Projecting Penn State Football’s 2022 Starting Lineup: Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, & Offensive Line

With just 15 days until Penn State football begins its campaign in a highly anticipated road clash against Purdue, the Nittany Lions are currently prepping to roll out several fresh faces across key offensive positions.

While Mike Yurcich’s offense failed to dazzle in last season’s initial iteration, the Nittany Lions’ play-caller boasted a flurry of weapons on the outside and in the trenches who have since moved onto the NFL ranks.

During his fourth season in Happy Valley, Jahan Dotson posted career-high marks with 91 receptions and 1,182 receiving yards en route to becoming a first-team All-Big Ten selection and a first-round NFL draft choice by the Washington Commanders. Similarly, the offensive line is in the midst of an overhaul after losing the services of Rasheed Walker, Mike Miranda, and Eric Wilson from last season’s starting rotation.

Conversely, at tight end, position coach Ty Howle is set to return three key contributors who combined for 44 receptions as lesser-experienced assets in 2021. Now, let’s take a look at the Nittany Lions’ projected starting lineups across the offensive line, wide receiver, and tight end before Franklin’s squad takes the field in West Lafayette.

Wide Receiver

  • Starters: Mitchell Tinsley, Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith
  • Reserves: Malick Meiga, Harrison Wallace, Kaden Saunders, Liam Clifford, Jaden Dottin, Anthony Ivey

Even without the services of Jahan Dotson bolstering the Nittany Lions’ receiving core entering 2022, Penn State still holds no shortage of proven weapons on the outside at Sean Clifford’s disposal. 

With the addition of Western Kentucky transfer Mitchell Tinsley, Taylor Stubblefield’s high-powered group holds claim to 3,737 returning receiving yards between Tinsley, Parker Washington, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith — the most returning production of any projected starting trio in the Big Ten. 

Behind the lead of record-setting quarterback Bailey Zappe, Tinsley snagged 87 catches for 1,402 receiving yards for the Hilltoppers last season. Ultimately, the All-Conference USA second-team selection helped Western Kentucky’s explosive unit finish second nationally in total yardage, trailing only Ohio State. 

After becoming the first pair of true freshmen wide receivers to start at Penn State since 2014 during their freshmen campaigns in 2020, Washington and Lambert-Smith both rattled off impressive stints of their own in 2021. While Washington’s consistency shined through a 64-reception output for 820 yards a season ago, Lambert-Smith was heavily relied on to hit the big play for the Nittany Lions. 

Lambert-Smith native cemented himself as a viable home run threat by setting a team-leading 15.3 yards per reception clip as a sophomore. With the offseason growth of Malick Megia and the addition of the nation’s seventh-best incoming pass catcher in Kaden Saunders, Stubblefield’s unit possesses solid depth marked by talented assets who can stretch the field either in the slot or on the outside.

Tight End

  • Starters: Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson, Tyler Warren
  • Reserves: Khalil Dinkins, Jerry Cross

While only one tight end will likely trot onto the field at Ross-Ade Stadium for the Nittany Lions’ first drive of the season, Penn State might just have a three-headed monster vying for valuable minutes within Ty Howle’s position room this fall. 

In his third campaign donning the blue and white, Brenton Strange warranted 13 starts at the position but only tallied 20 receptions for 225 yards. However, the West Virginia native’s steady production log earned him an All-Big Ten honorable mention nod at the season’s conclusion. 

The combination of Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren could push Strange’s usage in a big way given their collective productivity as second-year assets in 2021. After coming to Happy Valley as the No. 3-ranked tight end prospect in the Class of 2020, Johnson logged nearly an identical stat line in comparison to Strange by hauling in 19 receptions for 213 yards during his second go-around with the Nittany Lions. 

During Tyler Bowen’s three-year stint as the program’s tight end mentor, he tagged the position group as “Aces” for embodying a jack of all trades persona. After his departure ahead of last season’s commencement, Tyler Warren was able to carry on the former assistant’s legacy through his versatility in individualized packages. 

Despite logging just five receptions for 61 yards as a sophomore, Warren found success in a direct snap package that was widely utilized in short-yardage, goal-line scenarios. In six attempts on the ground, Warren found paydirt twice by scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns against Auburn and Villanova, respectively. 

Although it will be tough for the squad’s two remaining options at tight end to push for in-game reps in such a saturated group, the addition of Jerry Cross should bode well for the unit’s continued run of excellence during Franklin’s tenure at Penn State. 

Prior to beginning his career with the Nittany Lions, the highly touted Cross was graded as the nation’s ninth-best tight end prospect, per 247Sports. If either Strange, Johnson, or Warren decide to test the NFL Draft waters next offseason, Cross could be poised for a breakout campaign as a second-year weapon down the road. 

Offensive Line

  • Starters: LT Olu Fashanu, LG Landon Tengwall, C Juice Scruggs, RG Sal Wormley, RT Caeden Wallace
  • Reserves: LT Jimmy Christ, LG JB Nelson, C Nick Dawkins, RG Hunter Nourzad, RT Bryce Effner

For the first time in the modern recruiting era, Penn State is set to roll out five former four-star prospects across its projected starting lineup at offensive line. Although the unit only contains two returning starters in Juice Scruggs and Caeden Wallace, the remaining pieces make up for a collective experience gap with sky-high ceilings for potential growth. 

In protection of Sean Clifford’s blindside, Olu Fashanu is set to step into Rasheed Walker’s former role as the squad’s starting left tackle under third-year position coach Phil Trautwein. Despite earning only one start as a second-year rotational piece a season ago, the Washington, DC, native thrived against Arkansas’ stout pass rush in the Outback Bowl. 

Across 63 offensive snaps, Fashanu walled up by allowing zero quarterback pressures throughout the New Year’s Day affair. Similarly, rising third-year guard Landon Tengwall also showcased his well-versed protection abilities during the campaign’s final three matchups. 

During the Nittany Lions’ late-November date with Rutgers, Tengwall entered the matchup in relief of Wallace at right tackle, showing his unique versatility to seamlessly move to his unnatural position on the outside. 

Earlier this offseason, Tengwall was tagged by Pro Football Focus as the nation’s most-likely breakout candidate at guard in 2022, largely due to his strong postseason output against the Razorbacks. 

Rounding out the starters, Sal Wormely is currently projected to slide in at right guard in replacement of Eric Wilson and Anthony Whigan, who traded starts at the position a year ago. After enduring a season-ending injury for the duration of 2021, Trautwein praised the Delaware product’s “maturity” in June for weathering a slew of untimely setbacks over his first three go-arounds in Happy Valley. 

Headlined by highly touted Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad, the Nittany Lions now hold host to 14 scholarship players across the offensive line, equating to the most of such since before NCAA sanctions rocked the position group’s makeup in 2012.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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