In 2023, Penn State Football struggled in the passing game finishing 77th in the nation averaging 215 passing yards per game, with starting quarterback Drew Allar and the wide receivers seeming to be on different pages too often, especially in critical moments in games.
Heading into 2024, Penn State lost part-time starter and Kent State transfer Dante Cephas back to the transfer portal but did pick up a key addition at the position in former five-star Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming.
Outside of those two and the loss of redshirt freshman Christian Driver, Penn State’s wide receiver room has not changed much heading into 2024.
The lone 2024 freshman addition, Josiah Brown, is rehabbing an injury and does not look to be a factor for the Nittany Lions in 2024 while he recovers.
So, barring any spring transfers in or out, Penn State will need the young players from the 2023 roster to break out to raise the level of play in 2024.
Here is a breakdown of the competition at the position:
Penn State Football Competition for Starting WR Jobs
After four years at Big Ten rival Ohio State, the former number one recruit in Pennsylvania returns to play for the Nittany Lions in 2024.
For the Buckeyes, Fleming caught 79 passes for 963 yards and seven touchdowns over four seasons, with a career best 533 yards and six touchdowns in 2022.
Penn State Football is counting on Fleming being both a feature receiver in new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki’s offense and also a leader for the younger players in the Nittany Lions wide receiver room. So far, Fleming has received high praises from teammates in his few weeks on campus and will look to change the culture of the receiver room with the help of wide receivers coach Marques Hagans.
With his experience and skillset, Fleming should pencil in as a starter for the Nittany Lions in 2024.
Fifth year senior KeAndre Lambert-Smith has always been seen as incredibly talented and falling just short of putting it all together on the field for Penn State.
Lambert-Smith has shown flashes of superstar potential (see his 124 yard Rose Bowl performance followed up by his 123 yard performance in week one of 2023 against WVU) but has also struggled at times to stay consistent on the field.
After accounting for only two catches in the final four games of the Nittany Lions 2023 season, Lambert-Smith again goes into the offseason with question marks around his potential for 2024 and beyond.
As the most productive receiver on the Penn State roster for 2024 (with over 1700 career yards and 11 touchdowns), however, Penn State fans should hope that new offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki can find a way to get the most out of Lambert-Smith’s final year on campus and play to his strengths in 2024.
Lambert-Smith pencils in as a second starter for the Nittany Lions in 2024 at the moment.
Trey Wallace III
Harrison (Trey) Wallace III dealt with two injuries that really set the receiver back in 2023, missing 5 games and only catching 19 passes for 228 yards and one touchdown on the season.
As one of the most hyped players coming out of spring practice and fall camp last season, it was disappointing to see the injuries hamper what could have been a breakout season for the rising senior wide receiver last season.
Heading into 2024, Wallace will face stiff competition for the third starting spot on Penn State’s offense, the spot that Wallace held when healthy in 2023. With 38 career catches for 501 yards and two touchdowns, Wallace is the most experienced receiver behind Fleming and Lambert-Smith, but his injuries have allowed younger players to catch up behind him.
Wallace will have spring practice and summer camp to compete for the third starting receiver position next season.
Despite only catching six passes for 56 yards and one touchdown in 2023, Kaden Saunders showed flashes of potential for the Nittany Lions last season.
In addition to playing offense, Saunders also started at punt returner for the Nittany Lions for the first half of the season, eventually losing the role to Daequan Hardy after a ridiculous two punt return touchdown performance against UMass.
With another set of spring practices under his belt, the redshirt sophomore should compete for the third starting wide receiver spot, or at least rotational snaps at wide receiver, for the Nittany Lions in 2024 and could also find himself returning punts again for the Nittany Lions next season.
Omari Evans is an interesting case. After breaking out at Penn State’s spring game last season, Evans was not seen on the field for much of the season, playing in only 10 games and seeing limited snaps in the games he played.
In 2023, Evans failed to catch more than one pass in a game, however, in Penn State’s regular season finale, Evans showed a glimpse of his big play potential, beating the defense for a 60-yard catch to set Penn State up on the one yard line.
Evans will have another spring and fall camp to prove that he should be on the field for the Nittany Lions and could compete for the third starting position.
Liam Clifford made one start last season for the Nittany Lions and played in all 13 games, catching 13 passes for 130 yards. The rising redshirt junior will have the opportunity to fight for expanded reps and even the third starting wide receiver position this spring and fall.
Best of the rest
Outside of the receivers already discussed, Penn State has former transfer Malik McClain, Anthony Ivey, Tyler Johnson, Malick Meiga, and Carmelo Taylor who all have limited experience for Penn State but could have the opportunity in the spring to compete for playing time in the fall.
With two starters penciled in, Penn State should expect fierce competition for the third starting spot.
No matter who wins the third starting spot at wide receiver, however, Penn State will need at least a few of the players in the room to make a substantial step forward in 2024 if the Nittany Lions are to challenge for the Big Ten championship or a spot in the inaugural 12-team college football playoff.