Penn State football: Ranking the true freshmen for impact over the rest of the season
These guys are too good to red-shirt, both because Penn State needs them on the field and because several of them aren’t likely to stick around for 4-5 years anyway.
Penn State coach James Franklin said in the preseason that he had a bunch of game-ready players in the 2022 recruiting class. That has proven true through 2 weeks, and several of the teenagers are growing up in a hurry. Size, strength, ability, maturity. These youngsters look the part.
Obviously, 5-star offensive players Nicholas Singleton and Drew Allar made the highlight shows after the Nittany Lions’ thorough, 46-10 thrashing of Ohio, and rightly so. But the home-opener revealed more true freshmen who could greatly impact the team’s fortunes moving forward. Here are the top 10, in order:
1. Nicholas Singleton, RB
As the top running back recruit in the nation, Singleton brought a game-breaking reputation with him out of Governor Mifflin High. Bottled up on 10 carries against Purdue, Singleton made the most of his second 10 carries on Saturday. He turned them into 179 yards, ending Penn State’s 17-game streak without a 100-yard runner with a bang — and 2 touchdowns. He had 3 big-gainers, all around the right side. The first one went 70 yards for a score, the team’s first 50+ rushing play since 2019.
“His ability to turn the corner, to break tackles … to the point he can go 80 at any time, that has an effect on [an opposing] defensive coordinator,” Franklin said in a postgame interview. “That has an effect on our offense, obviously. … It takes some of the pressure off of the passing game. It helps our offensive line. There’s a lot of positives there to build on.”
Regardless of whether he starts and/or completely displaces Keyvone Lee, Singleton should carry more and more of the load as the season goes on.
2. Drew Allar, QB
After showing poise and composure — and great accuracy — for a second straight week, Allar looks like the best backup quarterback in the Big Ten. He went 6-for-8 for 88 yards and 2 TDs after entering shortly after halftime. On his second TD throw, the 6-5, 242-pound 18-year-old stepped forward through attempted arm-tackles around his ankles and delivered a 28-yard strike to Khalil Dinkins.
Sean Clifford will have to remain sharp to keep the starting job, because he’s being pushed. If the 6th-year senior ever has to miss time, his heir-apparent can handle the job. If nothing else, that’s a relief for Franklin and OC Mike Yurcich. Depending on how the wins and losses add up, Allar could be starting before the season is done.
3. Abdul Carter, LB
Franklin has been gushing about 4-star linebacker for a couple of weeks now. Carter played only 1 defensive down vs. Purdue, drawing a targeting call that sent him off the field. Franklin said prior to the Ohio game that he wanted the 6-3, 235-pound 4-star recruit to be involved. Carter played in both halves Saturday, making 5 tackles and nearly blowing up plays a couple of times. He flies around, and DC Manny Diaz will keep finding ways to get him on the field.
4. Kaytron Allen, RB
The 4-star back brings a bit more thunder and a bit less lightning than Singleton, a nice mix. In carries and yards (14-54), the 5-11, 211-pound Allen already ranks second in the 4-back rotation on the season, ahead of the veteran Lee and occasional third-down back Devyn Ford.
5. Omari Evans, WR
The pleasant surprise of the class so far, the 3-star receiver out of Texas had 2 catches for 30 yards and a TD against the Bobcats. The 6-0, 179-pounder saw action against Purdue, as well.
6. Kaden Saunders, WR
The speedy 4-star Saunders made his first 2 catches as a Lion on Saturday, netting 21 yards. Behind Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley, spots 3-6 in the WR rotation seem up for grabs. Evans and Saunders might come on strong as the year plays out.
7. Dani Dennis-Sutton, DE
The 5-star edge rusher had 2 tackles and a QB hurry vs. Ohio, his first official stats as a Lion, though he did see some action against Purdue. The 6-5, 254-pounder is touted for twitchy athleticism along the lines of Carter, so he might earn more time as the season goes on.
8. Zane Durant, DT
The 6-1, 272-pound 4-star defensive tackle has played in both games, making 1 tackle.
9. Cam Miller, CB
The 4-star cornerback out of Florida had 3 tackles against the Bobcats.
10. Drew Shelton/Vega Ioane, OLs
The 4-star Shelton (6-5, 279) and 3-star Ioane (6-4, 330) both saw mop-up duty Saturday. Penn State has only 7 reliable linemen so far, so these guys have as good a shot as anyone to earn time in backup roles.
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Future is bright
In addition to the true freshmen, Penn State has a bunch of redshirt freshmen and true sophomores playing key roles. Landon Tengwall (LG), Harrison Wallace III (WR) and Kobe King (LB) head the former group. Curtis Jacobs (LB), Tyler Elsdon (LB), Chop Robinson (DE) and Kalen King (CB) lead the latter.
Next year’s recruiting class features 2 top-100 offensive linemen. That class ranks No. 12 in the nation at present, but this year’s first 2 games serve as incentives for standout high school players with 4 and 5-star resumes. The more this year’s true freshmen flash on SportsCenter, the more the next batch will want to join the fun.
This could get good.