As the spring semester began at Penn State, news surfaced that five Nittany Lions were leaving the program. We take a look at each of those players, give our thoughts on why they are departing and rate the impact of each .
WR Geno Lewis
WHAT’S UP: Penn State’s second-leading receiver in 2014, Lewis saw a dramatic decrease in playing time and production in 2015. The emergence of Chris Godwin as an elite Big Ten pass-catcher had something to do with that. But so did Lewis’ inability to run precise routes. He was terrific in jump-ball situations but had difficulty on plays where timing and route-running were priorities. With big, athletic redshirt freshmen Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson set to hit the field in 2016, Lewis’ playing time was likely to drop even more.
WHERE IS HE GOING: The good news is he graduated in December and is eligible to play immediately at his new school, Oklahoma. As good as they are, the Sooners are in dire need of experienced receivers for 2016 — prior to Lewis’ decision, their top three wideouts figured to be junior college transfers. Lewis does not have to be a star at Oklahoma, just a solid producer and veteran leader. This is a good match.
IMPACT: Whether or not you agree with the PSU staff cutting back on Lewis’ playing time last season, it happened. And he figured to see even fewer snaps in 2016. So this is not a high-impact defection and was expected.
RB Akeel Lynch
WHAT’S UP: Lynch patiently waited his turn for a chance to be THE man at running back for Penn State. And it looked like it was finally going to happen in 2015, his redshirt junior year. But then Saquon Barkley happened. The true freshman Barkley emerged as the best true freshman in the B1G and won second-team All-Conference honors. Lynch was relegated to backup duties — again. With an already loaded backfield, true freshman Andre Robinson coming out of a redshirt and five-star prospect Miles Sanders set to sign in February, well, Lynch’s best shot of being THE back is now at another school.
WHERE IS HE GOING: TBA. Lynch said he will graduate at the end of the spring semester, which will allow him to leave as a post-grad transfer and be immediately eligible at another FBS school.
IMPACT: On one hand, you had a veteran back whose 5.03 career yards per carry were only slightly lower than the number posted by the Heisman winner with whom he shared the No. 22 (John Cappelletti, 5.08 ypc). On the other hand, Lynch had a total of two carries for eight yards in PSU’s last six games of 2015, had been injury prone and was looking at an absolute best case scenario of being a second-teamer in 2016. It’ll take a string of injuries for him to be missed next season.
LB Troy Reeder
WHAT’S UP: Reeder was slated to be a backup as a redshirt freshman in 2015 before a season-ending knee injury to Mike linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White in the opening loss at Temple. That caused a ripple effect that resulted in Reeder starting 11 games at weakside ’backer. He finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles. But the Delaware native wanted to be closer to home.
WHERE IS HE GOING: Reeder transferred to Delaware, where he has strong family ties (his dad played there and his younger brother just committed there). Since it is an FCS program, he will not have to sit out a year, which is good since he had already used his redshirt at Penn State.
IMPACT: With Wartman-White, Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell all set to return in 2016, for the short term this is more about depth. As we saw in 2015, a second-teamer (which Reeder was likely to be in ’16) can find himself starting in the blink of an eye. Even including former walk-on Von Walker, PSU now has only six scholarship LBs on campus. Further, Reeder emerged as one of the team’s vocal young leaders last season. So of the transfers to date, this one is by far the most difficult for the Lions.
LB Gary Wooten
WHAT’S UP: Wooten was a converted high school defensive end who was a late addition to Penn State’s Class of 2012. Back in the summer of that year, then-coach Bill O’Brien and his staff were scrambling to make sure they had enough bodies in the program, so they took a chance on Wooten. He became a backup and special teams guy for the Lions. But when Wartman-White was injured vs. Temple last year, the staff tried replacing him with Wooten. It did not go well. Cabinda was moved from Will to Mike the next day. At 6-2, 237, Wooten is one of those guys who is not quite big enough to play DE but not quite athletic enough to play LB at the Big Ten level.
WHERE IS HE GOING: Nothing was definite as of this writing, but there were reports that Wooten would land at Duquesne of the FCS. That would make a lot of sense, even though, as a graduate, Wooten could transfer to a FBS school and be immediately eligible. However, at the FCS level, he can likely play defensive end. FWIW, Duquesne’s defensive coordinator is former Lion Dave Opfar.
IMPACT: Unlike Reeder, Wooten wasn’t equipped to be an every-down linebacker in the Big Ten. So even in terms of depth, this is not a big hit.
WHAT’S UP: The Class of 2014 member arrived at Penn State still healing from an ACL injury he sustained in high school. After redshirting as a true freshman, he saw action in only five games last season, mostly on special teams, but did not make any tackles. He reportedly was still struggling with knee issues. With Grant Haley, John Reid and Christian Campbell already ahead of him on the depth chart, rookie Garrett Taylor starting to turn heads in practice, and Zech McPhearson set to sign in February, the long-term prognosis for playing time was poor.
WHERE IS HE GOING: As of this writing, it was not clear if Worley intended to try to play somewhere else or would call it a career.
IMPACT: He was not expected to compete for a starting job or even be a primary backup in 2016. So there is really no impact here. Unfortunately, he never seemed to be quite the same after sustaining the ACL injury in high school.