Penn State Football

From A(mos) to Z(ettel): How all the Nittany Lions are faring in the NFL

Dozens of Nittany Lions are succeeding in the NFL. From left to right are Sean Lee (Dallas Cowboys), Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins), NaVorro Bowman (San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders) and Jesse James (Pittsburgh Steelers).
Dozens of Nittany Lions are succeeding in the NFL. From left to right are Sean Lee (Dallas Cowboys), Cameron Wake (Miami Dolphins), NaVorro Bowman (San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders) and Jesse James (Pittsburgh Steelers). McClatchy, AP

The NFL regular season is in the books — so we thought it only appropriate to look back on the season to see how all of the Nittany Lions fared.

A number of undrafted players and high draft picks have received critical praise. Sam Ficken finally got his chance. And a plethora of future Pro Bowlers made the university proud.

There’s a lot to catch up on, so let’s get started on all the Nittany Lions from A(mos) to Z(ettel):

S Adrian Amos, Chicago Bears

Games played: 13; Games started: 10

Amos recorded a career-high 69 tackles despite opening the year as a backup and later missing three games due to a hamstring injury. Amos became a starter in Week 4 against the Green Bay Packers and had a memorable day in Week 6 against the Baltimore Ravens. Amos, a Baltimore native, returned his first career interception 90 yards for a touchdown in a win over Baltimore. “He’s a very prideful kid,” Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell said, according to NBC Sports. “He works hard and he wants to be a good pro.

LB Brandon Bell, Cincinnati Bengals

Games played: 3; Games started: 0

The rookie linebacker was promoted from Cincinnati’s practice squad late in the season when the team placed linebacker Kevin Minter on injured reserve. A few days later, Bell made his NFL debut in a Week 15 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The following week against Detroit, Bell made his first career tackle and finished with three stops before he recorded seven tackles in the final game of the year against Baltimore.

LB NaVorro Bowman, Oakland Raiders

Games played: 15; Games started: 15

Bowman was released by the San Francisco 49ers in October and soon became a productive leader on the Oakland Raiders defense. “I just absolutely love the football player in him,” former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio told ESPN in October. “He’s a hunting dog. He loves to play.” The veteran linebacker finished the season with 127 tackles, making 89 stops in 10 games for Oakland after seeing limited time in five games with San Francisco.

TE Kyle Carter, Minnesota Vikings

Games played: 3; Games started: 0

Carter made the Vikings’ roster for the first time in his career this season. Carter was promoted from the practice team in December to add depth at tight end due to an injury to Kyle Rudolph. Carter played in three games this season, but the tight end is still searching for his first career reception.

DE Jack Crawford, Atlanta Falcons

Games played: 4; Games started: 0

Crawford only played in four games in an injury-shortened 2017 season with Atlanta. The Falcons defensive end suffered a torn biceps against Buffalo in Week 4, which proved to be a season-ending injury. Crawford finished with five tackles on the year.

K Sam Ficken, Los Angeles Rams

Games played: 2; Games started: 2

With Greg Zuerlein out due to injury, Ficken signed with the Rams and made his debut in Week 16 against Tennessee. Ficken missed his first extra point attempt and his first field goal attempt for the Rams, but he went 4-for-5 on field goals and 5-for-6 on extra points in three games — including going 2-for-2 on field goals in Los Angeles’ loss to the Falcons in the playoffs. “He doesn’t seem like any moment is too big for him, and I loved the way he responded in Tennessee,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, according to the Orange County Register.

T Garry Gilliam, San Francisco 49ers

Games played: 8; Games started: 1

It was a tough year for Gilliam. The offensive lineman went down with a season-ending knee injury in late October. Gilliam didn’t get to contribute to one win as the 49ers started the year 0-9 before beating the New York Giants.

WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Games played: 16; Games started: 2

Godwin impressed his head coach with his willingness to do anything he was asked in his rookie campaign. “We’ve asked him to be a backup — he has gone in as a backup and done a good job,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter said, according to Buccaneers.com. We’ve asked him to play special teams — he has been a standout on special teams.” Godwin also showed his potential by the end of the season. The rookie finished with seven catches for 111 yards and hauled in the game-winning touchdown in the team’s victory over New Orleans in the regular season finale. The touchdown grab with nine seconds left was also the first of his pro career.

K Robbie Gould, San Francisco 49ers

Games played: 16; Games started: 16

Gould proved to be one of the top kickers in the NFL in 2017. He made a league-high 39 field goals and connected on 95.1 percent of his 41 attempts. “When he goes out there, I never think he’s going to miss it,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said, according to The Press Democrat. “He has been automatic.” Only Carolina’s Graham Gano was more accurate at 96.7 percent on 30 attempts. Gould sparked San Francisco’s five-game winning streak to end the season with five field goals in the team’s 15-14 win over Chicago.

QB Christian Hackenberg, New York Jets

Games played: 0; Games started: 0

Hackenberg spent another season watching from the sidelines for the Jets. The quarterback hasn’t played in a regular-season game yet. He sat behind Josh McCown and Bryce Petty in 2017. “The book on Christian is not closed. He’s only 22 years old,” general manager Mike Maccagnan said, according to the New York Daily News. “He’s made progress, made development.” Maccagnan added Hackenberg will “get his opportunities going forward.”

LB Tamba Hali, Kansas City Chiefs

Games played: 5; Games started: 0

Hali didn’t play in a game this season until Nov. 5 against Dallas. The veteran had been on the physically unable to perform list before that matchup, and he ultimately only made one tackle in five games during the regular season. It may have been Hali’s last season, as he said he was “leaning more towards (being with) my family” when asked about retirement last week, according to the Kansas City Star.

DT Jordan Hill, Detroit Lions

Games played: 0; Games started: 0

Hill missed this season after going down with a biceps injury during the preseason.

WR Chris Hogan, New England Patriots

Games played: 9; Games started: 7

The former Penn State men’s lacrosse player also dealt with injury this year. Hogan did not play in seven of his team’s final eight games due to a shoulder injury. The tough finish followed a strong start for the wide receiver in 2017 — highlighted by his streak of four straight games with a touchdown catch. He finished with 34 catches for 439 yards and five touchdowns. “He’s been a great player for us since he got here last year,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said.

LB Mike Hull, Miami Dolphins

Games played: 16; Games started: 3

Hull started the first three games of the season at linebacker for Miami, making a season-high 10 tackles in the opener against the Los Angeles Chargers. Hull is known as “Scrap” to teammates and coaches, according to the Sun Sentinel. “Every time we’ve had to play him, whether it’s in game situations, practice, he’s always ready,” Miami defensive coordinator Matt Burke told the Sun Sentinel. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s a great instinctive football player. He’s always around the ball.” Hull also made his mark on special teams and finished the year with 35 tackles.

TE Jesse James, Pittsburgh Steelers

Games played: 16; Games started: 14

James, who finished with a career-high 43 catches this season, made headlines with his controversial non-catch in the final minute of a 27-24 loss to the New England Patriots. James hauled in a pass and lunged toward the goal line for what appeared to be the go-ahead score, but it was ruled an incomplete pass after the officials reviewed the play. James finished the regular season with 372 yards receiving and three touchdown grabs.

DE DaQuan Jones, Tennessee Titans

Games played: 12; Games started: 12

Jones is another former Nittany Lion who saw his season cut short due to a biceps injury. The defensive lineman was making a difference right before his injury, recording 3 1/2 sacks in his final two games. Jones had two sacks against Indianapolis on Nov. 26 and 1 1/2 sacks against Houston on Dec. 3. Jones finished with 31 tackles to go with his career-high 3 1/2 sacks this year.

DT Austin Johnson, Tennessee Titans

Games played: 16; Games started: 3

Johnson had impressed Titans coach Mike Mularkey with his play before replacing the injured DaQuan Jones as a starter on the defensive line. “I don’t think he gets credit for what he does production-wise for the number of snaps that he plays a game,” Mularkey said, according to Titansonline.com. Johnson, who started three of the team’s final four games, had 24 tackles and one sack during the regular season.

MLB Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys

Games played: 11; Games started: 11

Lee led the Dallas defense when he was on the field — he finished with 101 tackles — but the linebacker missed five games due to a hamstring injury. “It’s unacceptable how much time I’ve missed. I got to stay on the football field,” Lee said, according to the Dallas Morning News. Lee had a season-high 18 tackles and one interception in a win over the Giants after missing three games due to injury. “He is so damn productive,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said, according to the Dallas Morning News.

S Jordan Lucas, Miami Dolphins

Games played: 11; Games started: 0

Lucas started the year on Miami’s practice squad before being added to the roster in early October. He primarily contributed on special teams, making four of his six tackles on the season in that role. Lucas had two tackles on defense in Miami’s blowout win over Denver.

LB Michael Mauti, New Orleans Saints

Games played: 11; Games started: 2

Mauti earned two starts at linebacker and played on special teams for the Saints. Mauti rejoined the team in October and earned his first start in November after his 2016 season came to an early end due to ulcerative colitis. “He’s one of those special guys,” Saints coach Sean Payton said, according to The Times-Picayune.

DE Carl Nassib, Cleveland Browns

Games played: 16; Games started: 12

Nassib recorded 32 tackles and three sacks during the Browns’ 0-16 season — and he made a costly mistake in one of the team’s losses. Nassib was whistled for an offsides penalty when teammate Myles Garrett returned an interception for a touchdown in the second half against Chicago. Nassib’s mistake erased the score, which would have pushed the Browns ahead 10-6. Cleveland went on to lose 20-3 to the Bears. “That is inexcusable,” Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said, according to cleveland.com. “Carl will be the first to tell you that. He’s apologizing in the locker room.”

LB Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville Jaguars

Games played: 16; Games started: 11

Posluszny was part of a winning team for the first time in his NFL career this season. “It sucks that a really good player like that — who does everything right, has never been fined, never complains, unselfish — has never had a winning season,” Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said, according to the Associated Press. “You’ve got guys that don’t even care about the game as much as he does riding the wave on some teams.” Posluszny had 61 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks during the regular season.

WR Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

Games played: 1; Games started: 1

Robinson tore his ACL in the season opener against Houston. His year came to an end when he suffered the injury after making his first catch of the season.

C A.Q. Shipley, Arizona Cardinals

Games played: 16; Games started: 16

The Cardinals may have been ravaged by injuries this season, but Shipley toughed it out to start every game. In fact, the Cardinals’ own official website even ran a story titled, “A.Q. Shipley Is Cardinals’ Last Man Standing.” Wideout Larry Fitzgerald had this to say about the former Rimington Award winner: “He’s as tough as a boot.” Offensive line coach Harold Goodwin called him “a blessing.”

T Donovan Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Games played: 16; Games started: 16

The Bucs’ offensive line received quite a bit of criticism this season — but Smith has mostly been the exception. One fan blog, Fansided, said it might’ve been the best season of Smith’s young career. And head coach Dick Koetter was much more to the point: “All Donovan Smith does is play hurt, play consistent, play against the best pass-rushers in the world. Donovan Smith is a pretty darn good football player.” Despite some bumps and cruises, Smith has started all 48 games during his three-year career.

LB Nate Stupar, New Orleans Saints

Games played: 4; Games started: 0

The State College native, a key special-teams contributor, suffered a season-ending ACL injury in Week 6 and was put on injured reserve. He had one tackle on the year.

TE Ross Travis, Indianapolis Colts

Games played: 15; Games started: 3

The former men’s basketball player played in 11 games and started three for the Kansas City Chiefs, before he was released Nov. 27. A day later, Indianapolis claimed him and, two weeks after that in his Colts debut, he had two catches for 33 yards against the Denver Broncos. He finished the year with seven catches for 76 yards.

DE Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins

Games played: 16; Games started: 16

Wake suffered a torn Achilles’ tendon in 2015 — which bears reminding because he hasn’t skipped a beat since returning. He finished with 11.5 sacks in 2016 and, this past season, amassed 10.5. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler who has 92 career sacks.

CB Trevor Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

Games played: 16; Games started: 15

SB Nation might’ve summed up Williams’ season best during an Oct. 18 article, which was titled, “Trevor Williams is the unsung hero on this Chargers team.” Williams, who went undrafted in 2016, has risen to become a solid starter. He had 56 tackles and two picks this season. Said Pro Bowler Casey Hayward: “To go from a guy who was undrafted to start the last two years says a lot about his character and the way he was brought up.”

G/C Stefen Wisniewski, Philadelphia Eagles

Games played: 14; Games started: 11

The eight-year vet began the first two games as a backup, then worked into the rotation as a left guard — and, by Week 6, he was the starter and a crucial part of one of the NFL’s top scoring offenses. He will make his first-ever playoff appearance at 4:35 p.m. Saturday against the Atlanta Falcons. “I’ve been waiting a long time to get here,” he told PennLive.

DL Anthony Zettel, Detroit Lions

Games played: 16; Games started: 16

The former sixth-round pick has matured pretty quickly as a pass-rusher. The second-year player finished second on the Lions in sacks with 6.5, behind only Ezekiel Ansah, who recorded 12. Zettel has earned plenty of praise during national broadcasts from experts and after games from teammates. Said Detroit DE Cornelius Washington: “”Anthony is freaking balling right now.”

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