Penn State's Overrated and Underrated Position Groups

Pro Football Focus is grading the nation's best position groups. How do the Nittany Lions rank?
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar hands off to running back Nicholas Singleton during a Big Ten Conference football game at Beaver Stadium.
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar hands off to running back Nicholas Singleton during a Big Ten Conference football game at Beaver Stadium. / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Where do Penn State's position groups stack up nationally entering 2024? Pro Football Focus is ranking each group ahead of the forthcoming college football season. While the Nittany Lions (rightly) aren't ranked at offensive line or wide receiver, they do appear on several lists, notably at running back and quarterback.

So is Penn State overrated, underrated or seated just right on PFF's top-10 lists? Let's examine.

Quarterbacks: No. 9

Penn State with a top-10 quarterback room in the country? We're here for it. As PFF suggests, the criticism directed at Drew Allar last season was overwrought. The site even calls him "the most disrespected quarterback in college football." Allar had some first-year issues, sure, but he worked with the tools and offensive framework given him. As a second-year starter, Allar should lend a stronger hand to the offense's operation. The completion rate (59.9 percent) should improve this season, even if the interceptions (2) go up as well.

Meanwhile, Beau Pribula is exactly the kind of quarterback teams like at No. 2: reliable with some changeup potential that makes him a situational threat. Penn State's primary issue is numbers. With Jaxon Smolik injured, the Nittany Lions have just three scholarship quarterbacks currently available, including true freshman Ethan Grunkemeyer. Overall, though, PFF's ranking looks proper.

Running Backs: No. 4

It's difficult to place Penn State higher than No. 4, considering what Ohio State, UCF and Georgia return at running back. So calling the Nittany Lions' backfield among the nation's best seems just right at No. 4.

Despite the well-covered territory regarding explosive plays, Penn State's backfield still led the Big Ten in rushing yards (2,403), yards per game (184.85) and yards per carry (4.67) last season. And the twin alphas of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen return for their third seasons. Meanwhile, freshman Quinton Martin Jr. could provide some additional explosiveness as the No. 3 back.

Defensive Line: No. 7

Not sure how Penn State could be ranked higher than this preseason, given the breadth of talent returning at places like Michigan, Ohio State and Georgia. However, by season's end, Penn State's defensive line could bulldoze its way higher on the list.

Abdul Carter's move from linebacker to end makes the headlines, but Penn State already returned a pretty sharp group of edge rushers. Dani Dennis-Sutton is sitting on his breakout season, as is Amin Vanover, while Smith Vilbert returns from injury as a relative unknown. Meanwhile, the Lions are loaded inside, led by sixth-year returnees Dvon Ellies and Hakeem Beamon and swing player Zane Durant. Allen and line coach Deion Barnes can shape this line in a variety of ways, making it perhaps a bit underrated entering the season.

Linebackers: No. 8

PFF is enamored with Penn State's linebackers, suggesting that they would have ranked higher had Carter remained with the unit (he'll still likely play some linebacker). PFF raves about experienced middle linebacker Kobe King, really likes sophomore Tony Rojas and even sings the praises of Dom DeLuca.

However, this ranking might be a little high for Penn State's linebackers, who will play a reduced role in Allen's 4-2-5 formations. Good group, but a tad overrated.

Secondary: Unranked

PFF ranks five Big Ten secondaries in the top 10, and it's difficult to argue with the talent at Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa. However, the Lions return three qualified starters at safety, including one of PFF's highest-graded safeties in KJ Winston, and a deep well of talent at cornerback. In fact, position coach Terry Smith called this his deepest group of corners.

The Lions addressed losing three NFL-caliber cornerbacks by bringing in transfers A.J. Harris (Georgia) and Jalen Kimber (Florida), both of whom could start. Cam Miller, who started the Peach Bowl, is ready for his moment, and redshirt sophomore Audavion Collins is the team's best player fans don't know about yet. It seems that PFF is underrating Penn State's secondary.

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich.


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Mark Wogenrich

MARK WOGENRICH

Mark Wogenrich is Editor and Publisher of AllPennState, the site for Penn State news on SI's FanNation Network. He has covered Penn State sports for more than two decades across three coaching staffs and three Rose Bowls.