Penn State Football: Ranking the Top-10 Offensive Players of The James Franklin Era - NittanyCentral

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Penn State Football: Ranking the Top-10 Offensive Players of The James Franklin Era

Under head coach James Franklin, Penn State Football has a reputation for developing elite skill position players, and top NFL Draft picks.

Penn State Football
Penn State Nittany Lions Head Coach James Franklin speaks with Penn State Nittany Lions Quarterback Sean Clifford (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

While Franklin has yet to lead Penn State into the College Football Playoff, the program has sent some elite playmakers to the next level over the past decade.

The Top-10 Offensive Players of the James Franklin Era at Penn State

10. Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton

While DaeSean Hamilton is not the most physically gifted receiver of the James Franklin era, he was one of the most surehanded and that certainly earned his spot on this list.

Hamilton still holds the record for career receptions at Penn State, an astonishing 214 (31 more than Jahan Dotson in second).

Hamilton also ranks second in career receiving yards (2,842) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (18). His surehandedness and efficiency helped anchor the 2016 Penn State receiving corps that helped earn Franklin his first Big Ten title. For his efforts, Hamilton earned a fourth round selection by the Denver Broncos in the 2018 NFL draft.

9. Running back Journey Brown

Although he had to medically retire ahead of the 2020 season, Journey Brown remains one of the most physically gifted players to play for Penn State in the Franklin era.

While sharing the workload with Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, and Ricky Slade, Brown led the Nittany Lions in rushing in 2019 with 890 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, averaging 6.9 yards per carry on the season.

Brown capped his season with a historic Cotton Bowl performance against Memphis, rushing for 202 yards and breaking Saquon Barkley’s Penn State bowl record for rushing yards (194). Brown’s 12.6 yards per carry in the Cotton Bowl also shattered Penn State’s record set by Curt Warner in the 1980 Fiesta Bowl (8.6 yards per carry).

Wide receiver KJ Hamler

K.J. Hamler
Denver Broncos wide receiver KJ Hamler (Photo by Steve Nurenberg/Icon Sportswire)

Nicknamed the “human joystick,” KJ Hamler was extremely exciting to watch every time he touched the football for Penn State.

Hamler was Sean Clifford’s favorite target in the 2019 season that saw Penn State go 11-2 and win the Cotton Bowl. Hamler owns the second longest receiving touchdown in Penn State history, a 93-yard score against the Ohio State Buckeyes in a narrow 2018 loss.

Hamler was selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos after his three seasons at Penn State.

7. Quarterback Trace McSorley

Penn State Football, Trace McSorley
Penn State Football Quarterback Trace McSorley (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Trace McSorley may not have had the most arm talent as a quarterback during his time at Penn State, but he made up for it with heart and hard work.

McSorley left Penn State holding most Penn State quarterback records and leading Penn State to its last Big Ten title and win over Ohio State. McSorley was a fan favorite in Happy Valley and I am sure many will take issue with his name being so far down this list.


6. Offensive tackle Olu Fashanu

Penn State Football, Olu Fashanu
Penn State Football OT Olu Fashanu (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

While Olu Fashanu was not a “skill” player for the Nittany Lions, I would be hard-pressed to leave him off the list of top Penn State offensive players of the James Franklin era.

Fashanu’s position on this list might still be too low, as he was one of the most solid offensive tackles in the entire country over the past two seasons. Fashanu allowed one sack during his entire Penn State tenure and helped anchor the blindside for both Clifford and Drew Allar.

Fashanu was rewarded for his stellar play by being selected eleventh overall in the 2023 NFL draft.

5. Tight end Pat Freiermuth

Pat Freiermuth was a force to be reckoned with at Penn State, despite being in a skill position that is not as highly recognized as the other offensive skill positions.

Freiermuth ranks ninth all-time in receiving touchdowns at Penn State and holds the record for receiving touchdowns by a tight-end. His three year career in Happy Valley got cut short during the COVID season with a season ending injury, but Freiermuth was still able to earn his way into a second round selection in the 2021 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

4. Quarterback Sean Clifford

Penn State Football, Sean Clifford
Penn State Football Quarterback Sean Clifford (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Yes, this will surprise many who read this list that Sean Clifford is ranked so highly.

Despite some fans issues with Clifford, he left Penn State with almost all career records for quarterbacks, including passing completion percentage, longest touchdown pass, most passing completions, most passing yards, and most passing touchdowns.

Clifford was rewarded for his longevity and performance over five seasons with the Nittany Lions with a fifth round selection in the 2023 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers.

3. Wide receiver Chris Godwin

While his stats may not stack up as highly as some other players on this list, Godwin’s ability to make big plays down the field for Penn State was a crucial aspect of the 2016 Penn State offense that won the Big Ten championship.

Despite only staying at Penn State for three seasons, Godwin is tied for fifth all-time in receiving touchdowns (18) and sixth in receiving yards (2,421). After securing a career-high 187 yards and two touchdowns in the 2017 Rose Bowl, Godwin declared early for the NFL draft and was a third round selection by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he won a Super Bowl in the 2020 season.


2. Wide receiver Jahan Dotson

Jahan Dotson, Penn State Football
Jahan Dotson (1) of the Washington Commanders makes a catch during the Washington Commanders OTA on June 1, 2022 at the Park in Ashburn, Virginia. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire)

Jahan Dotson was sensational for Penn State, ranking second all-time at Penn State in career receptions, receptions in a season, and yards in a single season.

Dotson ranks fourth all-time at Penn State in receiving yards with 2,757 yards and second all-time in receiving touchdowns (25). After four seasons with the Nittany Lions, Dotson was a first round pick from the Washington Commanders (16th overall) in the 2022 NFL draft.

1. Running back Saquon Barkley

Saquon Barkley
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) heads to the goal line in the second quarter past Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nolan Smith (3), Sunday, January 7, 2024.

Could there be anyone else in this top spot?

Saquon’s otherworldly athleticism was on display for three years at Penn State, as he helped the 2016 team win James Franklin’s first Big Ten title and finished atop the Penn State record books for rushing touchdowns (43) and total touchdowns (53).

Barkley ranks second all-time at Penn State with 3,932 rushing yards and was the second overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft, the highest selection under James Franklin.

Could Drew Allar, Kaytron Allen, Tyler Warren, or anyone else earn their way onto this list this season? Andy Kotelnicki’s energized, creative offense could completely overhaul this list by seasons end as Penn State has plenty of players just on the outside looking in that are still on the 2024 Nittany Lions’ roster.

MORE: Ranking the Top Individual Performances of The James Franklin Era

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