The Lions started 0-2 and al looked lost after the sex scandal that rocked Penn State and the surrounding community. It was a little weird not seeing Joe Paterno on the sidelines….OK it was very weird, but Bill O’Brien nearly won the 2012 Coach of the year award after guiding the overachieving team to an 8-4 record.
I just touched upon the success O’Brien found after his first year coming from the New England Patriots of the NFL. O’Brien will have less to work with due to NCAA sanctions but there is a lot of talent returning to State College.
Matt McGloin surprised everyone in the nation last year with his efficient 25 touchdown and 5 interception season, a major reason why Penn State was on the national scene when nobody expected them to be. Now Penn State has a legitimate 1st round prospect on the roster. Well, this prospect will not be starting the season as a starter and he has yet to take a major college snap. Christian Hackenberg came to Penn State as the #1 quarterback recruit in the nation, therefore I have him listed as a 1st round prospect for 2017. We may see Hackenberg sprinkled in some games but Tyler Ferguson should be starting the campaign as the starter. It really doesn’t matter who is the quarterback because junior Zach Zwinak will be the focus of the offense running the football. Zwinak went over 1,000 yards on the ground last year and while he is not a speed burner he has a nice all-around game, including catching the ball out of the backfield.
Best Draft Prospect: Christian Hackenberg QB 1st Round 2017.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
There are too many targets to name here and it al begin with junior Allen Robinson. Robinson may not lead the team in receptions but he has the most upside and looks like he will forgo his senior season and enter the Draft, where I currently have him projected as an early 2nd round selection. At 6-3 205 pounds Robinson has NFL size and speed, he needs to show more consistency with his hands but his talent is limitless and he could move into the 1st round with a big year. Brandon Moseby-Felder is another big target and the senior should get a camp invite if he isn’t a 7th round selection in 2014. As good as the wide receivers are the tight ends set the Nittany Lions apart from many due to the talent they have here. Sophomore Kyle Carter has the look of a future NFL H-back and the 2nd most-prized recruit Penn State landed after Hackenberg was tight end Adam Breneman who looks like he will be ready to contribute right away.
Best Draft Prospect: Allen Robinson WR 2nd Round 2014 (Is a junior but is projected to leave school early).
Losing center Matt Stankewitch is a blow because Penn State had a ton of success running right up the middle behind their dominant center. The left side may be where we see Penn State running more often this season with Donovan Smith, Ty Howle and Miles Dieffenbach back in the fold. We may see some shuffling on the right side of the line and the starting combo is not yet set. So long as the right side of the line provides some stability and is not a total disaster, Penn State should have more success running the football and trying to control the clock as they bring their young quarterbacks along slowly to start the season. Donovan Smith is a player that could go anywhere from the 2nd to 6th round at this time. I am high on him but he needs to play lower and with better leverage when tacking on blockers at the point of attack.
Best Draft Prospect: Donovan Smith OT 3rd Round 2016.
The defensive line has a solid mix of athletes who can pressure the quarterback and those who can stay at home and make a play at the point of attack in the running game. End Deion Barnes seems to have the most promise but he seems like a one-trick pony right now who can rush the passer all day. Barnes looks a lot like Aaron Maybin from a few years ago, a player that was highly overvalued and went #11 overall (and I warned was nothing more than a 5th round prospect, looking back I may have even been generous with that call). DaQuan Jones has the most experience at tackle and is the lone senior starter along the line. I have Jones penciled in as a 4th round prospect right now. Jones is one of the those players who will do anything you ask him and has a well-rounded game but is not particularly strong in any area and is not really a player any team just has to die to have. Penn State will rotate the line quite frequently so their will be no shortage of energy up front.
Best Draft Prospect: DaQuan Jones DT 4th Round 2014.
Gone are the days of “linebacker U.” but Penn State has no holes at linebacker, they just lack a big time playmaker. Penn State is filled with solid players who are fundamentally sound with limited range but get anywhere close to them and fighting through a tackle is something you will be hard pressed to do. Mike Hull is very fluid in coverage and CJ Olaniyan is a player who can give opposing offenses different looks. He may see more time at end but I like his prowess when he is asked to just rush off the edge lined up at linebacker, he will be the wildcard of this defense. Glenn Carson and Ben Kline will round out the other starting spots at linebacker and both again are solid yet unspectacular. I have Hull with a 5th round grade as he looks like he will definitely be drafted but is not in a position where leaving before his senior season should be an option.
Best Draft Prospect: Mike Hull 5th Round 2015.
The secondary is the question mark here, not because they are short on talent rather they are rather untested and kind of green when it comes to big time game experience. I have Adrian Amos as the only player right now being a legitimate draft prospect but youngster Trevor Williams, who is the primary backup at both safety spots may turn out to be the best prospect but the sophomore has plenty to prove.
Best Draft Prospect: Adrian Amos CB 7th Round 2015.
While the secondary is unproven Penn State has experience on special teams, it just looks like it could be an Achilles heel. Kicker Sam Ficken has some big misses last year and its no secret special teams play coast Penn State 1 and maybe even 2 victories a season ago. Alex Butterworth was near the bottom of the Big Ten in punting and the kick coverage teams were very inconsistent and penalized often. I would hate to see Penn State the victim of poor special teams play once again as this is an area that has rarely been a concern throughout the programs storied history.
Best Draft Prospect: N/A
Penn State is a bit unlucky this season as they will likely face the top what could be the top two teams from the Legends division in Michigan and Nebraska although both will be at home. Road games at Ohio State and the finale against Wisconsin loom making this a difficult schedule. As long as Penn State makes it through weeks 3 and 4 at home against improved UCF and Kent Sate squads Penn State should get some momentum to start the season and it should ensure they win a couple of big games as I feel another 8-4 regular season sounds about right for this team.
There are some big names here and we will be watching Allen Robinson and weather he declares for 2014. The tight ends both look like terrific young NFL hybrid types and youngsters like Christian Hackenberg at quarterback and Deion Barnes at end will ensure the scouts are paying close attention to this team weather they finish with ten wins or only two.