Covid-19 is still exerting a tremendous effect on our society. The sporting world has certainly not been immune to these issues. One such area is attendance at sporting contests. These restrictions go from the professional ranks down through the college and grade school levels.
This year’s Penn State Blue & White game was one such affected event. It was first announced that the yearly inter-squad scrimmage would only be open to freshmen. Needless to say, this caused some uproar amongst the upper-classmen at Happy Valley. A petition was circled and garnered enough signatures to effectively cause another practice game to be open to other classes. Sadly, neither of these games was open to the public, and neither was recorded in full for television distribution. I myself have attended several of these games and would most certainly have gone to scout the 2021 squad.
As it stands, this article will primarily rely on the efforts of student reporters and the privileged few who were allowed to attend and post clips of the action. I will do my best to break down the devy players and give credit to those who brought me the clips to scout. Without further ado, let us examine the 2021 Penn State offensive devy players.
Sean Clifford, Senior
Clifford has been an enigma over the course of his Penn State journey. Coming out of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, he has experienced the full spectrum of emotions during the course of his tenure. Clifford came to Penn State as a top-10 ranked high school QB according to 247 sports. He initially redshirted then spent a season behind former starter Trace McSorley.
When the job was his finally, Clifford took off running, both figuratively and literally. In that standout 2019 season, Clifford meshed with former High School buddy KJ Hamler and put up over 3,000 total yards and 28 TDs, leading the team to a New Year’s Six Bowl victory.
Heading into his junior season, the future appeared bright for the talented QB. Then the wheels fell off last year. It all began when his top target and BFF Hamler left Happy Valley early for the NFL. Clifford also had to contend with a lack of practices, the will they or won’t they nature of the covid stricken 2020 season, and a very young offensive skill group. To top things off, he lost both of his highly touted RB’s, one to medical issues and the other to injury. It was a total disaster, and he failed to shine through the situation. Clifford was even benched for a stretch of the season before eventually regaining his starting gig.
2021 kicked off with the intrasquad scrimmage as always. From all the analysis I’ve read and the video I’ve seen, Clifford is still dealing with inconsistent play. This does not mean his job is necessarily in jeopardy. Last season’s backup WIll Levis has transferred to Kentucky, leaving only Redshirt Sophomore Ta’Quan Roberson and true freshman Christian Veilleux as backups. Roberson is the only one with any game action, consisting of a couple of snaps at the end of the Illinois game last year. Based on what I’ve personally seen out of Clifford, I do not believe he has much of an NFL future. Sure he can latch on as a backup somewhere, but he lacks the big-time arm numbers to show potential for NFL scouts. He can certainly turn things around in 2021, but he will need a drastic reversal of fortunes.
Clifford played OK across the two practices. He will certainly need to clean some things up if he is going to have a chance to play on Sundays next season. It won’t be tough to follow his progress. As Clifford goes, with such an inexperienced stable behind him, so will go PSU’s 2021 record.
Ta’Quan Roberson, RS Sophomore
As it currently stands, Roberson is the next man up in Happy Valley. He is in line to take the reins next season or perhaps this year if Clifford again falters. Roberson came to PSU via De Paul Catholic High School in New Jersey. He was the ninth QB recruit in the nation, according to Rivals.
When you watch his game, he presents an exciting skill set for the Penn State read-option system. He has some Lamar Jackson qualities to his game. With so little to go on at this point, perhaps it is best to show you his high school film. You should instantly see why PSU is excited for the future of this young man.
In all likelihood, 2021 will be Clifford’s swan song. Roberson will get his chance in 2022. Based on the look of PSU’s recent recruiting classes, he should take over a talented squad ready to compete from day one. He will be an interesting grab and stash in Devy and Campus-to-Canton leagues.
Noah Cain, Junior
Penn State endured one of its worst seasons in school history in 2020. Covid wreaked havoc on the Big Ten and much of the college football landscape in general. However, the nuclear explosion that detonated in the PSU RB room was just as significant. The team lost preseason Maxwell watchlist RB Journey Brown to a heart condition and medical retirement. Then they lost uber-talented sophomore Noah Cain on the first drive of the first game of the season. He was conspicuously absent from the spring game as he continues to recover from last season’s leg injury. However, if covering the RB room, Cain is a must address for the 2021 season.
Cain came to Happy Valley out of the famed IMG Academy in Florida. I wrote a full scouting report on him coming in, which you can find here. Cain returns in 2021 to a team in search of a true feature back. Noah showed all these traits in spades during his freshman campaign. He broke the PSU rookie TD record held by Saquon Barkley, had multiple 100-yard games against Big Ten opponents, and he closed the season with 15 carries for 92 yards and two scores in the Cotton Bowl.
Cain possesses an overall skill set reminiscent of Mark Ingram. He is big enough to pound the rock yet deceptively fast when he breaks into the open field. He has soft hands when given the opportunity to catch passes, although this part of his game is unrefined. If he is truly back to full strength, he will be in for a big season and find himself a foundation for the PSU offense. You can catch a glimpse of his talent in his freshman highlights below.
Devyn Ford, Junior
While I personally believe Cain will be Batman for the 2021 Nittany Lions, Ford will likely be his Robin. Ford dealt with his own injury woes in 2020. He missed three games but has come back healthy and ready to contribute in 2021. At 5’11″ and 192 pounds, he possesses a different skill set than the 221 pound Cain.
With Cain still on the mend, Ford spearheaded the offensive unit in the Spring practice, reportedly making a couple of nice plays. He also reportedly took a kick return 99 yards to the house, exhibiting his game-breaking speed. To anyone that watched him play last season, this will not be a big surprise. Like Cain, he was a top-level recruit in his class, coming in at no. 5 in the nation on 247.com’s big board.
The combination of Cain and Ford should give PSU a dynamic 1-2 punch that the 2020 version of the team lacked. One need look no further than Ford’s highlights below to tell that he is the type of exciting playmaker coaches love to get in space. Keep an eye on him in all of your Devy leagues.
Keyvone Lee, Sophomore
The 6’0″ and 238 pounds Lee was one of the few bright spots of the 2020 season. Due to a literal slew of injuries in front of him on the depth chart Lee actually led the team in rushing with 89/438/4. He is a big physical RB with a style that is perfectly suited for playing late-season Big Ten football. While he hasn’t shown much in the passing game, he is the type of player that can literally eat carries and help his team in a number of ways.
With Cain still on the mend and absent from the Spring game, Lee took on a major role and showed well for himself. His HC James Franklin was impressed with his efforts and said this about the imposing bruiser. “Keyvone is your typical 237 power back in the Big Ten that is always running north and south…He’s the guy that you look at the end of the game, and you think he played pretty good, but he’s got 115 yards and two touchdowns… He’s always falling forward. A run that he’s supposed to get four yards, he gets six. I think he’s doing a better job of understanding who he is.” Check out his 2020 highlights below and you will see exactly what Franklin is describing in this interview.
The Lawn Boyz
The Penn State RB group has called themselves the Lawn Boyz over the last several seasons. The rest of the RB depth chart is loaded with plenty of talent. Caziah Holmes and Baylor transfer John Lovett headline a group of players who will play smaller roles. As bigger backs, these two would certainly take on a much more prominent role if Cain were to suffer any setbacks with last season’s injury. The youngsters reportedly played well with HC James Franklin saying, “We have a bunch of backs who can provide that (explosive run). That’s the O-line and tight ends creating space for those explosive plays, and that’s also through scheme.” Keep your eyes peeled on these players as the season progresses.
Jahan Dotson, Senior
As far as receivers go for the 2021 Nittany Lions, Jahan Dotson is the guy to watch. In 2020 Dotson was one of the lone bright spots for PSU. The incoming senior burst onto the scene late last season to the tune of 52/884/8. He was also a dynamic return man routinely putting the offense in plus field position. He had a memorable game in a blowout contest against conference champion Ohio State. In the game, the talented youngster exploded for 8 catches for 144 and three touchdowns. You can see his highlights from that game below.
In the final 2021 Spring practice, Dotson picked up right where he left off. He was the catalyst for the Nittany Lions passing attack. On the first drive of the game, he took a Sean Clifford pass 65 yards to the house. The senior playmaker is the unquestioned leader in the WR room and will be a player to watch and target in your Devy leagues.
Parker Washington, Sophomore
Last season, the talented sophomore out of Texas was thrust onto the stage in his true freshman campaign. He immediately showed that the game was not bigger than he could handle. In his very first game against Indiana, he found paydirt. You can see from his stats below that he possesses a true nose for the endzone.
The highlight of Washington’s first year in Happy Valley was when he set a PSU freshman record nine grabs against Michigan. At 5’10′ and 210 pounds, Washington brings a physical style to the field. When discussing his body type, Washington said that “I feel like my weight helps me to be able to block because playing slot you have to deal with the Big Ten linebackers.” In the 2021 Spring game, the youngster solidified himself as the number two WR. Look for Washington to build on his strong freshman performance and develop into a reliable part of the PSU passing attack.
The Number Three Wide Receiver
There is currently an open competition for the third WR in the PSU offense. The most likely candidate for the position is KeAndre Lambert-Smith. The young Sophomore was forced into game action in 2020, making a handful of starts alongside fellow Freshman Parker Washington. In the Spring games, Lambert-Smith operated as the third option. Other potential candidates are Justin Weller, Daniel George, and converted corner Marquis Wilson. This is a position battle that will play out through the summer and potentially into the beginning of the season.
Brenton Strange, RS Sophomore
Penn State is arguably in the running for the moniker of Tight End U. In recent seasons Jesse James, Mike Gesicki, and Pat Freiermuth have all been drafted by NFL squads. Brenton Strange is the nominal starter for the 2021 team. Following the injury that prematurely ended Pat Freiermuth’s run as the PSU starter, Strange took over the top spot on the team. At 6’3″ and 246 pounds, he is a different type of athlete than his recent predecessors. Built more like an H-back, he will present a different type of challenge for opposing Linebackers. As good as he may be, his running mate is the true dynasty and devy prospect to keep an eye on.
Theo Johnson, Sophomore
Despite not having the experience of his teammate, Theo Johnson is the player with the most upside in the TE room. The former number one recruit out of Canada, Johnson is an absolute mismatch on the field. At an imposing 6’6″ and 253 pounds, he is almost a carbon copy clone of former PSU star Mike Gesicki. When he committed to PSU last season, I wrote the devy report for Dynasty Nerds, which you can find here. This kid has everything you are looking for in a move TE. He reportedly showed well in the Spring Practices and is in line for an increased workload following the departure of Freiermuth. He is one of the best Devy prospects on the entire roster.
It was truly disappointing for the 2021 Spring Practice games not to be open to the public. Covid-19 has exerted a profound impact on the lives of people around the world. With camera crews not filming the practice and public fans not attending, we are forced to rely on second-hand information. For a season ticket holder such as myself, this is disappointing. However, we all know that common sacrifice is required to move forward through this pandemic. For certain, football is back, and the 2021 Penn State Nittany Lions squad is loaded with talent. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye on the squad. I expect vast improvement over last season, and with the departure of Justin Fields, the Big Ten could be up for grabs. It’s gonna be fun.
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