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Anatomy of a position group: The running backs

Starting this week, Blue White Illustrated will begin a new series breaking down each Penn State position group and how it was constructed, also touching on its outlook ahead of the 2021 season and looking further forward. We continue the series with Penn State's running back unit.

Quarterbacks

PSU's RB Recruiting Since 2016
Class Player  Stars

2016

Miles Sanders

2017

Journey Brown

2018

Ricky Slade

2019

Devyn Ford

2019

Noah Cain

2020

Caziah Holmes

2020

Keyvone Lee (ATH)

2022

Nick Singleton

2021 Penn State Running Back Outlook 

Current Roster RBs (Scholarship Only)
Player Experience  Stars 

John Lovett (transfer)

Senior+

Noah Cain

Junior

Devyn Ford

Junior

Keyvone Lee

Sophomore

Caziah Holmes

Sophomore

The depth of running back talent Penn State will carry into the 2021 season is remarkable.

The Nittany Lions boast a room with four former four-star prospects, all of whom have seen some game time at the Big Ten level.

The only scholarship member of the running back room in 2021 who was not a four-star prospect is John Lovett, who Penn State acquired via the transfer portal over the winter. He brings 1,803 career rushing yards across four seasons with Baylor.

He also fills what might have been a leadership void in the running back room.

With Ricky Slade having transferred out prior to last season, and Journey Brown forced into medical retirement due to a heart condition, Penn State had no seniors to lean on, and this year looked like it could result in a similar situation until Lovett's addition.

"He brings a lot of energy to the room," Devyn Ford said of Lovett. "He's a guy that you can just kind of trust. He brings a lot more of an edge, you know what I'm saying? He brings that toughness that we need. That's what helps him a lot."

The presumptive talisman for the Nittany Lions at running back entering 2020 following Brown's retirement, Noah Cain was injured on Penn State's very first drive of the season and was forced to the sideline for the entirety of the campaign.

Keyvone Lee emerged to take most of the reps in his stead, and was one of a few pleasant surprises for Penn State fans in a very poor season. Ford and Caziah Holmes each probably also ended up with more carries than they may have been expecting.

Entering the 2021 season, that depth — that experience — can only be positive. But now there are plenty of guys in that room who have gotten a taste of big-time college football, and only so many carries to go around.

Looking Ahead at Penn State's Running Backs 

With no running back in the 2021 class, Penn State fans will look forward to in-state talent Nick Singleton joining the running back room in 2022, and it's certainly plausible that another back will come with him in that class, with the Nittany Lions remaining in the running for a few talented RBs.

Even leaving that out of the equation, this group still feels very difficult to project, because the reality is that we don't know how the depth chart might shake itself out for the 2021 season yet.

The only certainty post-2021 is that Lovett will be out the door, with that being his final season of eligibility.

The rest of the equation feels prone to variance.

Should Cain reclaim the starting job, it seems possible that he could end up with his name in the NFL Draft come spring if he shows well. The same could be true of Ford, should he take the jump fans and coaches alike are waiting for.

There's also always the possibility of players electing to transfer out of what looks to be a crowded room, so that's also something to consider.

The picture at running back is cloudy at the moment, but with the depth of talent available, it seems likely that the Nittany Lions will find themselves in good shape no matter how things shake out.



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