Taylor Stubblefield had a tall task ahead of him when he became Penn State’s wide receivers coach this offseason.
Taking the job after a one-year stint at Miami, Stubblefield was handed the reins of a position group that recently lost previous starters in KJ Hamler and Justin Shorter.
But after working out some early season woes, the coach and his players righted the ship and became one of the most reliable units in the Nittany Lion’s scheme.
Junior wideout Jahan Dotson led the charge, tallying a league-high 884 receiving yards and eight touchdowns — averaging 98.2 receiving yards per game in the process.
The Nazareth, Pennsylvania, native broke out as an upperclassman, as he produced 396 more receiving yards this season than he did in 2019.
Although his efforts earned him a spot on multiple All-Big Ten teams, Dotson wasn’t the only wide receiver to exceed expectations in Penn State’s conference-only schedule.
Both true freshmen, Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith achieved early starting nods in what seemed to be a shallow depth chart at the wideout spot.
Then, they became two of the best pass-catchers for quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Will Levis.
Washington completed his first collegiate campaign as the second-leading receiver for the Nittany Lions, behind only Dotson with 489 yards on 36 catches.
Lambert-Smith, on the other hand, filled more of a situational role but still helped take the pressure off of his teammates with 15 catches and 138 yards of his own.
With the help of its overachieving wide receiver corps, Penn State closed its nine-game slate fourth in the conference with 256 passing yards per game — above air raid programs like Ohio State and Minnesota.
So after multiple deserved questions at the position, the blue and white’s wide receivers actually improved on their numbers from 2019.
As a whole, the wideout group averaged 183 receiving yards per game this season. In 2019, they turned in just 139.8 yards per game a year ago.
Now, they potentially hold the key that could open up an offense that failed to meet its lofty expectations as a whole in 2020.
Heading into Stubblefield’s second season at the helm of the wide receiver position, there are a few questions that need to be answered.
The breakout season from Dotson may propel the junior to forgo his senior season in favor of entering his name into the 2021 NFL Draft, but no decision has yet been made public from the Big Ten’s leader in receiving yards.
Even if Dotson elects to take his talents to the pros, this group is in good hands with current and incoming athletes.
Washington, who became the first true freshman wideout to start a season opener since Brandon Polk in 2015, caught a Penn State true freshman record nine passes against Michigan earlier this year.
And he still has at least two more seasons until he’s eligible for the NFL Draft.
Assuming the Texas native and former 4-star recruit continues to progress, Washington — an already explosive playmaker — could etch his name atop some of Penn State’s receiving leaderboards before his time in Happy Valley is complete.
He isn’t the only wideout showing future promise, however.
Lambert-Smith also came in as a 4-star prospect and was an efficient option with limited opportunities behind Dotson and Washington this season.
Alongside the two starting true freshmen, James Franklin signed three wideout recruits on National Signing Day earlier this month.
Among those signings is 4-star Lonnie White Jr., who is the 34th-ranked wide receiver prospect according to the 247Sports composite rating.
While Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense still has mountains to climb to become one of the more explosive offenses in the country, the offensive coordinator can rest assured that his wide receiver position will be a deep, dependable group in the coming season.
I guess he can focus his efforts on finding a long-term solution at quarterback to pass the ball to them.