It was a long few days last week for former Penn State players watching the 2017 NFL Draft.
Chris Godwin heard his name in the third round on Friday, but none of the other recently departed Nittany Lions were among the 253 players selected. It was the fewest Penn State players taken in an NFL draft since 2005, when there were none.
For anyone who wants to read something into this, don’t. It was a fluke, a confluence of random events. It was a small senior class because of the lingering effects of NCAA sanctions, transfers, coaching changes and a few players who already had left school early for the NFL draft.
Penn State has had at least two players drafted every year since 1966, with the exception of 2005 and 2017. That’s 50 of 52 drafts with at least two Penn State players. Which trend seems more reasonable to continue — 50 of 52, or 1 of 1?
The Nittany Lions will make it 51 of 53 in 2018, and it could be a huge draft weekend for the program. The most Penn State players taken in one draft since the NFL went to a seven-round format in 1994 is 10, which happened in 1996.
Six is the second-most, and that has happened three times in the past 24 years. One of those years was 2006, the year after Penn State didn’t have anyone drafted. There will be a similar bounce back in 2018.
Winning a Big Ten championship with only one upperclassman about to be drafted is pretty impressive, considering the number of NFL-ready prospects on the rosters in Columbus and Ann Arbor.
Penn State will have plenty of its own in 2018. Here’s a look at some of the players who could be part of the NFL draft 51 weeks from now.
Penn State 2018 NFL Draft prospects
Saquon Barkley, RB
This is an easy one. Dozens of publications and anonymous scouts have proclaimed Saquon Barkley will be a first-round pick next year. Some have suggested he could go in the top 10, or even top 5, picks. A mock draft from CBS Sports projects Barkley as the No. 2 selection.
He will be one of the best players in the nation in 2017, and it’s hard to see any rationale for Barkley returning for a senior season. An injury would hurt his draft stock, but it also could push him to not want to risk further damage in college.
Names such as Curtis Enis, Ki-Jana Carter and Blair Thomas probably will be tossed around plenty in the next 12 months, but the last Penn State running back selected in the first round — Larry Johnson in 2003 — worked out pretty well.
Mike Gesicki, TE
So Barkley is a good bet at this point to be Penn State’s first first-round pick since 2010. The program hasn’t had two first-round picks in the same draft since 2003, when Johnson was one of four.
Who is the best bet to join Barkley? It is probably tight end Mike Gesicki. He has a chance to be the top target in Penn State’s offense this season, and he already has a handful of wonderful catches on his highlight reel.
Gesicki is big, athletic and has “a huge catch radius” — basically, he will make plays on passes that don’t hit him in the numbers. NFL teams don’t value blocking from tight ends nearly as much as they used to, but he could still improve that some in 2017. Three tight ends were selected in the first round this year, and he has a chance to be a top 3 prospect in the class next year.
Marcus Allen, S
Marcus Allen, like Gesicki, could have entered the draft early and joined Godwin among the 253 selections. He might have ended up waiting until Saturday to hear his name called, though, and another year at Penn State could definitely make him a Day 2 — second- or third-round — selection.
He made 110 tackles in the 2016 season and is a sure tackler in run support. NFL scouts probably will zero in on his work against the pass before determining just how high to rate him.
Ryan Bates, OL
Ryan Bates will be eligible for the NFL draft, but he also could stay for two more seasons at Penn State. If Penn State’s offense excels again and he has a stellar season at left tackle, it will be worth at least exploring what NFL teams think of him.
The one thing working against Bates is his size. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, which is not the prototypical tackle size in the NFL. If NFL teams view him as a guard, it will be tougher to feel secure about being an early pick.
But if they rate him as one of the best guard prospects available, that could make him a late-first round or second-round pick. Then it becomes a very interesting decision.
Saeed Blacknall, WR
Saeed Blacknall has 33 receptions in three years at Penn State. That’s not going to wow anyone, but being a 6-foot-3, 212-pound wide receiver with his speed could.
He has 23 catches for 595 yards and 4 touchdowns in the last two seasons. Blacknall needs to add more consistency on short and intermediate routes this season, but his home run ability is going to excite some teams and make him at least an interesting mid-round prospect.
Jason Cabinda, LB
Penn State hasn’t had a linebacker drafted since 2013, but Jason Cabinda will have a strong chance of ending that dry spell. If he stays healthy, Cabinda could approach 300 tackles in a three-season span.
A sturdy player against the run in the box, Cabinda needs more tackles for loss and plays that show off his range (pass deflections, creating turnovers, etc.) to make him one of the better inside linebacker prospects in the class.
Grant Haley, CB
Grant Haley is listed at 5-foot-9, and there’s not anything he can do about that. He likely will have a chance to prove he can consistently cover some of the best wideouts in the Big Ten this season if John Reid can’t play. He’s tough in run support and could position himself as an intriguing slot corner prospect for NFL teams.
Andrew Nelson, OL
Andrew Nelson has been a versatile lineman for Penn State, and that versatility could help him with NFL talent evaluators next season. He’ll need to prove there are no lingering effects from a season-ending right leg injury sustained in October in a game against Maryland, but Nelson can be an NFL guard who is ready to play right tackle if needed.
Christian Campbell, CB
There likely is going to be more playing time available for Christian Campbell if Reid is unavailable. He’ll have a chance to prove he’s worth a look from NFL teams. Being a tall cornerback — he’s listed at 6-foot-1 — is a nice place to start for scouts.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR
DaeSean Hamilton looked like a future NFL player as a freshman, but his role has been reduced the past two seasons. With Godwin gone, there’s going to be extra opportunities for wideouts. If he can have a few more games like his Big Ten championship performance (8 catches, 118 yards), he’ll be on NFL draft lists as a potential possession receiver. If NFL teams think he’ll make defenders miss, he’ll have a long career at that level.
Torrence Brown, DE
Penn State saw three defensive linemen drafted two years ago, and two more signed with NFL teams after the 2017 draft. That leaves the Nittany Lions with questions to answer on the field in 2017 along the line.
Torrence Brown has a chance to be one of the answers, and a productive season could make him the next player from that meeting room to become a legitimate NFL prospect.
Parker Cothren, DT
Parker Cothren, listed at 6-4 and 295 pounds, isn’t going to be big enough to be a run-stuffing defensive tackle in the NFL. He’s going to need to be more productive this season and show he can be disruptive. His buddy next to him, Curtis Cothran, is in the same situation.
Tyler Davis, K
He’s missed two kicks in two years, and both were blocked. Tyler Davis needs to show he can provide length along with his accuracy.
Penn State didn’t try a field goal from beyond 40 yards last season. There weren’t many opportunities to even consider it. If Davis connects on some field goals in the 50- to 53-yard range this season, he’ll be at an NFL camp at minimum and could sneak into the draft.
Penn State 2018 NFL Draft wildcards
Trace McSorley, QB
Trace McSorley could have another huge season with all of the talent around him. He could be in the Heisman Trophy discussion. He could lead his team to a second Big Ten championship and into the College Football Playoff.
Where would he fit on NFL draft boards? It is going to be a fascinating discussion, either after next season or after the 2019 campaign. He’s listed at 6 feet, and there will be plenty of questions about his ability to make what’s called “the NFL throws.”
There also will be plenty of prose spun about his success, leadership and improvisational skills. Assuming he receives enough positive feedback about his NFL future, would it be enough to leave a year early and risk being a late-round pick?
Juwan Johnson, WR
What, this is going too far with the Juwan Johnson Hype Train Express? Johnson was a breakout star during spring practice, but he’s also not even assured a spot in the starting lineup next season. He certainly flashed the potential to emerge as the No. 1 wide receiver. His size/speed combination is going to make him an NFL prospect one day if he adds production to his massive potential.
Let’s say he does become Penn State’s go-to wideout in 2017. Would numbers similar to what Godwin produced last year be enough for him to leave two years early?
Manny Bowen, LB
Manny Bowen spent most of last season as a starter because of injuries, and he has a chance to become one of the best players on the defense in 2017. Penn State needs a linebacker to replace Brandon Bell’s ability to rush the passer and create big plays.
At 6-1, 220 pounds, he might be a little small by outside linebacker standards in the NFL, but Bowen can be the go-to player for the Nittany Lions. He’d need to have a huge season to consider leaving early, but the potential is there.
John Reid, CB
It’s possible that Reid won’t play at all this season after a reported serious injury to his left knee. Reid probably was the second- or third-best prospect for the 2017 NFL Draft on the team before the injury. If he does play at some point, he’ll have a chance to restore that type of draft stock.
Even if he doesn’t play, Reid could see what NFL teams have to say about his 2015 and 2016 performances. He could decide he’d rather just get his pro career started instead of coming back for another season to re-establish his value but also risk another injury.