The Penn State tight ends have been a focal point in the Nittany Lion offense for several years now. First in line was Jesse James. Then it was Mike Gesicki. After those two it was Penn State great Pat Freiermuth. Freieirmuth was poised to have his best season yet in 2020, but an injury kept him sidelined halfway through the shortened season. He then declared for the NFL draft. Over his three seasons as a Nittany Lion Freiermuth accounted for 16 touchdowns, 1,185 receiving yards, and 92 receptions. He was a favorite target for both Trace McSorley and Sean Clifford. Not only does he have exceptional talent but also reliability and toughness. Some might think it will be difficult to replace him, but he has been molding the younger tight ends below him. They are poised to take over. So, who are the remaining Penn State tight ends?
Who Are the Penn State Tight Ends?
With Freiermuth departing for the NFL fans thought that redshirt sophomore Zack Kuntz would take over as the main tight end target in 2021. However, Kuntz decided to enter his name into the Transfer Portal. This was shortly after former tight ends coach Tyler Bowen left for Urban Meyer’s staff in Jacksonville. So, who is left? The below tight ends will be learning under the newly promoted tight ends coach and former Nittany Lion lineman Ty Howle. Head Coach James Franklin was quick to make that promotion after Bowen left.
Tight End One: Brenton Strange
Strange was one of the tight ends to take over after Freiermuth was injured during the 2020 season. He is a redshirt freshman that appeared in seven games in 2020. He grabbed two touchdowns on 17 receptions. When he was entering Penn State his skill-set was compared to that of Gesicki. It was projected that he would redshirt his first year as a Nittany Lion to add bulk and improve his blocking. Both of these were worked on throughout his first year in blue and white. His blocking improved dramatically and he delivered when called upon in 2020 and will likely improve even more before the 2021 season.
Back in November when Strange learned that Freiermuth would be having season-ending surgery he was quoted saying, “I knew it was an opportunity that I had to take advantage of. I knew I had to step up big time.” Then against Iowa Strange went out and hauled in three receptions and one touchdown. He still has a lot to improve on, but look for Strange to be the number one tight end in 2021.
Tight End Two: Theo Johnson
As a true freshman in 2020 Johnson appeared in three games. He had four receptions for 56 yards, averaging 14 yards per reception. He didn’t haul in that many passes while helping fill Freiermuth’s shoes, but he did do well as a blocker. The freshman will likely be second on the depth chart behind Strange entering the 2021 season. Johnson will get many chances to catch passes from Clifford, or whoever the quarterback is for the Nittany Lions. He was primarily a wide receiver in high school but was projected to develop into a nice pass-catching tight end in college. Analysts suggested that Johnson would need to improve his blocking to be a successful tight end. He did just that in 2020 and will likely improve on that aspect of his game even more under Howle.
Tight End Three: Tyler Warren
True freshman tight end Warren appeared in two games in 2020. As a senior in high school, Warren accounted for 1,149 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. He added 677 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Yes, you read that right. Warren threw touchdowns. He was once a Virginia Tech quarterback commit. He went up to 244 pounds after arriving at Penn State. Further, he will look to improve even more from a once three-star recruit according to the 247Sports Composite. Warren will have his work cut out for him in a talented tight end room, but the potential to learn and improve is there.
Tight End Four: Khalil Dinkins
Dinkins was signed in December as a part of the new 2021 recruiting class. Dinkins is a three-star recruit according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Further, he is the 17th ranked prospect out of Pennsylvania and the 34th ranked tight end in the class. Former tight end coach Bowen likened Dinkins to both Strange and Warren coming out of high school. He went on to state, “You look at a guy that has incredible athleticism, the ability to run after the catch. … A big frame that’s going to be able to develop and add weight.” He will be entering a talented group of guys at the tight end position for Penn State. There are several tight ends that were former Nittany Lions thriving in the NFL. One more will be added after the NFL draft.
After looking at the talent in the tight end room it doesn’t seem like there will be a huge drop in production with the departure of Freiermuth. New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich will have plenty of weapons to choose from for several years. The tight ends at Penn State have always complimented the receivers well. Oftentimes being more reliable in the passing game than the receiving group. This shouldn’t be a problem moving forward as the wide receivers have stepped up, but having a solid tight end group is something that is very important to the Penn State offense.