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Ranking the 7 biggest roster moves so far for Lions

Photo by Temple Athletics: Arnold Ebiketie

There’s already been a flurry of activity with Penn State’s roster this offseason, and you can keep track of all the movement so far in our Roster Rumblings feature. But while trying to digest all the comings and goings, we need to keep some perspective about which moves are the most important.

We could do a top five, or a top 10. But hey, why do not a top seven instead? These are the seven most important roster moves for the Nittany Lions so far.

1: TE Pat Freiermuth declared for draft

There’s no better or more impactful player on this list than Freiermuth, a tremendous talent and one of the best tight ends in Penn State history. It was fully expected that the junior would leave college early to enter the NFL draft, and he did just that on Dec. 20.

Freiermuth was projected to be a first-round NFL pick a couple months ago, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, underwent surgery and no longer is listed in the first round of mock drafts.

This is the reality that star college football players now face. They can stay in school and keep playing, choosing to be with their teammates and brothers fighting for the same cause and winning over fan support. But in doing so, they risk getting injured and potentially costing themselves millions of dollars as their draft stock takes a hit. That, unfortunately, is probably what happened to Freiermuth this season.

Still, there’s no denying the tight end was a tremendous player for PSU and will have a chance to be a star in the NFL.

This is a look at Freiermuth’s fantastic college career, from his PSU bio page:

Career: Two-time team captain…Appeared in 30 career games, making 26 starts…Owns the record for PSU career touchdown receptions by a tight end with 16, passing Mike Gesicki (15; 2014-17)…Finishes his career tied for eighth all-time at Penn State with 16 career touchdown receptions with O.J. McDuffie (1988-92)…Tallied 1,185 career receiving yards to rank 26th overall and third among tight ends in program history…Owns 92 career receptions, tied for 20th all-time at PSU…Finished career catching a pass in 29-straight games, dating back to the Pitt game (9/8/18), a school-record among tight ends…Became the 34th Nittany Lion and seventh Penn State tight end to accumulate 1,000 career receiving yards… Had 19 career receptions of 20 or more yards.

2: DE Shaka Toney declared for draft

Toney was a consensus first-team all-Big Ten selection and the best player on Penn State’s team this season. He entered the season in the shadows of fellow defensive end Jayson Oweh, a projected first-round draft pick, but Toney had a much better season than Oweh did in 2020.

Now, that doesn’t mean Toney will be a better pro than Oweh, who has freakish athletic abilities and is still very raw.

But Toney, who could have returned for one more season under NCAA rules, will be very difficult to replace next season.

Here’s are some of his highlights from his PSU bio page:

Career: Has 19.5 career sacks, good for 10th all-time at Penn State.

Game: Tied the Penn State game record with four sacks, all in the fourth quarter, at Indiana (10/20/18)…Equaled the PSU game record set by three others (Terry Killens vs. Indiana, 1995; Jimmy Kennedy at Wisconsin, 2012; Tamba Hali vs. Wisconsin, 2005).

2020 • REDSHIRT SENIOR SEASON

Awards: Accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl…Named to the Nagurski Award watch list.

Season: Made seven starts…Selected as a team captain…Named the Coaching Staff’s Defensive Player of the Week vs. Iowa (11/21).

3: DE Jayson Oweh declared for draft

Oweh had a good season and was named first-team all-conference by the Big Ten coaches. But he didn’t have a great season, and given his tremendous skills and enormous potential, he actually was a little disappointing.

Owen did not record a sack, which is amazing if you think about it, but did have 6.5 tackles for loss. He was a disruptive force and always had to be a big part of the opposing team’s game plan, though, so we should not overlook his great value to the defense.

He will be missed next season, without question.

Here’s a look at Oweh’s season highlights:

2020 • REDSHIRT SOPHOMORE SEASON

Awards: Named to the Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week following the Indiana (10/24) game.

Season: Made seven starts…Became the first Penn State defensive lineman with 10 or more tackles in a game since Yetur Gross-Matos against Indiana in 2018 (10 tackles)…Has 38 tackles through the first seven games of the season, the most by a Penn State defensive lineman since Daquan Jones in 2013 and Austin Johnson in 2015 (40)… Averaging 5.4 tackles per game to rank 18th in the FBS and fourth in the Big Ten among defensive linemen….Named the Coaching Staff’s Defensive Player of the Week vs. Indiana (10/24).

4: CB Tariq Castro-Fields opted to return

This was a surprise, really. Castro-Fields could have gone on to the NFL draft and likely would have been picked in the first five rounds. Instead, the senior decided to take advantage of the NCAA’s rule allowing everyone an extra year of eligibility.

Castro-Fields played in only three games because of an undisclosed injury, which was odd because he often warmed up prior to games and then didn’t play.

The bottom line is he’s a really good cornerback, and him coming back next season is a boost for a defense that is losing five starters.

Had he left for the NFL, it would have been perfectly understandable. But having him back for another season leaves one less question mark on that side of the ball.

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His highlights:

2020 • SENIOR SEASON

Awards: Voted an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection by the coaches and media.

Season: Made three starts…Totaled 12 tackles (6 solo) and added a pass breakup…Played in the first three games before missing the remainder of the season due to injury.

at Indiana (10/24): Collected five tackles, including four solo…Added a pass breakup. Ohio State (10/31): Made one stop, marking his 100th career tackle. Maryland (11/7): Notched six tackles.

5: DE Arnold Ebiketie transferred in from Temple

It was no secret that PSU would need to look at defensive end in the transfer portal after losing Toney and Oweh to the NFL. Ebiketie is a really good player who had a nice career at Temple and should be an immediate starter upon arriving at Penn State.

Will he be as good as Toney or Oweh? Probably not. That’s a lot to ask of anyone to step in and be a first-team all-Big Ten defensive end.

But Ebiketie has played a lot of football against very good competition and will have a chance to really make a name for himself if he can have a big season for the Lions. That will serve as great motivation for him.

His season highlights from his Temple bio page:

2020 (Redshirt Junior): Second Team All-AAC … AAC Defensive Player of the Week (USF) … Defensive Player of the game (Tulane, UCF) … led the team in TFL, sacks, and forced fumbles on the season … made his first career start in season opener at Navy while having a career day recording a TFL, a forced fumble, and setting a new career-high in tackles (10) … set a new single-game high in TFL (3.5) and put Temple up 32-31 with less than ten minutes left in its only win on the season with an 11-yard scoop and score vs. USF … led the team in tackles (7) while recording a sack and two TFL at Tulane … led the team with 9 tackles and recorded another sack and TFL at UCF, which was the third consecutive game where he had recorded at least one sack and one TFL … ended the season tied for first in the conference in forced fumbles per game (0.5).

6: DT Antonio Shelton transferred to Florida

This has been the biggest surprise of the offseason so far. Shelton had been at Penn State for five seasons and could have played one more, but he decided to enter the transfer portal instead. He announced Wednesday that he has chosen to transfer to Florida.

Shelton wasn’t a great player at PSU, but he was a good and experienced interior defensive linemen. He had been around a long time and knew what was expected of him within the scheme. He came on board when Sean Spencer was the D-line coach, and we have no idea how he got along with new position coach John Scott or if that coaching change had anything to do with him deciding to transfer.

Shelton will be tough to replace. Not as tough as Toney or Oweh, but his experience would have been very helpful to the defense next season.

His highlights:

2020 • REDSHIRT SENIOR SEASON

Season: Made seven starts…One of five players to earn their degree before the 2020 season…Graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism in December 2019.

at Indiana (10/24): Recorded two tackles…Made a solo tackle for loss. Ohio State (10/31): Collected two tackles…Had a solo sack in the second quarter, tying career highs for tackles for loss and sacks…Added first career pass breakup. Maryland (11/7): Matched a career high with three tackles. at Michigan (11/28): Assisted on one tackle…Added a QB hurry. at Rutgers (12/5): Assisted on one tackle…Added a QB hurry.

7: DE Derrick Tangelo transferred in from Duke

Tangelo should be able to step in and start right away, just like Ebiketie, because the Lions have very little experience at defensive end.

Ebiketie has played a ton of college football — 45 games with 27 starts — in the ACC, so he knows plenty about what it takes to compete week in and week out. He might not be quite as big of an addition as Ebiketie, but Tangelo may not be that far behind when it comes to the impact he could make on the field.

Highlights from his Duke bio page:

DUKE CAREER: In 45 career games (27 starts), had 114 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two QB pressures and one PBU … had 20 games with 3+ tackles, including a career-high 10 stops against N.C. Central in 2018 … registered a career-best 3.0 TFL against Syracuse in 2020 … has played 1,484 career snaps.

2020: Starting defensive tackle in all 11 games … recorded 40 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, one QB pressure, one fumble recovery, one PBU, and a team leading three forced fumbles … posted at least one tackle in every contest, including a season-best six on back-to-back occasions against Syracuse and NC State … garnered a season-high 3.0 TFL versus Syracuse … registered one sack opposite the Orange and Wolfpack … had forced fumbles against NC State, Charlotte and Miami, while lone fumble recovery came against the 49ers … on the field for 473.

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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