Taking A Look At Penn State’s Loaded Backfield


Despite what stats may say, Penn State’s backfield is loaded with talent from top to bottom, add the 2015 recruiting class that includes Saquon Barkley and Andre Robinson and the Nittany Lions have one of the best backfields in not just the Big Ten but in college football.

Without adding the additions of Barkley and Robinson, the Nittany Lions return 10 running backs from the 2014 team including expected 2015 starter Akeel Lynch. The team lost at least three running backs with Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak both graduating while Cole Chiappialle transferred to Shippensburg University. With Belton, Zwinak and Chiappialle gone, only one Nittany Lion running back who saw playing time in the backfield last season returns for the 2015 season.

Out of the ten running backs that are returning next season, only four are on scholarship with Mark Allen, Nick Scott, Johnathan Thomas and Akeel Lynch. Let’s take a quick look at the four running backs under scholarship that are returning.

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The Returnees:

Mark Allen:

  • Height: 5’7
  • Weight: 185
  • High School: DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, MD)

Coming out of high school in the 2014 recruiting class as three-star prospect, Allen presents an explosive (40-yard dash: 4.40) running back who also has a good amount of elusiveness. Allen saw no playing time during the 2014 season but may see time in the backfield or even as a slot receiver in the 2015 season.

Akeel Lynch:

  • Height: 6’1
  • Weight: 215
  • High School: St. Francis (Attica, NY)

Lynch is the only current returning running back who has seen playing time during his career. Lynch last season rushed for 678 yards and four touchdowns on 174 carriers in the 2014 season including touchdowns in each of the last three regular season games. Lynch has a good amount of speed for a player of his stature and is a quality running back at the college level and should be the starting running back in 2015.

Career Stats:

  • 2013: 60 attempts, 358 yards, 6.0 average, 1 TD
  • 2014: 147 attempts, 678 yards, 4.6 average, 4 TD / 10 rec, 69 yards, 6.9 average
  • Career: 207 attempts, 1,036 yards, 5.0 average, 5 TD / 10 rec, 69 yards, 6.9 average

Johnathan Thomas: 

  • Height: 5’11
  • Weight: 205
  • High School: St. John’s Prep (Danvers, MA)

A three-star running back coming out of high school, Thomas presents a skill set that could have the red shirt freshman become a big time contributor over the course of the next few seasons at Penn State. At his five-foot-eleven, 205 frame, Thomas also presents a good amount of speed with a 40-yard dash that was just under 4.50. Thomas should see some decent playing time in the 2015 season, potentially in becoming a third down and red zone running back.

Nick Scott:

  • Height: 5’11
  • Weight: 192
  • High School: Fairfax (Fairfax, VA)

Coming out of high school, Scott was ranked as a three-star athlete out of Fairfax, Virginia. Only receiving four offers, Scott committed to Penn State over Boston College, South Florida and Big Ten rival Nebraska. A running back with good size and speed, Scott has the potential to be a Bill Belton type of running back for Penn State when he hits the field. When it comes to playing time, Scott could see some playing time but probably won’t see much with Barkley and Robinson both coming in for the 2015 season.

The New Guys:

With the backfield duo of Barkley and Robinson in the future, Penn State will have arguably one of the best backfields in college football after the 2015 season not to mention the impacts of Mark Allen, Johnathan Thomas, and Nick Scott following the 2015 season.

Saquon Barkley: 

  • Height: 5’11
  • Weight: 190
  • High School: Whitehall (Whitehall, PA)

Arguable one of the top ten running backs in the country, Barkley is potentially the best running back Penn State has had since Silas Redd. Barkley presents a great combination of size, speed, elusiveness, and agility. Pegged as being one running back who may be an impact running back as a freshman by Bleacher Report, Barkley should see playing time as a Freshman and could definitely be making impact early on.

Andre Robinson: 

  • Height: 5’9
  • Weight: 205
  • High School: Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg, PA)

Reigning from the same high school as NFL running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy. Robinson presents a combination of vision and strength to rumble his way through offensive lines. A hard nosed runner at five-foot-nine, 205 pounds, Robinson uses his explosiveness to get out ahead of defenses when he lacks speed. Robinson will most likely be red shirted or see very little time in the 2015 season but should be a major contributor to the program in the future.

Projected 2015 Running Depth Chart: 

The following depth chart does not include run-on running backs.

  1. Sr/Jr – Akeel Lynch
  2. So/Fr – Johnathan Thomas OR Fr/Fr Saquon Barkley
  3. Fr/Fr – Saquon Barkley OR So/Fr Johnathan Thomas
  4. So/Fr – Nick Scott
  5. So/Fr – Mark Allen
  6. Fr/Fr – Andre Robinson (Redshirt)