Staff Picks: Penn State Football’s 2022 Breakout Player

At long last, we’re just a few days away from Penn State football.

The Nittany Lions’ 2022 opening matchup against Purdue is officially slated for an 8 p.m. kickoff on Thursday, September 1. With the roster having its fair share of turnover, some of our staffers took their guesses on who the Nittany Lions’ breakout player will be.

Last year, guys like Ji’Ayir Brown and Arnold Ebiketie took center stage. So, who’s up this time around?

Mikey DeAngelis: Nick Tarburton

Tarburton is entering his fifth season as a Nittany Lion. After recording 22 tackles in the 2021 season, including 10 solo tackles, I think Tarburton is poised to have a standout year. Penn State lost a lot of its defensive talent to the NFL this past April, leaving the door open for other players to step up and shine. Tarburton has shown promise throughout his career thus far, and I think this will be his breakout opportunity.

Frankie Marzano: Adisa Isaac

This one might seem like a bit of a no-brainer since Isaac was poised to be a breakout player last year, but he suffered a torn achilles before the season and was sidelined for the entire 2021 campaign. Now, he will be back and (most likely) starting at defensive end, giving Manny Diaz’s front seven a massive speed boost on the edge. Even though he might have a slow start due to missing so much time, the 6’4″, 249-pounder will have a dominant season if he stays healthy.

Tobey Prime: Mitchell Tinsley

Alright, so I know Tinsley had an absolutely monster season last year where he racked up 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns, but that was in the Conference USA. Respectfully, the competition doesn’t quite compare to the Big Ten. However, who says he can’t do the same thing with the Nittany Lions? I know I ain’t! Bet the house on a monster season from Tinsley. I think Sean Clifford is going to love No. 5’s replacement, and the fans will soon follow.

Ryan Parsons: Zakee Wheatley

Wheatley, a redshirt freshman, is poised to see plenty of time at safety this season and could very well earn the starting role. While it will be hard to replace Jaquan Brisker’s production in the secondary, Wheatley is one of the most exciting young prospects on Penn State’s defense. He was named takeaway king during both spring ball and fall camp — and that’s while playing across from Ji’Ayir Brown, who led the country in interceptions a season ago. Nothing but positivity has come out about Wheatley this offseason, and I expect him to make a big splash.

Devon Craley: Mitchell Tinsley

I like Tinsley as my breakout player given both his talent and the opportunity. Tinsley has everything you’re looking for in a breakout candidate, and if the Nittany Lions have a big year through the air, I expect the Western Kentucky transfer to be a big reason why. Tinsley racked up more than 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago at Western Kentucky, and with a better system and a coaching staff that thinks highly of him, I wouldn’t be surprised if Tinsley puts up WR1 numbers in Happy Valley this season, too.

Sam Fremin: Nick Singleton

In 2019, true freshmen Noah Cain and Devyn Ford saw notable playing time out of the backfield. In 2020, the same was the case with true freshmen Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes. Penn State’s coaching staff has already stated true freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen will see snaps this season, so opportunity won’t be an issue.

Singleton was recruited as the No. 1 running back prospect in the Class of 2022. His on-field performances led to him being named Gatorade’s National Player of the Year. With a clear offseason emphasis on fixing the run game, the stage is set for a Singleton explosion.

Nolan Wick: Nick Singleton

Singleton, the 2022 No. 1 running back recruit, has breakout player of the year written all over him. The Gatorade Player of the Year and Governor Mifflin product has the size, skill, and speed that any offense wants from a running back, as he ran for 44 touchdowns and over 2,000 yards in his senior year. Position coach Ja’Juan Seider has said both Singleton and fellow newcomer Kaytron Allen will be used against Purdue this week, and I anticipate it being the start of a great season for Singleton.

Gabe Angieri: Theo Johnson

I picked Theo Johnson as the Nittany Lions’ breakout player last season, and I’m running it back again this year. After an all-around quiet showing from Penn State’s tight ends last year, the Nittany Lions need more production from the position.

Johnson, a former four-star recruit, has all the makings of a dynamic receiving threat at the tight end position. Coming off a season where he hauled in 19 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown in an increased role, I believe he’ll emerge as one of Sean Clifford’s favorite targets now that he has a full season of legitimate experience under his belt.

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