football Edit

Predicting Penn State's two-deep depth chart for the Wisconsin game

Penn State will not release a depth chart this fall for the first time in the James Franklin era.

The head coach explained during a Tuesday news conference prior to the opener with Wisconsin that one main factor drove the decision to nix the public positional grid, which often simply followed the last game's starters regardless of any injuries or other news that may have led to a deviation ahead of the next game.

That said, many fans still found it to be a useful tool during the season.

"We've always released a depth chart," Franklin said. "I really don't have a strong opinion either way. There's been multiple schools in the conference that haven't been releasing it for a number of years. This year, we found out that Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Purdue either were not releasing it or were thinking about not releasing it, so it just didn't make sense for us to do it if others weren't.

"I know on Sundays or even Saturdays when we're breaking down the next opponent, if that's already out there, it saves some work. It saves some time."

The Penn State Nittany Lion football program will rotate plenty of players Saturday against Wisconsin, including Eric Wilson and Anthony Whigan at left guard.
Harvard transfer Eric Wilson is expected to split reps at left guard Saturday at Wisconsin.

Franklin has a fair point, to an extent, but on the other hand, outlets like Pro Football Focus and others track snap counts, which can help opponents form a depth chart, and most schools now have loads of analysts who break things down with or without one before the assistants truly begin game planning.

At any rate, the conversation got us thinking: What might the two-deep look like on Saturday when the Lions take on the Badgers at Noon ET on FOX inside of Camp Randall?

It's time to make some predictions.

Quarterback

Starter: Sean Clifford

Backup: Ta’Quan Roberson

The Lowdown: This one is plainly obvious. Clifford returns for another year as QB1 and Roberson used his experience in the program to stay ahead of newcomer Christian Veilleux.

Running Back

Starter: Noah Cain

Backup: Keyvone Lee

The Lowdown: These aren't the only two backs who will play in Week 1 and after, of course, as John Lovett, Devyn Ford, and Caziah Holmes will all also see carries. It's just a matter of how Mike Yurcich and Ja'Juan Seider plan to divvy up the workload, and these two leading the way makes the most sense.

Wide Receiver 

Wide Receiver

Starter: Jahan Dotson

Backup: Cam Sullivan-Brown

Wide Receiver

Starter: KeAndre Lambert Smith

Backup: Harrison Wallace

Wide Receiver

Starter: Parker Washington

Backup: Marquis Wilson

The Lowdown: Dotson and Washington have obviously been locked in as two of the starters for a long time. We expect Lambert-Smith to be the third, but Sullivan-Brown has earned plenty of praise over the past two years and Wallace, a true freshman, has done the same in recent weeks. If forced to choose, the odds say that Sullivan-Brown will start if Lambert-Smith does not. As for the pick of Wallace behind Lambert-Smith, he’s received plenty of praise, but maybe Daniel George ultimately emerges?

Tight End

The Penn State Nittany Lion football program is very deep at the tight end position with Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson.
Tight end Theo Johnson may not start against Wisconsin, but he'll be a major weapon for the Nittany Lions in 2021.

Starter: Brenton Strange

Backup: Theo Johnson

The Lowdown: Predictions do not get any easier than this. We will see some of Tyler Warren in action, too, throughout the year, but these two will take the bulk of the tight end load this fall, and seeing both on the field at the same time shouldn't be ruled out.

Offensive Line

Left Tackle

Starter: Rasheed Walker

Backup: Olu Fashanu

Left Guard

Starter/Backup: Anthony Whigan OR Eric Wilson

Center

Starter: Mike Miranda

Backup: Bryce Effner OR Juice Scruggs

Right Guard

Starter: Juice Scruggs

Backup: Des Holmes OR Saleem Wormley OR Bryce Effner

Right Tackle

Starter: Caedan Wallace

Backup: Olu Fashanu OR Landon Tengwall

The Lowdown: There is almost no thought required when it comes to the starting five, as we know that one of Whigan or Wilson will be first up at left guard while the other four jobs are locked in. Questions linger, however, about the backup situation. It feels likely if someone would go down or need to be replaced that a shuffle would be in order, which could bump a "backup" out of playing time if another starter is slid into the vacated role. So, we took our best crack at laying out how the depth chart might have looked, but note that it may not be followed in a real game. And, as. you can see, it sounds like Effner is the ultimate utility man.

Defensive Line

Defensive End

Starter: Nick Tarburton

Backup: Jesse Luketa OR Amin Vanover

Defensive Tackle

Starter: PJ Mustipher

Backup: Fred Hansard OR Coziah Izzard

Defensive Tackle

Starter: Derrick Tangelo

Backup: Hakeem Beamon

Defensive End

Starter: Arnold Ebiketie

Backup: Smith Vilbert OR Zuriah Fisher

The Lowdown: The only sort of uncertainty here is whether or not Duke transfer Tangelo has done enough during camp to hold off any other challengers for that first-team spot, but our assumption is that he has. The backup situation is certainly murkier, though, but good things have been said about Vilbert in August and Luketa seems to be having success when he works at end. Getting another player, perhaps Amin Vanover, to earn snaps here is important. Beamon has worked mostly inside during camp but profiles as a player who might be able to step out to end from time to time, too. It's one of the more interesting snap counts to follow on game day. We've also seen Izzard take snaps with the second-team at times during camp.

Linebacker

The Penn State Nittany Lion football program has three solid linebackers in Brandon Smith, Ellis Brooks and Curtis Jacobs.
Linebacker Brandon Smith played some of his best games late in 2020, and he'll be expected to have a big season in 2021.

WILL Linebacker

Starter: Brandon Smith

Backup: Charlie Katshir OR Kobe King

Middle Linebacker

Starter: Ellis Brooks

Backup: Jesse Luketa OR Tyler Elsdon

SAM Linebacker

Starter: Curtis Jacobs

Backup: Jonathan Sutherland

The Lowdown: Penn State fans are salivating over the chance to watch Smith and Jacobs in action, and with good reason, but Brooks is also a key and overlooked part of Brent Pry's unit this year. As for the backups, Sutherland is working at both linebacker and safety, and we've heard plenty of good things about Katshir and Elsdon, but can they put it all together on game day? King, then, is a freshman who certainly looks the part and should get to cut his teeth on special teams to start.

Secondary

Cornerback

Starter: Tariq Castro-Fields

Backup: Kalen King OR Johnny Dixon OR AJ Lytton

Safety

Starter: Ji’Ayir Brown

Backup: Keaton Ellis OR Jonathan Sutherland

Safety

Starter: Jaquan Brisker

Backup: Tyler Rudolph OR Jaylen Reed

Cornerback

Starter: Joey Porter Jr.

Backup: Daequan Hardy OR Johnny Dixon OR Marquis Wilson

The Lowdown: This is one of the strengths of Penn State's team, and certainly its defense, in 2021. Who will start is straightforward enough, but the backup situation is a bit trickier, simply because there is so much talent to work with, and it's also not clear how much time Wilson will spend on defense versus offense. At any rate, regardless of who No. 2 or No. 3 is, it's a safe bet that many of the names listed here will see plenty of action, be it in the base defense or as part of a subpackage.

Special Teams 

The Lowdown: This is the one area we've seen and heard very little about during camp. One can assume Dotson will return punts and Brisker has been discussed as a kick return option, albeit hardly the only one, as speed abounds across the roster to fight for that job.

As for the specialists, we'll be curious to see how Jordan Stout is used this year. Does he still kickoff, punt, and handle long field goals, or has something else been worked out there? Jake Pinegar will take the field goals from 40 yards and in.

Joe Lorig has plenty of bodies and thus decisions to make prior to kickoff.

*******

• Talk about this article inside The Lions Den

• Watch our videos and subscribe to our YouTube channel

• Sign up for our daily newsletter and breaking news alerts

• Learn more about our print and digital publication, Blue-White Illustrated

• Follow us on Twitter: @BWIonRivals, @NateBauerBWI, @RivalsSnyder, @DavidEckert98, @GregPickel, @ThomasFrankCarr

• Follow us on Instagram

• Like us on Facebook