- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- You might not have seen much of them this season -- but Penn State has several first-year athletes who should see plenty of playing time next season.
Maybe they didn't play this year because of playbook issues. Or maybe certain positions were just deeper than others. Whatever the reason, these players could make quite an impact next season.
NittanyNation takes an early look at four freshmen PSU is redshirting this season but who will have bigger roles in 2013:
1. WR Eugene Lewis, Plymouth (Pa.) Wyoming Valley West
Four stars, No. 34 at position
Synopsis: Lewis was the headliner of the Class of 2012. Bill O'Brien said the in-state prospect wins the "Dirty Show Player of the Week" award just about every week. Stan Hixon called him "probably the best athlete we have" at the position.
A lot is expected out of the freshman affectionately known as "Geno," and he's bound to see some time next season. It was a bit of a surprise not to see him out there this season.
Why didn't he play this year?: Likely because he needed to learn the playbook and different routes. He was an athletic, dual-threat high school quarterback so he lacked the polish of a Trevor Williams, who played wideout most of his career.
Projected role next year: No. 3 wideout with potential to be the No. 2 threat alongside Allen Robinson.
What ESPN's scouts said: Lacks top-end speed but shows great hands and the ability to catch the ball in traffic. Might struggle to gain separation but is still a playmaker and a vertical threat.
2. RB Akeel Lynch, Athol Springs (N.Y.) St. Francis
Three stars, No. 77 at position
Synopsis: Lynch thought about going back on his commitment following the sanctions but apologized to Penn State fans on Twitter after realizing he wanted to spend the next four or five years in State College.
O'Brien constantly remarked during the preseason just how impressive Lynch looked, and he said the freshman has come a long way so far. "I think he's got a great future for us here at Penn State," O'Brien said last month. When Bill Belton graduates, Lynch could become the go-to ballcarrier for two seasons.
Why didn't he play this year?: Playbook and depth reasons. Lynch needed some extra time to grasp the complicated playbook, but redshirting him definitely makes sense for other reasons. Without a redshirt, he would take over for Belton for just one season.
Projected role next year: A situational tailback who could see a handful of carries each game if PSU elects to use a running back-by-committee approach. Could likely step in for an injured Belton without Zach Zwinak's role changing much.
What ESPN's scouts said: He hits the hole quickly and reaches top speed quickly, but he's not a burner and lacks elusiveness in the open field. Durability might be a concern, but he has good strength and sheds tackles. A potential sleeper.
3. DT Austin Johnson, Richland (N.J.) St. Augustine
Synopsis: Johnson was one of four commits at defensive tackle -- including transfer Jamil Pollard -- and came in as the least-heralded of the quartet. Howecer, he now seems as if he's the closest to major playing time. O'Brien said during a radio show he'll be "a force to be reckoned with" down the line.
He's already 297 pounds, and he's one of a handful of true freshmen listed on the depth chart -- albeit as a third-stringer. Johnson came in without a star rating, but he should leave as at least a three-year starter.
Why didn't he play this year?: Depth. With James Terry rotating in and Kyle Baublitz on stand-by, Penn State didn't really need a fifth defensive tackle on the field. As O'Brien likes to say, Johnson as a fifth-year senior will help out a whole lot more than as a first-year freshman.
Projected role next year: With the graduations of Jordan Hill and Terry, he should compete with Baublitz for a starting role. At worst, he'll be the top backup on the interior and should still see a good amount of playing time.
4. LB Nyeem Wartman, Archbald (Pa.) Valley View
Three stars, No. 108 at position
Synopsis: He played this season, but he'll likely get a "medical redshirt" so that's why he's on this list. Wartman showed most fans what he's capable of Week 1 when he blocked a punt. And O'Brien has been singing his praises since the summer.
Wartman looks to be another strong addition to Linebacker U., and he'll definitely have a strong impact on special teams. Linebacker is a deep position, however, so it might be another season or two before he can call himself a starter.
Projected role next year: Special-teams player who sees some time as a backup, similar to Ben Kline's role this season. Best-case scenario would probably see him as the No. 4 'backer.
What ESPN's scouts said: Good blend of size and speed. He has good range but has to work on his flexibility. He tackles well, reads plays well, but he struggles changing direction a little. Definitely physical.
5dBrian Bennett and Josh Moyer