Coming off a strong second half to the 2016 season that saw Penn State roar its way to a Big Ten championship and play in one of the most exciting Rose Bowls we have seen, the expectations for the Nittany Lions in 2017 is as high as it’s been in some time. With a roster returning the likes of Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, big things are expected from the Penn State offense, but the overall roster returning should be one of the deepest the program has had in years. There may even be some newcomers to the team that could leave a grand impression as well.
Penn State just landed one of its best recruiting classes in years, but head coach James Franklin also pulled in a very respectable 2016 crop. Both classes may have some key players given a chance to compete for key starting jobs, or at least play a significant role as Penn State looks to build on all that was accomplished last season.
A review of the Penn State roster shows some talented players that took a redshirt in 2016 that should only help add quality depth to Penn State.
Shane Simmons, DE, Redshirt Freshman
Defensive line has been a strong part of Penn State’s defense in recent years, and with Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan each moving on, now may be the time for Simmons to step right in and show what he can do. The four-star recruit in the Class of 2016 redshirted last season as the position was pretty stacked, but the DeMatha Catholic product from Maryland should be capable of making a strong push to win a starting job for the 2017 season.
Lamont Wade, CB, True Freshman
The crown jewel of Penn State’s Class of 2017, Wade wasted no time in getting himself in the Penn State program as an early enrollee in January. That should help the defensive staff figure out exactly how and where to use him in the secondary, even if he is not expected to be a starter right away. There is simply too much talent and potential with Wade to keep him off the sideline.
Jonathan Sutherland, S, True Freshman
A later addition to the Class of 2017, Sutherland will not join the team until the summer. That may put him behind the curve compared to other players vying for playing time at the safety position, one that already is actually fairly deep, but there is a starting job on the line and the four-star recruit may have a chance to dazzle in the summer. Keep an eye on the position throughout the spring, because if there is a competition for a starting job heading into the fall, Sutherland may get a chance to jump in the conversation.
Michael Menet, OG, Redshirt Freshman
With a hole to plug on the offensive line with the departure of Brian Gaia, there should be some heavy competition for the job. Menet, one of the top in-state recruits and the nation’s top-rated offensive guard in the Class of 2016 redshirted last season but will make his case for a starting job. If Menet doesn’t work himself into the starting line at the start of the year, he may be the first man off of the bench or next man up should that opportunity come.
KJ Hamler, WR, True Freshman
Like Lamont Wade, Hamel is a four-star recruit that is already getting to work at Penn State as an early enrollee. With Penn State looking pretty set at the wide receiver position with options already previously in the fold even after losing Chris Godwin to the NFL, Hamler may be able to demonstrate early on he can be useful when called upon. If Hamler doesn’t get much of an opportunity to catch some footballs this fall, he could be a valuable option as a return man on special teams. Freshman running back Miles Sanders was the primary kickoff returner last season, but Penn State could benefit from someone more explosive and more of a playmaker in that capacity. If Hamler possesses that skill set, he may get a shot.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.