Penn State: 6 Lions on The Athletic’s Top Freaks In College Football for 2023 list

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 24: Defensive end Chop Robinson #44 of the Penn State Nittany Lions in action against offensive lineman Brayden Swartout #68 of the Central Michigan Chippewas during the second half at Beaver Stadium on September 24, 2022 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 24: Defensive end Chop Robinson #44 of the Penn State Nittany Lions in action against offensive lineman Brayden Swartout #68 of the Central Michigan Chippewas during the second half at Beaver Stadium on September 24, 2022 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Penn State isn’t getting slept on entering the 2023 campaign.

As each day passes, another new hypothetical list hits the airwaves from the major sports media outlets as the start of the new college football season inches closer.

For Lions fans? While these lists are projections and can often be a bit far-fetched, it’s still great to see so many players getting national recognition from respected writers for legitimate outlets.

Earlier this week, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic released his official College Football Freaks List for 2023, a staple for the longtime sportswriter.

"I have been writing about the biggest Freaks in college football for almost 20 years. I never imagined back then this is what I’d be best known for in my career, but it’s the thing I get asked about most. It’s a pet project that has grown and grown and grown, starting when I was at ESPN and moving with me from CBS to Fox Sports to Sports Illustrated and here to The Athletic.– Bruce Feldman, The Athletic"

While Penn State fans won’t be thrilled their two biggest foes — especially this season — in Ohio State  (Marvin Harrison Jr, No. 2) and Michigan (Kris Jenkins DT, No.6)  have players ahead of the first Nittany Lion listed, they should be ecstatic about how many PSU players made the cut and where they fell.

Remember, this list may have a few names that catch you off guard, especially considering all 6 of the Nittany Lions listed are in the top 50 of the 100 named. Feldman clearly defines this as the biggest freaks in college football , which is a bit different from the top players for 2023.

Still, anyone with a pulse who follows Penn State football shouldn’t be surprised at Feldman’s choice for the No. 9 overall spot.

No. 9, Chop Robinson, DE

Robinson being ranked at No. 9. The likely future NFL first-round pick is a game wrecker and had a breakout campaign in 2022.

He’s the definition of a freak.

“We’re not saying Chop can be another Micah Parsons, but he is still very special,” Feldman wrote. “He had 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks last season, and will be even better this year. The 6-3, 254-pound junior is a little bigger than Parsons, and almost as fast. He clocked a 4.47 40 this offseason and ran a quicker shuttle, 4.22. He also broad-jumped 10-7 and bench-pressed 400 pounds.”

While there is clear talent on both sides of the ball, this is one of the best defenses in the country. Robinson’s versatility and consistency when it comes to making game wrecking plays showed up big-time in 2022. He will be one of the biggest keys for Manny Diaz and the Penn State defense to replicate last year’s success.

No. 15, Jordan van den Berg, DL

This one may feel a bit surprising for Penn State fans as van den Beg isn’t a flashy name. It’s clear Feldman looks at his background, raw athletic ability and size paired with solid — but not eye-catching production — in 2022 and believes the big man will make a major leap from his freshman campaign to become a staple on the 2023 defense.

A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, van den Berg was a competitive bodybuilder,” Feldman said.  “His grandmother swam in the 1958 Commonwealth Games and held multiple South African swimming records. The 6-3, 304-pound sophomore made nine tackles with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble last year and is an intriguing project. He puts up Freaky numbers in the weight room. This offseason, he benched 455, cleaned 380 and back-squatted 690, but it’s the combination of that strength with his agility numbers that forced his way onto this list. He was clocked at 4.74 in the 40 and his shuttle time of 4.20 might be even more impressive. He also vertical-jumped 31 inches and broad-jumped 9-2.”

The sophomore took an untraditional route to State College and had a slew of FCS and Group of 5 offers before Nebraska and Iowa offered him less than a week before he committed to Penn State.

If he becomes a focal point of the 2023 defense already loaded with talent, it will be a major find for Jame Franklin and the recruiting staff.

No 23, Olumuyiwa Fashanu, OT

Feldman’s next choice feels obvious, and in my humble opinion should have been listed higher. Fashanu is the top offensive tackle in the nation — and in a season where Penn State needs to ensure its 5-star new starting QB has plenty of protection — his value can’t be overstated.

“The most highly touted offensive line prospect in the country is still only 20 years old. Fashanu was a three-star prospect out of high school, ranked only 45th among all offensive tackle recruits in the 2020 class,” Feldman wrote. “ However, the towering 6-6, 320-pounder from Washington, D.C., had a terrific year on the field and an impressive one off it, running a 4.97 40 this offseason and had a 4.63 shuttle time. That 40 time would’ve tied for best at the NFL combine among all the offensive linemen there. Fashanu, who attributes his agility to all the time he spent playing basketball growing up, also bench-pressed 405 pounds, squatted 605 and power-cleaned 350 clean.”

He’s arguably one of the most important players on the 2023 squad, and while the Penn State big man is clearly a freak of nature, he’s already projected as a first round NFL Draft pick. He’s earned every bit of the praise coming his way.

Feldman added one more tidbit that qualified the PSU tackle for one of the biggest freaks in college football for 2023.

“Another Freaky thing about the Penn State star: Both his parents are 5-8. (He says his grandfather on his mom’s side was 6-3.,” Feldman concluded.

Odd how genetics work, but Nittany Lions fans are thrilled he’s here.

No. 31, Nicholas Singleton, RB

SIngleton has been listed on a bevy of preseason watch lists and is considered one of the top running backs heading into 2023.

What makes him a freak?

“When legit coaches start comparing you to Adrian Peterson, you know you’ve got a special talent. Singleton came to State College with a ton of hype and has backed it all up, rushing for 1,061 yards and a Penn State freshman record 12 rushing touchdowns. At 228 pounds, Singleton ran a 4.39 40 this offseason and also had a 4.18 shuttle; a 10-0 broad but also power-cleaned 385 pounds and bench-pressed 425 bench. “

Point taken.

No. 38, Zane Durant, DL

This felt like another surprise, but again, Feldman isn’t basing this list solely off of past production. Only time will tell, but Feldman believes the flashes Durant showed in 2022 as a true freshman could carry over to a true impactful role this season.

“Another short, super explosive Florida native who starred on the defensive line in the state of Pennsylvania – Pitt’s Calijah Kancey – made this list last year, and Durant, who had five tackles and a sack as a true freshman last year, evokes some of those visions,” Feldman said. “Durant is about 6-1, 284 pounds and clocked a 4.66 40 this offseason. Durant has generated some big buzz inside the Nittany Lions’ program and we can see why. He ran a 4.44 shuttle and broad-jumped 9-10 to go with a 425-pound bench. Big-time numbers all around, especially for someone who has only had one full year in a college weight program.”

A breakout year for Durant is the kind of thing that can turn a really good defense into great.

No. 43, Abdul Carter, LB

This is another one who felt like he could be ranked much higher. Carter has solidified himself as a jack-of-all trades at linebacker and the anchor of the elite defensive unit.

Here’s why Feldman listed him as one of the top freaks in college football for 2023.

“How special does Penn State think Carter is?” Feldman began.  “They gave him No. 11 — the same number Micah Parsons and LaVar Arrington wore there. Carter flashed spectacular talent as a true freshman, making 10.5 TFLs and 6.5 sacks and breaking up four passes. At 6-3, 250, Carter clocked a 4.48 40, had a 4.35 shuttle and broad-jumped 10-7. He also power-cleaned 350.”

Carter is widely respected both inside the Penn State locker room and around the country.

Those are the six Nittany Lions listed as the top freaks in college football for 2023 according to Feldman and The Athletic. If each of these players lives up to the hype, Drew Allar delivers at quarterback and the rest of this talented roster builds on last year’s success?

Franklin could be leading this year’s squad to the College Football Playoff for the first time since taking over as head coach. With so much chatter about realignment and new teams joining the Big Ten in 2024, this feels like the year it has to happen. The talent is there — it’s being recognized both locally and nationally.

Now Penn State fans have to hope it turns into one of the most memorable seasons in program history.