PENN STATE NOTEBOOK: Lions land transfer wideout who had 1,402 receiving yards in 2021

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Western Kentucky wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley (5) runs past UTSA cornerback Tariq Woolen (3) for a touchdown after making a catch during the second half of an NCAA college football game for the Conference USA championship Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

With Jahan Dotson almost certainly off to the NFL, Penn State entered the offseason in need of reinforcements at the wide receiver position.

In the final hours before Christmas Day, the Nittany Lions got about as good of a gift as they could have asked for.

Western Kentucky wide receiver Mitchell Tinsley, one of the top statistical wideouts in college football last season, has committed to Penn State, he announced Friday night on social media. Tinsley has one season of eligibility remaining, which he'll hope to maximize in Happy Valley.

"I still got some goals I gotta check off before I scram," Tinsley wrote on Instagram, quoting rapper J. Cole.

There's every reason to think Tinsley will provide the Nittany Lions' wide receiver room with a difference-maker.

During the 2021 season, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Lee's Summit, Mo. native caught 87 passes for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was sixth among all Football Bowl Subdivision players in receiving yards and fourth in touchdown receptions. He was one of several important cogs in a Western Kentucky offense that helped quarterback Bailey Zappe throw for 5,967 yards and 62 touchdowns, both of which were FBS single-season records.

Before joining the Hilltoppers, TInsley played for two seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

At Penn State, he'll join a group of receivers that, even without Dotson, should still be robust. Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith had 722 and 447 receiving yards, respectively, last season and should step into larger roles following Dotson's likely departure. They'll be catching balls from an experienced passer in Sean Clifford, who announced earlier this month that he will return for a sixth and final season of eligibility. It will be the Cincinnati native's fourth season as a starter. In 2021, he threw for 20 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 62.4% of his passes and averaging 7.4 yards per attempt.

Two defensive players returning for PSU: Penn State learned in the last few days that two of its defensive players plan to return next season.

Redshirt senior safety Jonathan Sutherland and redshirt sophomore cornerback Joey Porter announced their plans to return via social media. Both were eligible to turn pro.

Sutherland used "#LBU" in his statement, intimating a potential full-time switch to linebacker next season. He spent most of his career at safety and played sparingly at the second level of the defense in 2021.

The 5-11, 201-pound Sutherland has tallied 94 total tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception in his four years on the field as a Nittany Lion.

The potential move to linebacker could greatly help a Penn State defense that will be replacing two starters at the position. Both Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith announced they're skipping the Outback Bowl and entering the 2022 NFL Draft. Sutherland could potentially take up some of the snaps those two occupied last season.

Along with the two linebackers, Penn State is set to lose multiple other starters — safety Jaquan Brisker, defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo and cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields will all exhaust their eligibility after this season.

Porter's return should help to bolster the defense. He collected 49 tackles throughout the season, while also intercepting one pass and forcing a fumble. He started all 12 games for PSU was voted onto the All-Big Ten third-team defense by the conference’s coaches, and he was named All-Big Ten honorable mention by the conference’s media.