As early NFL Draft declarations begin to pour in, a few of Penn State’s underclassmen will have to decide whether to come back to college or forgo their final year of eligibility and try their luck in the league.
Let’s take a look at who could declare early and what it would mean for Penn State.
Miller said that he has made a decision about his future during a press conference at Beaver Stadium on Friday. He plans to announce his intentions after the Citrus Bowl.
On the surface, Miller seems like the most likely candidate to declare early. A two-time All-Big Ten third team selection, the defensive end has had a career year in 2018, logging 33 tackles and career-best 14 TFLs and seven sacks. This coming on the heels of an 11.5 TFL and 5.5 sack season in 2017.
The Nittany Lions are pretty well off at defensive end if he were to leave for the NFL. Yetur Gross-Matos emerged as a superstar late in the year and guys like Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons are waiting in the wings. Add in Jayson Oweh and Nick Tarburton, and you have yourself a pretty stacked position group.
At 6’5/260, Miller’s got a great build for an edge rusher at the next level. He will at least draw consideration from NFL teams and should receive an invite to the combine if he were to declare early. Factor in the fact that he’s often alluded to the 2019 Draft throughout his career, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where’s back in Happy Valley for another year.
Declaration Likelihood: 5/5
McGovern has proven he could play with the best since the moment he walked on campus. Making 34 starts in three years, he’s put a lot on tape for scouts to sink their teeth into.
McGovern has bounced around between center and guard throughout his career, with his better showings coming at the former. He looked very comfortable at the position when he filled in for the injured Michal Menet in the regular season finale, helping pave the way to 310 rushing yards, the second-highest output of the season. Regardless, he was a third-team all-conference selection for his play at guard.
The offensive line has the rare opportunity to bring everyone back next season, so even if McGovern declares early, Matt Limegrover will have a lot of options. Mike Miranda was terrific in his first career start in the aforementioned Maryland game. He’s the most likely candidate to replace McGovern should he leave. CJ Thorpe is expected to flip back over to the offensive side of the ball after the season and Des Holmes has had time to develop on the scout team. Those two will provide solid depth along the interior.
McGovern is an intriguing prospect. He’s put a lot on tape at two positions and has the athleticism to play in a fast-paced offense. With that being said, he’s not expected to be all that early of a draft pick this season. If he comes back, he will be considered one of the best linemen in the conference and could put himself in position to be an early round pick in 2020.
Declaration Likelihood: 3/5
It’s not often that a one-year starter has a legitimate case to leave for the NFL but Miles Sanders is that good.
The former five-star prospect rushed for 1,223 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 132 yards in the receiving game. He’s on pace to have more rushing yards than Saquon Barkley did during his final season in the Blue and White, on about as many attempts.
James Franklin has consistently gotten blue-chip talent into the running back room, with guys like Ricky Slade impressing as a freshman and four-star speedster Devyn Ford expected to sign later this week. Journey Brown also impressed in limited action and former Notre Dame back CJ Holmes will be available going forward after sitting out this year after transferring.
Running backs traditionally have a short shelf life in the league, so it would be hard to fault Sanders for trying to make his money while he can. He’s built like an NFL back and showcased some skills in the receiving game that the modern NFL loves from a back. There’s really nothing an extra year on tape would show NFL scouts that they don’t already know.
Declaration Likelihood: 4/5
Ryan Bates has been a stalwart of the offensive line since 2016. A three-year starter, he’s the heart and soul of a unit that’s improved every year he’s been around.
Bates has tremendous upside. At 6’4/302, he could play either guard or tackle at the next level, something he’s done during his time at Penn State as well. He proved to the Nittany Lions most important lineman when he went down with a knee injury against Ohio State, as the line looked noticeably weaker without him.
Fries and Bates flipped sides late in the season, with the entire offense looking better with Fries protecting McSorley’s blindside. He should be able to hold on to that role for at least another season. Opposite of him, the contenders would appear to be Alex Gellerstedt and Rasheed Walker. Gellerstedt was always expected to be a project and is heading into his redshirt junior year, this may be the best chance he’ll have to secure a starting spot. Rasheed Walker apparently turned heads all season on the scout team. He’s a high ceiling guy who will crack the starting rotation at some point.
Bates is undoubtedly a pro prospect but he could really benefit from a full a season at right tackle. Playing three entire seasons at three different positions will showcase a versatility most linemen don’t have. Like McGovern, he’s likely to be drafted if he were to declare but he could work his way up boards if he waits until 2020.
Declaration Likelihood: 3/5
John Reid’s case is a bit different from most. He played as a true freshman and if a knee injury had not held him out of the 2017 season, he would have run out of eligibility after this season.
Reid got off to a slow start in his return to action in September, looking a step slower than when we last saw him and missing some key plays that we’ve grown accustomed him making. He flipped the switch at about the midpoint of the season and looked like the pro prospect he was becoming at the end of the 2016 season.
Even with Amani Oruwariye’s impending graduation, Penn State is very deep at corner. Tariq Castro-Fields was fantastic in a larger role this season and Donovan Johnson impressed as a redshirt freshman. If Reid does go, you can pencil those guys in as starters. The third corner will go to Trent Gordon, Zech McPhearson, or maybe even Lamont Wade if he slides back up from safety. Each of those three will be able to fill the role just as well as TCF did.
Had John Reid not gotten hurt, we’d be talking about him as a potential second-round pick in April. He can still get back to that level, but he needs to come back for one more season. Scouts surely noticed his early-season woes and showing he’s healthy for a full season will alleviate those concerns. Paired with TCF, the duo would form one of Penn State’s best corner combos in recent years.
Declaration Likelihood: 2/5
What are your thoughts? Any other Nittany Lions you think might take their NFL shot? Let us know in the comments!