Penn State Football Smoothing Out Wide Receiver Depth Chart Amid Spring Practices
Penn State football is currently searching for more clarity at the wide receiver position.
The Nittany Lions lost their two top wideouts this offseason, as both Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley declared for the 2023 NFL Draft after combining for seven touchdowns and just under 1,200 yards in 2022.
Tight end Brenton Strange, who was right behind the two wideouts on Sean Clifford’s list of top targets, also declared for the draft.
With three of his top four contributors out the door, James Franklin has a lot of touchdowns and yardage to replace. Luckily for him, the next men up are seemingly ready for the task at hand.
After a productive 2022 season, KeAndre Lambert-Smith was the apparent heir to the throne of No. 1 wide receiver coming into spring camp. It appears he’s retained that title.
Last season, Lambert-Smith wasn’t far behind Tinsley and Washington statistically. He recorded four touchdowns and 389 yards, and his 16.21 yards per catch average was the best among Penn State’s wide receivers. However, those numbers won’t be enough for the junior in 2023, as Franklin expects him to rise to the top.
“We need him to be the guy…like a true No. 1, not just at Penn State but really in the conference,” Franklin said.
Franklin’s coaching staff also has high expectations for Lambert-Smith. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich sees him as a rising star, provided the wideout continues to put in the work he’s displayed thus far.
“He’s shown all the signs in the offseason of wanting to take that next step,” Yurcich said. “I’m excited about him and what he brings to our offense, and we’re really looking forward to seeing him progress throughout the rest of the spring.”
As for Lambert-Smith himself, he feels confident in his own abilities and in those of his teammates in the wide receiver room.
“We got guys who can come in and make plays. I feel like everybody in the room can come and step up, and I feel like it’d be no drop off from a starter,” Lambert-Smith said. “When that opportunity presents itself for the guys, I know they’ll take full advantage of it.”
The rest of the room is what Franklin and Yurcich are most concerned with. Franklin feels that Harrison Wallace, a redshirt sophomore who proved himself as the fourth wide receiver in 2022, has stepped into the No. 2 slot in spring camp. However, there isn’t yet a solidified third option behind Wallace.
“We got to figure out who that third guy who’s gonna be,” Franklin said. “There’s gonna be a competition really with all of those guys, but I think that’s probably one of the big question marks.”
Franklin has a few options to choose from for his No. 3 receiver. Still, with no wide receiver recruits enrolling early, he’ll have to turn to names with prior experience in college football if he wants to have a set idea after spring camp.
If Franklin wants to take a look at notable players from last year’s roster, he can look to Omari Evans, a sophomore who caught five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown last year, or Liam Clifford, a redshirt sophomore who recorded 89 yards across eight catches last season.
The head coach also has one of two wideout transfers working in spring camp: Malik McClain. A junior from Florida State, McClain caught 17 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns in 2022. While neither Franklin nor Yurcich handed him the No. 3 spot, they didn’t eliminate the chance either.
“I think Malik is a unique guy, and he brings really good size,” Yurcich said. “He’s got good enough speed. He’s a guy that from an attitude standpoint, you can see that he likes to compete.”
For now, the door seems open to any and all challengers. Franklin and his coaching staff have emphasized that every player will be getting a chance during spring camp, meaning the No. 3 role can fall to anyone on the roster.
“We like to think that there’s competition everywhere,” Yurcich said. “[Wide receiver is] a spot where we’re definitely looking for guys to step up and contribute in a major way. Every day is competition around here, regardless of position.”
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