaway king during both camps and is projected to start next to Brown come the season opener on Thursday. Wheatley’s 6-foot-2 frame and athletic ability allow him to cover a lot of ground from the safety spot.
Another player in contention for the starting spot is sophomore Jaylen Reed, who played in eight games during his freshman season.
The 6-foot ballhawk has been impressing the defensive coaching staff this offseason and will play a big role this season.
As a junior, Keaton Ellis enters the 2022 season as the second-most experienced safety behind Brown. Ellis is a former cornerback who transitioned to safety after the 2020 season and has made one start at the position.
Changes were abundant this offseason for Penn State’s special teams as longtime special teams coordinator Joe Lorig left and was replaced by Stacy Collins.
Lorig wasn’t the only key departure as Jordan Stout, who handled place kicking, punting and kickoff specialist duties last season, went to the NFL.
Taking over for Stout’s punting duties will be Barney Amor, and he’s the only punter on the roster that’s even seen game action in his career, starting the 2019 season at Colgate.
2019 was three years ago, and since then, the sixth-year senior Amor hasn’t punted in a game, which leaves questions as to whether he’ll be rusty.
The blue and white have an interesting situation at kicker between Jake Pinegar and Sander Sahaydak.
Before Stout took over, Pinegar was the team’s primary kicker for the prior three seasons and even broke the program’s freshman scoring record with 101 points in 2018.
The knock on Pinegar is his inability to kick long range, as he’s only converting at a career 50 percent clip on field goals more than 40 yards.
Sahaydak committed to Penn State in 2021 and was rated as a five-star by Kohl’s Kicking. The redshirt freshman didn’t see any action last season, but he’s expected to make a run for the starting spot because of his kick power.
Chris Stoll has been a part of the program for six years and has started at long snapper since he made his debut in 2019.
Last season, Stoll played a major role in Penn State’s second-ranked net punting and helped Stout win four Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week awards and Big Ten Punter of the Year.
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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