Penn State Football: Ranking the 5 Best Offensive Weapons for Nittany Lions

Barry Leonard@@barryleonardjrAnalyst IIIMay 12, 2013

Penn State Football: Ranking the 5 Best Offensive Weapons for Nittany Lions

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    The Penn State Nittany Lions are gearing up for the 2013 season with several key members of last year's team returning, especially on offense. The Nittany Lions have a lot of experience and talent on the offensive side of the ball for the upcoming season.

    While the quarterback situation is still unsettled between junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and top recruit Christian Hackenberg, don't look for the Nittany Lions to digress much on offense.

    Penn State returns its leading rusher from a year ago, as well as all of its top five receivers. Three starters also return from the offensive line.

    The Nittany Lions offense will be loaded with weapons. For the purpose of this slideshow, the players were ranked based on both previous performances and potential.

5: RB Akeel Lynch

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    The fifth spot on this list was a toss-up between two running backs, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch, but ultimately it went to Lynch. Though the redshirt freshman has yet to take a snap in a real game for the Nittany Lions, he's a talented back who will be a valuable weapon.

    Lynch has already earned the praise of his coaches just from the work he's done in practice.

    During the annual spring game on April 20, Lynch showed what he can do, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown.

    While he was being recruited, his ESPN Recruiting Nation (subscription required) scouting report stated, "Potential sleeper, Lynch is a shifty, well-built back with quality running skill and load-carrier attributes. Has a solid build and very good body composition for a running back prospect. "

    Lynch, while unproven at the collegiate level, has the ability to be a key component for the Nitany Lions in 2013. He'll be a good change of pace back from Zach Zwinak and provide a spark to a talent-laden offense.

4. TE Kyle Carter

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    Kyle Carter had a great first season on the field for Penn State in 2012. One had to think that the tight end position would become involved in the passing attack brought by new head coach Bill O'Brien. Such was the case for Carter last year.

    He was a key member of the offense, giving quarterback Matt McGloin another target to throw to. Carter finished as the second-leading receiver on the team. He racked up 36 catches for 453 yards and two touchdowns.

    Carter is a big target who can force defenses to cover the middle of the field, opening things up for the receivers on the outside.

    The talented tight end did not practice this spring, as he was still recovering from a wrist injury that kept him out of three of the final four games last year.

    When healthy, Carter is a key contributor to the Nittany Lions offense who can make things extremely difficult for opposing defenses.

3. TE Jesse James

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    Jesse James tops fellow tight end Kyle Carter by a small margin in this ranking, as he has better size and more big-play ability. That was on display in the final game of 2012 when he caught a 41-yard touchdown pass.

    As a true freshman in 2012, James finished fifth on the team in receiving yards, with 276. His best game of the year came in the season finale against Wisconsin, catching three balls for 90 yards and a touchdown.

    He proved to be a scoring threat all season, registering five touchdowns, good enough for second on the team in that category.

    Entering the 2013 season, James will be a dangerous weapon for the Nittany Lions. His 6'7", 258-pound frame presents a big target for the quarterback, especially in the red zone, and is difficult for defenders to bring down.

    He already looked ready for the season in the Blue-White Game this year, leading all receivers with 77 yards and a touchdown.

2. RB Zach Zwinak

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    Perhaps no one was a bigger surprise for the Nittany Lions last year than Zach Zwinak. Buried on the depth chart to start the season, injuries forced Zwinak into action.

    After receiving just three carries through the first three games, the hard-nosed runner broke out in Week 4 against Temple. In the game with the Owls, he received the most carries of any Penn State back, rushing 18 times for 94 yards.

    Zwinak went on to receive at least 12 carries in every remaining game, breaking the century mark in rushing yards in six out of the final eight games.

    He finished the year with 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.

    Zwinak is the clear starter in 2013, as long as he returns to form after a wrist injury, and will have a chance to rack up even more yards. He's a big, strong back who can not only run over defenses, but also outrun them.

    With a new quarterback under center, having a strong running game will be important to take pressure off the passing game. Zwinack is one of the best options the Nittany Lions have on offense.

1: WR Allen Robinson

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    To say 2012 was a breakout season for wide receiver Allen Robinson would be an understatement. After making just three catches in 2012, Robinson exploded onto the scene last season, becoming quarterback Matt McGloin's favorite target.

    Robinson is easily the Nittany Lions' best offensive weapon.

    Last year, he was the best receiver in the Big Ten, catching 77 passes for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns. He twice scored three touchdowns in a game, including the contest against Indiana in which he made 10 catches for 197 yards.

    The junior receiver is a big-time playmaker. He's already shown the ability to stretch a defense by going deep down the field. Aside from him being a down-field threat, he can also take a short pass and turn it into a big gain.

    Robinson is an elite college receiver who should only get better. The new quarterback will no doubt look to him often.