The top 10 Penn State football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. RB Saquon Barkley, Soph.
Considering how mediocre the offensive line was, Barkley came up with a whale of a first season earning All-Big Ten honors running for a school-record for a freshman 1,076 yards with seven touchdowns, averaging close to six yards per carry. At 5-11 and 219 pounds he’s got the power to provide a pop in the interior with high school track star sprinter’s speed when he gets into the clear.
Even though he missed two games, he was able to keep on cranking out the production finishing with five 100-yard games with 195 and two scores against Rutgers and 194 against Ohio State. A good receiver, too, he caught 20 passes for 161 yards and a score, but he wasn’t the gamebreaker he was as a runner.
2. WR Chris Godwin, Jr.
The 6-2, 208-pounder had a nice first season catching 26 passes for 338 yards and two scores, and then last year he blew up with a team-leading 69 catches for 1,101 yards and five scores, averaging close to 16 yards per play. While he was great early on, he dominated over the second half of the season with five 100-yard days in the final seven games, hitting Maryland for 135 yards and a score on just four catches, and finishing up with 11 catches and two scores against Michigan State and six grabs for 133 yards against Georgia. A do-it-all receiver, he’s got home run hitting ability and the route running to come up with the midrange plays, too – he’s a true No. 1 target.
3. LB Jason Cabinda, Jr.
While he didn’t receive a whole bunch of fanfare – he only received Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors – he led the phenomenal run defense with 100 tackles with 2.5 sacks and an interception. At 6-1 and 237 pounds, he’s got nice size with the look of a true middle linebacker, but with the athleticism and quickness to handle himself on the weakside without a problem.
Able to get in on just about everything, he came up with 14 stops against Army’s option attack and came up with 13 stops against Michigan State. He’s not going to be ignored in the all-star honors this time around.
4. FS Marcus Allen, Jr.
A playmaker from the start, he came up with 58 stops as a freshman, and then he showed his potential greatness in a terrific second season. Second on the team in tackles, Allen was one of the keys to the elite defense cleaning up just about everything in the defensive backfield. More of a playmaker against the run than a top pass defender, the 6-2, 208-pounder only broke up two passes, but he came up with a sack and five tackles for loss with 81 stops with 12 against Michigan.
5. LB Brandon Bell, Sr.
There might be a ton of movement in the linebacking corps depending on where the other parts are playing, there’s no question that the 6-1, 231-pound Bell is going to occupy one spot on the outside, most likely on the strongside. A terrific playmaker in the backfield, he came up with 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss while generating a huge pop against the run making 65 stops despite missing two games. Quick, he has a great burst when it’s his job to make something happen behind the line, but he’s great at forcing fumbles and being a disruptive force no matter what he’s doing.
6. LB Nyeem Wartman-White, Sr.
The 6-1, 252-pounder is a huge force on the inside – when he’s 100%. Still trying to get back healthy after getting knocked out for the year in the opener against Temple. His knee injury was serious to keep him from being a sure-thing to start the year, and even when he’s back he’ll have to battle with Jason Cabinda for the starting job, but he can work on the weakside if he’s not the man in the middle. Great two years ago when he lasted the season, he came up with 75 tackles with a pick after working in the rotation in his first two seasons. Fast enough to be a high school sprinter, he can get around and make plays no matter where he works.
7. WR DaeSean Hamilton, Jr.
Back with no problems after missing the early part of his career with a wrist injury, Hamilton was the team’s second-leading receiver catching 45 passes for 580 yards and six scores averaging close to 13 yards per play. While he didn’t have any 100-yard days, he did his part to come up with several grabs a game, topping out with eight against Michigan State and coming up with five four times. An athletic 6-1 and 214 pounds, he’s a matchup problem with the toughness to battle well for anything that comes his way.
8. QB Trace McSorley, Soph.
Is McSorley ready to take over the job in a full-time role? Tommy Stevens will be deep in the hunt for the starting job – and could grab the gig if McSorley stinks in fall camp – but after the way the bowl game went, it’s going to take something amazing to shake up the expectations. McSorley stepped in for an injured Christian Hackenberg against Georgia and made it interesting by completing 14-of-27 passes for 142 yards and two scores, and taking off for 31 yards. While he’s not all that big at 6-0 and 199 pounds, he’s a good fit for the new up-tempo attack with good quickness and a good enough passing arm to spread the ball around and get it deep. He’s a baller who has a knack for making things happen – at least that’s the hope.
9 CB Grant Haley, Jr.
Not just a strong corner on one side, he’s also a terrific kick returner – at least he was two years ago – using his quickness and athleticism to shine wherever he works. At 5-9 and 184 pounds, he’s not all that big, but all-star smart in the classroom and he’s not afraid to get physical coming up with 42 stops and seven broken up passes with two picks. As a freshman he came up with 18 tackles and a pick six, but he made the most noise as a solid return man averaging 20.59 yards per try. While he could come up with more interceptions and big plays, he was good enough to earn Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors.
10. DL Kevin Givens, RFr.
Is he going to be able to build off his terrific spring? Originally seen as a defensive end with good mobility and athleticism, he worked on the inside at tackle this offseason coming up with big plays almost every time he got his chances in the rotation. He’s not a sure-thing starter, and he’s not huge at 6-1 and 267 pounds, but he’s not going to be asked to become an anchor. The expectations are high to turn him loose and let him make things happen no matter where he’s lining up.