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Mass Transfers From Penn State — What does it mean?

Why are potential starters leaving the Penn State football program?

NCAA Football: Penn State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

High profile transfers monopolized headlines so far this offseason. Former Georgia quarterback Justin Fields going to Ohio State and former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts going to Oklahoma made a big splash.

But underneath the national buzz, there is something odd going on in State College…

This time of year, in every program, we see transfers. Kids leave for a variety of reasons—hurt feelings, homesickness, lack of playing time, etc.

Sometimes it’s “carefrontations”. Coaches meet with players who, for whatever reason, are not going to see the field in the coming season. Kids who are talented enough to play at another school often decide to transfer.

That happened at Penn State after the Bowl Game, at first with just a couple of announcements…

...but what started as a trickle of players looking to transfer became a flood.

Ten players announced that they entered the NCAA transfer portal. That means they can, but don’t have to, transfer to another school.

And as I said, they go for lots of different reasons.

Sophomore linebacker Daelun Darien wants to be closer to his ailing father in Baltimore.

Offensive lineman Sterling Jenkins, wide receiver Brandon Polk, and cornerback Zack McPhearson are graduates. All could contribute somewhere else.

Brandon Polk was a contributor for Penn State over the past few years. However, his drops and poor route running buried him on the depth chart by the bowl game.

Offensive lineman Alex Gellerstedt and tight end Danny Dalton both lost out to younger players this year. Gellerstadt sat third on the depth chart at right tackle. Dalton began the season as the co-starter. But he was listed as the fourth tight end by the bowl game.

The big shock, for me, is talented wide receiver Juwan Johnson. He started the season as a co-starter. He was demoted to second string by the bowl game.

Johnson will be fondly remembered by Iowa fans for his walk off touchdown catch in 2018:

I expected Johnson to be the next Allen Robinson or Chris Godwin. He’s got the size at 6’4”, 225 pounds, to be a dominant receiver. But like Polk, his technique suffered this season. That’s due in part to injury. I think it’s also due to the departure of wide receivers’ coach Josh Gattis for Alabama in 2018 (he’s now at Michigan, which sucks).

Johnson played 37 games for Penn State over four seasons. He redshirted 2015. Between 2016 and 2018, he caught 81 balls for 1,123 yards. And 2017 was by far his best season. He caught 54 balls for 701 yards and that brilliant touchdown for the win.

The latest news on Juwan had him talking to Oregon.

As with Johnson, I am surprised by two other potential starters in 2019 decisions to leave. Both Ayron Monroe and Lamont Wade could have started in the defensive backfield next year.

I find it hard to believe that both these guys were pushed out by competition from younger players. Their departure is a head scratcher.

In total, Penn State loses ten players to transfer. This is an unusually large number (I don’t have specifics, but this feels like two or three times normal). Even Michigan only loses six or seven guys a season. So ten departures is more than a Harbaugh of transfers.

I wish all these kids success in their next iteration…unless they are playing us. But losing Johnson is disheartening.

More importantly, what does this say about the program?

Detractors (and you know who you are) are using this as yet another reason to mock James Franklin. However, his actual track record shows a steady improvement in recruiting talent. He’s not always the best at realizing potential…which is frustrating.

But in terms of selling the University and bringing in talent, he’s one of the best coaches in the country. That’s why I’m not panicking over this flood of transfers. The last two recruiting classes are full of blue chip athletes. I suspect the departures are kids looking for chances to start somewhere else.

As one wit wrote:

Maybe some of these guys are reading the writing on the wall. Maybe the coaching staff is handing them a reading light.

One obvious takeaway is that Penn State will be a much younger team in 2019. That makes it much more difficult to predict its wins and losses.

Your Friend,