Penn State filling multiple voids in uncertain special teams unit heading into 2023 season

6-8 minutes 7/27/2023
We’re wrapping up the positional portion of our depth chart breakdown with the specialists on the roster. We’ve already broken down every offensive and defensive position and now it’s time to discuss a special teams unit where coordinator Stacy Collins will need to replace some key players.
Let’s take a look at how the unit should look during the 2023 season.
Projected punter: Senior Riley Thompson
Thompson enters camp with an edge over redshirt freshman Alex Bacchetta in experience and that should be enough for him to win the gig. He joined the program after spending last year at Florida Atlantic where he was voted an honorable mention in Conference USA at the end of the season. He finished the year with 61 punts and averaged 45.4 yards per attempt with the Owls. Bacchetta is still likely the future of the position and has the leg talent to win the job, but the assumption here is that there’s a reason the program brought in a player who has one year of eligibility remaining.
Projected short field goal kicker: Senior Alex Felkins
Felkins, like Thompson, joined the Nittany Lions this offseason as a transfer. He was a first team All-Ivy League player with Columbia in 2022, making 11 of his 16 field goal attempts, while connecting on all 28 of his extra point attempts. While Felkins made a 53-yard field goal, it still feels more likely that he’ll take the short field goals and extra points based on his success there last season in the Ivy League.
Projected long field goal kicker: Redshirt sophomore Sander Sahaydak
Sahaydak is the other kicker competing for the job and should have the stronger leg of the two. He was one of the most talented high school kickers in the country when he committed to Penn State and the lefty specialist still has the upside to be the overall answer for the Nittany Lions at every kicking spot. For now, he likely will have to take the long field goals as long as he can consistently strike the ball to tap into his leg strength.
Projected kickoff specialist: Redshirt sophomore Gabriel Nwosu
Sahaydak and Felkins will have a shot here but it’s hard not to see Nwosu winning the job if he can repeat what he did last season when things were going well. The 6-foot-6, 274 pound punter has experience kicking off, appearing in eight games where he booted seven of his 18 kick offs for touchbacks. He was unable to take control of the job last year but still brings a solid baseline if he can build some consistency.
Projected kick returner: Sophomore Nick Singleton
This might be the least relevant of these positions because of recent rule changes. Now that players can call for a fair catch outside the end zone and get the ball at the 25-yard line, it’s more important that the player who wins the job can catch the ball. Singleton has proven he can do that and he has the upside to break a big one if the situation calls for it.
Projected punt returner: Redshirt senior Daequan Hardy
This could be a spot that rotates, but Hardy gets the nod because of his experience and the stability — along with the knowledge that he can consistently haul in punts. Of course, it helps that he might also be the fastest player on the team. Redshirt freshman Kaden Saunders, sophomore Omari Evans and Singleton are all viable choices here and all have the speed and agility to break big returns. Singleton seems like the least likely returner in order to protect him from injuries, while Saunders could be a good option if he doesn’t get on solid footing in the wide receiver rotation.

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