The expectations are remarkably high for Penn State Football as they look ahead to the 2023 season. Last season, the Nittany Lions exceeded their expectations with an impressive 11-2 record which resulted in a Rose Bowl win against the Utah Utes.
With the returning talent and its newest additions, the Nittany Lions, this offseason, are projected to climb the ranks of many preseason polls through Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) and Associated Press (AP). With the departures of Sean Clifford, PJ Mustipher, Parker Washington, Joey Porter Jr, Ji'Ayir Brown, Brenton Strange, and more to the 2023 NFL Draft, it is certainly interesting for Nittany Lion fans to see how head coach James Franklin plans to find replacements for those positions this offseason.
Each player will have to step up if the Nittany Lions wish to have a successful season like they did last year. No one is guaranteed the top spot in each position, so every player has to work hard to achieve that goal and be a leader on and off the field. So far, the incoming freshmen have made strides during offseason workouts to fight for their spot on the field within the talent of their older teammates.
Nittany Lion fans will see a new quarterback when Drew Allar, sophomore, takes over for Clifford. It will be nice to see how Allar impacts the offense as he only has ten games under his belt from last season. He completed 35-of-60 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for 52 yards on 18 attempts with one scoring rush according to his bio on the Nittany Lions website.
Trying to rank all the talent that is currently listed on the Nittany Lions roster is not easy but I wanted to share who I think will be potential stand outs for the 2023 season. These rankings are in no particular order.
Cornerback Kalen King
Porter Jr. stole the show for the cornerback position last season, but Kalen King was never far behind. Porter Jr. being drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers will allow for King to become an even more elite cornerback while keeping the Nittany Lions secondary in good hands.
King’s sophomore season in 2022 included:
30 tackles with three interceptions - second most on the team
16 pass breakups - which he led the team in pass breakups stats
The hype around King is growing with On3 already giving him a ranking as the fifth best cornerback in the nation heading into the new season. If he continues to excel and break records, he may even see himself get drafted early in the 2024 NFL Draft. If this is the case, that will make two of the top cornerbacks for the Nittany Lions to be drafted early which is something that has not happened before.
Offensive Tackle Olu Fashanu
There is no arguing that the Nittany Lions have one of the best offensive lineman going into the 2023 season. Fashanu, last season, was a star at left tackle and his performance quickly gained him hype regarding being a first round draft pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
Although his undisclosed injury against Ohio State had ended his season he still allowed zero sacks and maintained pressure against his opponent in the games he did play. Because of his season-ending injury he realized returning to the Nittany Lions offense would be of benefit to him, rather than entering his name into the draft early.
Fashanu is fully healthy now and back in the weight room competing with his brothers during the offseason. His bio currently lists him at 6-foot-6 and 323 pounds which will help in his favor on the offensive line.
Defensive Duo in Adisa Isaac and Chop Robinson
The Nittany Lions defense is stacked as they have two reliable defensive ends in senior, 6-foot-4 and 248 pound, Isaac and junior, 6-foot-3 and 253 pound, Robinson.
Isaac had a solid season in 2022 despite shaking off an injury that made him miss the 2021 season. In his return, he recorded 28 tackles with 11 TFLs (team-high) and four sacks. Manny Diaz, defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions, allows his players to work in chaos plays and Isaac has the ability to do so because he can get after the passer and make a strong play against the run.
Starting opposite of Isaac is Robinson, a transfer player from Maryland, who played in his first season with the Nittany Lions last season. With 12 games under his belt last season, he managed to record 26 tackles with 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. These stats are quite impressive as he was never listed as a full-time starter.
TE Theo Johnson
Johnson, starting the season off with an injury, managed his way to No.2 tight end behind Strange in his return. Strange, having been drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in this year’s NFL Draft, allows Johnson to be the No.1 tight end and carry the weight of the tight end room.
During his return season, he collected 20 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games. His playing ability flashed in multiple games including ones against Minnesota (45-17) and Michigan State (35-16). Before this year’s NFL draft, he was also rumored to be a high pick, but he ultimately made the choice to come back to the Nittany Lions in hopes of becoming a true leader.
With Johnson’s size at 6-foot-6 and 256 pounds, he will definitely be a defensive nightmare and will likely be Allar’s primary target when scoring touchdowns.
Linebacker Duo in Curtis Jacobs and Abdul Carter
Senior linebacker Jacobs will have plenty of opportunity to make plays this season alongside sophomore linebacker Carter due to Mustipher and Brown being drafted to the NFL.
Jacobs, a 6-foot-1 and 235 pound linebacker, was third on the team in tackles with 52 and collected 7.5 TFLs and four sacks. He also had an interception that he returned for a touchdown. Jacobs will be more comfortable this season as he is likely to return to his SAM linebacker position which he played previously to last year.
Carter, a 6-foot-3 and 249 pound linebacker, ended the season on a high note in terms of his stats. He was ejected early in the season opener game on Sep. 1, 2022 against Purdue but he came back a better and way more driven player. He had 56 tackles with 10.5 TFLs and a team-leading 6.5 sacks. Carter wears the #11 for a reason as it has been previously worn by the former Nittany Lions linebacker in Micah Parsons, who is currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster.
Running Back Duo in Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton
The Nittany Lions’ 2022 season saw new heights at running the ball, something they had trouble with in previous years. That is all part of the newly rooted running back duo of Allen and Singleton.
Allen, a sophomore, stepped right in and amazed every Nittany Lion fan with his outstanding stats. He led the team with 167 rush attempts and in those rush attempts he accomplished 867 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was hard to bring down and was able to showcase his passing game skills with 20 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown.
Singleton, the other half of the dangerous running back duo, impresses everyone with his fast running ability. Being a true freshman last season like Allen, Singleton, a sophomore, became a known name in the Big Ten. In only 156 carries, he was able to rack up 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown pass and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. At the end of last season, Singleton was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, as he beat out two teammates and other players around the league.
These players I have mentioned above are not the only Nittany Lions that could be potential standouts this upcoming season. The wide receiver group has certainly seen improvement with returnees and new additions (Returnees: KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Liam Clifford, Omari Evans, Harrison Wallace III, Kaden Saunders; New Additions: Dante Cephas and Malik McClain). I believe the Nittany Lion squad will be a team that their opponents will have to watch out for as they are ready to fight for a National title.
Edited by: Kaya Crawford