Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Need Zanellato to Step Up in 2014

Troy WellerContributor IIINovember 8, 2013

Oct 12, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver Matt Zanellato (80) prior to the game against the Michigan Wolverines at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Michigan 43-40 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

After a stellar senior season at Lake Braddock Secondary School, Matt Zanellato was the first wide receiver to commit to Penn State's 2011 recruiting class. Rated as a 4-star talent, per, his commitment came at a time when the Nittany Lions had depth issues at the position. 

After the 2010 season, they were set to lose two of their more productive wide receivers—Brett Brackett and Graham Zug—due to graduation. The opportunity was certainly there for Zanellato to see some early playing time.   

So far though, he hasn't made too much of an impact. After redshirting his freshman year in 2011, Zanellato has only five receptions for 57 yards as a Nittany Lion.

Those numbers will need to be drastically increased next year. With the graduation of Brandon Felder and the likelihood that Allen Robinson will head to the NFL, Penn State could lose the majority of its production at the position heading into 2014. After eight games this season, Felder and Robinson have accounted for nearly 70 percent of the team's total receptions. 

But the Nittany Lions don't just need Zanellato to be a factor from a production standpoint; they need him because of the size advantage he'll bring to the table, too.

Listed at 6'3" and 203 pounds, Zanellato is built very similar to Robinson (6'3", 210 pounds). According to his evaluation, his game is similar as well: 

Zanellato is a fiery competitor on the field who goes into each play knowing that the ball is his when it's in the air and no one else's. He has quick feet, runs excellent routes and always finds a way to get open. He does a great job catching the ball away from his body, high-points the ball in traffic and can make plays with the ball in his hand after the catch. Great red zone weapon as well. Very aware on the field and smart.

Now, this isn't saying that Zanellato is going to be the next Allen Robinson at Penn State. It is saying, however, that there's no other receiver on Penn State's projected 2014 roster that is more similar to Robinson than Zanellato is. 

Let's face it: Robinson will probably head to the NFL draft after this season. Penn State will need someone to fill the void he leaves behind and be the team's go-to possession receiver. 

Although guys like Richy Anderson and Alex Kenney will see valuable snaps, they are better utilized as downfield threats and in open space. Opposite of Geno Lewis and aside from the tight ends, the Nittany Lions will need someone who can make tough catches in traffic and absorb the hard hits. 

With his frame and skill set, Zanellato is the perfect candidate to be that someone.

Whether it's on the outside against cornerbacks or in the slot matched up against linebackers, Zanellato could be utilized in all sorts of offensive looks. As Ben Jones of explains, Zanellato has worked at various wide receiver positions throughout the duration of his Penn State career:

While many players focus on a single position in the offense, Zanellato has been more nomadic, filling in wherever he is needed at receiver. 

"I think one of the strengths that I have is that ever since my spring of my freshman year I have been playing all different types of receivers," Zanellato said. "So Coach O'Brien told me that I'm one of those guys that they can throw in at any position at any point in the game. So I think that I have a really good understanding of the offense because of it."

After coming in with Robinson and then-wide receiver Bill Belton as members of the 2011 recruiting class, Zanellato has yet to produce at the level that those two have. If Robinson leaves at the end of this year, 2014 could be the season that Zanellato breaks out of the shadows.