Chris Godwin was Penn State’s surest set of hands and its best downfield threat the past two seasons, but he’s NFL bound this weekend, so the Nittany Lions will need a new home-run hitter in the passing game.
Enter DeAndre Thompkins.
The redshirt junior out of Hubert, N.C., is arguably Penn State’s top candidate to blow the top of off opposing defenses in 2017. Thompkins caught five passes for 84 yards in the Blue-White Game, including a 50-yard dime from Tommy Stevens along the right sideline.
“My performance [Saturday], there’s always a higher ceiling. I’m happy with the job I did, but I’m always expecting to do more and help the team in other places.”
Thompkins routinely references this idea of a higher ceiling, not just personally, but for the program as whole.
“It’s more of, ‘Do you wanna settle for a Big Ten championship or do you wanna go to the national championship?’ It was great, we enjoyed it, and it was something that we strived for, but we always have a higher ceiling no matter what the objective is.”
During Joe Moorhead’s first season as offensive coordinator, the Nittany Lions averaged just over 37 points per game. But Thompkins believes they can reach the unprecedented level set by the 1994 team that put up a collegiate-best 47 points per contest.
There’s no question Penn State has the offensive firepower to attain that goal. You can make the case that Saquon Barkley is the nation’s top running back, and quarterback Trace McSorley is cut from the same cloth as Michael Robinson — a born winner. But a unit that’s still getting used to its quick-strike potential needs a new receiver to stretch the field.
Thompkins matched Godwin’s average of 16 yards per catch in 2016 thanks in large part to his burst on the outside. He recorded three grabs of 43 yards or more, highlighted by a 70-yard touchdown against Maryland. He finished the season with a career-high 27 receptions for 440 yards.
While Saeed Blacknall proved he can break a game open in Indianapolis, and redshirt sophomore Juwan Johnson was the talk of spring ball, Thompkins is the odds-on favorite to have his number called when Penn State needs a chunk play.
Thompkins mentioned he’ll even catch himself practicing his footwork on the way to class.
“It’s a day-to-day task,” he said. “Whether it’s me walking through the halls at school, pretending like I’m running a route, just walking around corners planting my steps and moves and stuff. Or just when I’m in my room messing around, just pretending like I’m getting off a press release.”
He and the rest of the Nittany Lions received their Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl rings recently, but you won’t catch Thompkins wearing his around campus. “It’s something that I’ll probably frame and keep forever, so my kids and their kids can always look at it.”
Thompkins entered the program in 2014 as an undersized speedster who needed the game to slow down for him, but he’s now a key cog in a veteran receiving corps that’s one of the most fearsome in all of college football.
Don’t be surprised when No. 3 is streaking down the sideline more often with the pigskin high and tight this fall.