Hours after the 2017 NFL draft concluded, the undrafted free agent signing flurry was underway — and a handful of Nittany Lions were picked up.
Penn State confirmed reports and social media posts Tuesday afternoon that four former players — Garrett Sickels, Brandon Bell, Malik Golden and Evan Schwan — inked deals with different NFL clubs.
Here’s a look at each one:
Garrett Sickels, defensive end, Indianapolis Colts
Outside of wide receiver Chris Godwin, who was selected with the No. 84 pick by Tampa Bay, Sickels was the most likely Nittany Lion to be drafted. However, 19 defensive ends were picked instead of the New Jersey native, who left Penn State with a year of eligibility remaining.
Sickels had a career year in 2016, recording 47 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.
He’ll try to stick with the Colts, who had the fifth-best pass rush in the NFL last season (44.0 sacks).
“We couldn’t be happier for Garrett,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said in a written statement. “He worked hard to become a complete defensive end and plays with tenacious effort, who is in constant pursuit of the ball. Garrett’s work ethic and understanding of the game will make him highly productive for the Colts.”
Brandon Bell, linebacker, Cincinnati Bengals
Bell was productive in his final season at Penn State with a career-high 88 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss despite missing four games to injury. He also had three forced fumbles and two interceptions, one of which came on his final play for the Nittany Lions in the Rose Bowl.
But Bell isn’t under any illusions. He knows he’ll have to continue to work to stay at the pro level.
“Feels awesome,” he told the Centre Daily Times. “But I know it’s only the first step.”
The Bengals drafted three linebackers, so it won’t be easy for Bell to land a roster spot — but Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry also believes he can do it.
“Brandon Bell is one of the most instinctive players that I have coached,” Pry said. “He is not going to wow you on the record board, but when it comes to game film, I am not sure I have coached a better player that recognizes and plays anticipative defense the way that Brandon does. He is a true gamer.”
Malik Golden, safety, San Francisco 49ers
A 17-game starter at safety, Golden’s dependability is something the Nittany Lions have to replace for the 2017 season. He made 75 tackles, six for a loss, and had three pass breakups as a senior.
San Francisco drafted a safety in the seventh round, but the position is still one of relative weakness for the 49ers. Golden, whether on defense or special teams, has an opportunity to earn a place in the Bay Area.
Penn State safeties coach Tim Banks added: “Malik is a young man who loves to compete and will make others better with his leadership.”
Evan Schwan, defensive end, New York Giants
After making a career-high 32 tackles and six sacks in 2016, Schwan was a bit overshadowed by Sickels.
Unlike Sickels, though, Schwan is joining a team that lacked a potent pass rush. The Giants recorded 22 sacks last season, better than only two teams (Pittsburgh, Oakland).
Schwan isn’t the first Penn State defensive end to latch on with the Giants as an undrafted free agent — Brad Bars signed on after the 2015 NFL draft and played that season. Schwan is hoping to make the same initial impression.
“We are so happy that Evan has this opportunity,” Franklin said. “He has great potential and will work hard with this chance to continue his career. Evan plays with an unbelievable motor and he continues to improve in almost every area of his game; his best football is ahead of him.”