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A Way-Too-Early Look At Penn State Football’s 2022 Offense

We’re on to 2022, folks.

After a disappointing 2021 campaign, it’s time to turn the page to Penn State football’s next season. With some veteran talent moving on and some young players coming in, the Nittany Lions’ offense will look a bit different when the team kicks off against Purdue on September 3.

With that said, here’s our way-too-early projection of what Penn State football’s offense could look like in 2022.

Quarterback

Starter: Sean Clifford
Backups: Christian Veilleux, Drew Allar, Beau Pribula

With Sean Clifford back for his final season in Happy Valley, there’s really no doubt that he’ll be Penn State’s opening-day starter. Clifford boasts three years of starting experience, and he’s the obvious choice to lead Mike Yurcich’s offense next season.

Last year, Clifford had his fair share of ups and downs, but he finished with 23 touchdowns (21 passing, two rushing) and eight interceptions, which is hardly anything to complain about. Additionally, while attempting 100 more passes than his previous career-high, Clifford posted the best completion percentage of his career at 61%.

After Clifford, it gets a bit more complicated. You’d have to think redshirt freshman Christian Veilleux is the favorite to be Clifford’s primary backup. After taking over the backup job from Ta’Quan Roberson during the 2021 season, Veilleux shined in Penn State’s game against Rutgers that saw Clifford leave due to the flu. He tossed three touchdown passes and totaled 235 yards through the air in the Nittany Lions’ 28-0 win over the Scarlet Knights.

Early enrollees Drew Allar and Beau Pribula have plenty of hype around them, and rightfully so. However, as we saw with Veilleux last year, it’s rare for a true freshman signal-caller to begin the season with a legitimate shot for playing time. Could we see Allar or Pribula overtake Veilleux for the backup role at some point in 2022? Of course. But for now, they’re likely penciled in toward the bottom of the depth chart.

Running Back

Starter: Keyvone Lee
Backups: Nick Singleton, Devyn Ford, Kaytron Allen, Caziah Holmes

Penn State’s rushing attack wasn’t nearly what we thought it would be this past season. With a room filled with talent, there just wasn’t much production. With Noah Cain transferring to LSU and John Lovett out of the picture, expect some new faces in the Nittany Lions’ backfield.

Keyvone Lee is the presumptive starter going into 2022. The Florida native has been Penn State’s most productive ball carrier the past two seasons, so he’s certainly earned the right to lead the backfield at the start of the season. Lee was solid when given the chance last season, carrying the ball 108 times for 530 yards (4.9 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns.

It’s no secret James Franklin and Co. like to utilize a three-man rotation at running back, so it’s reasonable to think they’ll do the same moving forward. That leaves room for early enrollee Nick Singleton to burst onto the scene. Singleton, who was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year last month, comes to Happy Valley with sky-high expectations. Despite being a true freshman, Singleton should be in the mix early and often for the Nittany Lions’ backfield aiming for a bounce-back season.

Devyn Ford, who’s suddenly Penn State’s longest-tenured running back, should have an active role in the offense, too. After taking a bit of a backseat this past season, Ford appears primed for an increased role in the young and talented backfield.

Kaytron Allen, another early enrollee, should be in the mix for playing time as well and could play himself into a larger role throughout the season. Caziah Holmes, who played often as a true freshman, actually ended up redshirting this past year due to the crowded backfield. However, he showcased his talent back in 2020 and should be another candidate for snaps among the backs.

Wide Receiver

Starters: Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Mitchell Tinsley
Backups: Malick Meiga, Kaden Saunders, Harrison Wallace III, Jaden Dottin, Liam Clifford, Omari Evans

Jahan Dotson is off to the NFL, which means there’s a massive hole to fill at wideout. While it may not be fair, Parker Washington is expected to take on that “Dotson-like” role. Washington totaled 64 catches worth 820 yards and four touchdowns this past season as Penn State’s No. 2 wideout, so it doesn’t seem far-fetched to believe he can take another jump as the team’s No. 1 guy.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith posted career-highs across the board in 2021, and with an increased role on deck next year, he could be poised for a breakout season. Behind Washington and Lambert-Smith, it gets intriguing. Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley seems like the safest bet for the last starting spot among the wideouts. Tinsley posted a monster year for the Hilltoppers last season with 84 catches for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Malick Meiga and Jaden Dottin could see an increase in playing time after getting some snaps last season, while Liam Clifford and Harrison Wallace will aim to work toward some snaps after redshirting their first season. Additionally, both Kaden Saunders and Omari Evans are early enrollees who could flash early on for Taylor Stubblefield’s wideouts.

Tight End

Starters: Brenton Strange & Theo Johnson
Backups: Tyler Warren, Jerry Cross, Khalil Dinkins

Penn State’s tight ends generally disappointed in 2021. After being labeled as the best tight end room Franklin’s ever been around before last season, the results just weren’t there. Still, the group is expected to be led by Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson, who both played significant roles in the offense last year. The two posted similar underwhelming stat lines, and they’ll both be hoping for more success once the next season rolls around.

Tyler Warren saw some action in the wildcat package, but he didn’t do much as a receiver and caught just five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown.

True freshman Jerry Cross could certainly earn some early playing time with an impressive training camp. Cross, a four-star recruit from Wisconsin, is on campus as an early enrollee this January. Redshirt freshman Khalil Dinkins will provide some depth at the position, too.

Offensive Line

Starters: Olu Fashanu, Landon Tengwall, Juice Scruggs, Sal Wormley, Caedan Wallace
Backups: Bryce Effner, Blake Zalar, Nick Dawkins, JB Nelson, Drew Shelton

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding Penn State’s offensive line following an underwhelming 2021 season. With Rasheed Walker, Mike Miranda, and Eric Wilson no longer on the roster, the unit is losing three of its starters. However, there is some hope heading into next season.

Olu Fashanu played well in the Outback Bowl in place of Walker, so he appears to be the favorite to protect Clifford’s blindside. Highly touted 2021 recruit Landon Tengwall played well in a limited role last season, and he seems like a safe bet in the starting lineup as well, although the exact spot is uncertain.

Juice Scruggs played both guard and some center last season, and given his experience, he’ll likely be Miranda’s successor at center. Caedan Wallace, who’s been the Nittany Lions’ primary right tackle the past year-and-a-half, will presumably retain that role barring anything unforeseen. The last starting spot on the line could go to Sal Wormley. Wormley missed the 2021 season due to injury, but he was expected to start for Franklin’s team prior to going down.

The depth of the offensive line is a problem. Effner could sneak his way into the starting lineup, but he’s the only projected reserve with any starting experience. Blake Zalar and Nick Dawkins haven’t seen much playing time, while JB Nelson and Drew Shelton are incoming freshmen.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Nittany Lions added a lineman or two through the transfer portal before the start of next season. The starting lineup could definitely use an upgrade, which would allow one of the projected starters to move into more of a backup role, where experience is desperately needed.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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