2017 Penn State Defensive Draft Prospects Preview
While Penn State prepares for the biggest game of head coach James Franklin’s tenure, the annual NFL Draft is quietly approaching.
The Nittany Lions possess the NFL talent that pro teams dream of acquiring every April, but they might have to wait depending on what the eligible Penn State players decide to do.
Nyeem Wartman-White, a middle linebacker who suffered knee injuries throughout his career, was the first Nittany Lion to declare for the 2017 Draft. Players such as junior wide receiver Chris Godwin, junior tight end Mike Gesicki, junior safety Marcus Allen and junior middle linebacker Jason Cabinda are a few others that may leave for the NFL.
With that being said, regardless of if they choose to depart or not, all draft eligible Nittany Lion defensive prospects who played significantly and could potentially leave will be given their projected draft round, the team lucky enough to acquire them and a player who will step up in their absence.
Redshirt senior defensive end Evan Schwan: undrafted, signed by Oakland Raiders
Redshirt junior defensive end Garrett Sickels: 4th round, New Orleans Saints
Players to watch in 2017: redshirt freshman defensive tackle Kevin Givens, freshman defensive end Shane Simmons
For the second year in a row, Penn State could lose a majority of the starting defensive line. In 2015, Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel took their talents to the NFL and were all drafted in the second and third rounds.
Schwan and Sickels combined for 11 sacks and were the veteran leaders of the defense along side senior linebacker Brandon Bell. Penn State and defensive coordinator Brent Pry run a system on the defensive line where the entire unit switches in the middle of drives to keep fresh legs in the game. The method was extremely successful as Penn State’s pass rush was feared in the Big Ten, and big plays came from Sickels down to redshirt freshman Kevin Givens.
Schwan and Sickels would most likely not be targeted by a majority of teams until the later rounds. They would be able to provide pass rush depth and hopefully develop into rotational players early on. The Saints and Raiders are two teams that lack depth along the line, but do have talented defensive ends in Cameron Jordan and Khalil Mack that could help Schwan and Sickels in their careers.
The obvious players to watch in 2017 are defensive ends redshirt sophomore Torrence Brown and redshirt freshman Shareef Miller. Both saw action in the second rotation of defensive linemen, and turned in respectable performances. But, Givens flashed electric talent in the middle and recorded sacks as a tackle. Simmons, a former five-star recruit, is itching for his opportunity to wreck havoc in the Big Ten. Hypothetically, Givens could force the opposing quarterback to scramble out where Simmons would be there to clean up. Simmons has the potential to be a sacks leader if Franklin can tap into his star power.
Redshirt senior outside linebacker Brandon Bell: 5th round, Houston Texans
Redshirt junior middle linebacker Jason Cabinda: 4th round, San Francisco 49ers
Player to watch for in 2017: redshirt sophomore linebacker Manny Bowen
Bell and Cabinda were the anchors on the Nittany Lions’ defense when they returned from injury. The defense struggled early on and was exposed by Pittsburgh and Michigan, allowing over 40 points to both squads minus the two players. When Bell and Cabinda returned for the insane Ohio State game, their presence was felt. In that game alone, Bell and Cabinda combined for 31 total tackles. Having Cabinda and Bell was like having two coaches right on the field, as they made line and coverage adjustments nearly every play.
Bell could find a nice home in Houston if he fits well in Bill O’Brien’s 3-4 defense, and Cabinda would easily benefit from learning under former Penn State linebacker Navarro Bowman.
Bowen, a former four-star high school talent, would take the reigns of the defense with the absence of Bell and Cabinda. Bowen took a huge step forward with the increased playing time and taking on a leadership role when Bell and Cabinda were injured. Bowen struggled early on, but he improved as the season progressed. Bowen is a speed demon on the turf flying all over the field to chase down ball carriers and play tight coverage. Bowen is also better at defending against the pass, but can definitely improve his run-stopping ability.
Junior safety Marcus Allen: 2nd round, Carolina Panthers
Junior cornerback Grant Haley: 7th round, Indianapolis Colts
Players to watch in 2017: redshirt freshman corner Garnett Taylor, Redshirt sophomore linebacker Koa Farmer
Allen was a player everyone looked up to on the defense. The man plays with all of his heart and shows that football is his one and only favorite. Losing Allen to the draft would be a huge blow to the secondary and the dynamic of the team.
Haley emerged as a solid starter in his third year of play. He was haunted by a dropped a pick on the road against Northwestern that led to the Wildcats’ game-winning field goal. Haley used that moment as motivation, and it paid off with a game sealing tackle on fourth and one against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. Not to mention, Allen and Haley combined for, possibly, the greatest play in Penn State history with Allen’s field goal block and Haley’s touchdown return to upset Ohio State.
The Panthers are desperate for secondary help, and Allen would most likely slide into a starting role as a rookie because of his work ethic and knack for finding the ball carrier. Allen is weak in coverage and it could push him to change his position to linebacker where he would excel at stopping the run. Players like Deone Bucannon of the Cardinals and Mark Barron of the Rams have made similar decisions and it has benefitted their careers significantly. The Colts need secondary help as well, but along the sides of the field at corner. Haley would be a low risk addition to the Colts that has the chance to progress with Vontae Davis taking him under his wing.
Players that must step up in the potential departures of Allen and Haley will be Taylor and Farmer. Yes, Taylor makes a lot of sense because he was rated closely to junior corner John Reid out of high school and can make that leap in his third year with the program, but Farmer? Farmer played linebacker in 2016 because of the injuries that plagued the corps all season long. Farmer was forced to slide down to outside linebacker where he excelled, but it is not his true position. With Allen off the team, Farmer could move back to strong safety, which he was recruited to play. The strong safety plays a unique role in Franklin and Pry’s defense, and they believe Farmer is built for the job just as Allen was.
Zach Seyko is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in communication arts & sciences. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.