Saquon Barkley is going to be one of the top picks — if not the No. 1 overall selection — in the 2018 NFL draft.
We spoke with draft experts before about his NFL stock. But what about the Nittany Lions not named Barkley?
Where will Marcus Allen, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton land? And outside of that trio, who is Penn State’s most intriguing prospect?
Two draft scouts — ESPN’s Steve Muench and OurLads’ Dan Shonka — broke down that and more in this pre-NFL Combine, non-Barkley draft preview.
Q: Marcus Allen could’ve left after his junior campaign but came back for his senior year. What growth did you see from Allen, and how does he project in the NFL?
Muench: He’s what, the sixth Penn State player to have 300 tackles? He’s very good against the run. Some people may have watched the Ohio State game, and there was some sloppy tackling in that. Not his best tape. But I think if you look at his overall body of work, he’s an above-average tackler who has some pop. I like the way he chases and takes good angles. He’s a good run defender. I think he has limitations in coverage. You have to use him the right way. He’s not a rangy center fielder. ... But he has good instincts if you’re asking him to cover one-half of the field instead of the entire deep middle. I think he’s at his best playing that robber coverage underneath. Maybe he beefs up and is a nickel linebacker and develops into that role. You really have to use him in the right way. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a starter. But I think he could be an excellent role player and excellent on special teams. I think he has that kind of mentality. We have him in the fourth round right now. First round you’re thinking of a Pro Bowl player. Second round, you’re thinking of a solid starter, and third, this guy might not be a starter early on in his career but develops into a solid starter. I like Marcus Allen. I just think it’s going to be tough for him to hold up in coverage in the NFL.
Shonka: To me, he’s a second-round draft choice. He’s very active, very productive. You saw No. 2 around the pile all the time. With all these juniors coming out, the crazy people are going to take quarterbacks at the top that can’t play, and that might push Marcus down. But second or third round is a safe bet.
Q: It’s well-known that tight end Mike Gesicki could improve his blocking. But with the way the league is emphasizing these athletic tight ends — Evan Engram, David Njoku, O.J. Howard all first-rounders last year — where is Gesicki’s stock?
Muench: You hit the nail on the head with where the NFL is going with these tight ends. He’s a big target. He has great length and big hands. He does not drop a lot of passes. All those tight ends you mentioned, they create matchup problems. If you’re going to take Gesicki, you’re getting a guy that’s going to be someone you can use that way. You can isolate him against a corner or safety in the red zone, and it’s going to be tough for them to win that jump-ball situation. He’s a 6-foot-6 athlete who, because of his volleyball and basketball background, is used to going up and high-pointing balls. He’s a ‘move’ tight end instead of a mauler in the run game. That’s not Gesicki’s game. But you can use him to help your passing game. I think he’s a Day 2 guy. It’ll be interesting to see how he does at the Senior Bowl and how he tests. But you’re looking at second- or third-round range.
Shonka: I think he’ll end up being toward the top in a decent group of tight ends. You’ve got (Mark) Andrews from Oklahoma and Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State; they’re bigger, stronger guys. We’ve got him ranked as our third tight end, and he’ll probably go in the third- or fourth-round range. If somebody loves him, he could squeeze in the second. But that’s where we have him.
Q: As a four-year wide receiver, highs and lows were abundant with DaeSean Hamilton. Where do you see him fitting in the mix with the wideouts?
Muench: He grew on me. He has an NFL frame. I think he’s a very good route-runner. One thing I liked about his tape, he’s a guy who understands that playbook. ... He has a good feel for coverage and where there are pockets. When they run their rub routes, he’s really good at that. He is selfless in that situation. He knows how to pick a guy off without getting flagged. He also does a good job of setting up his breaks; his footwork is pretty good. I will say, I don’t see a guy who is overly explosive. If you put him up against an elite NFL corner, he’s going to have a hard time separating. In terms of big-play ability, he averaged 16 yards per catch or something like that; I don’t see a guy who’s that kind of a player (in the NFL). There are a couple times where he makes guys miss after the catch, but not a guy who’s going to wow you with his big-play ability. ... He would be a No. 4 receiver who works out of the slot. He could find a home on a roster doing that, but he has to show he can compete on special teams. ... I would not be surprised if he’s a Day 3 pick or a priority free agent signing.
Shonka: He runs good routes, catches the ball well. The thing is, there’s not a whole lot of receivers out there that do a good job of catching the ball. With lot of these receivers, what’s going to shake ’em up going up and down (on draft boards) is what they can run a 40 in. DaeSean has pretty good size, people are going to like that. He’s playing in the East-West Shrine Game, so that will help him a lot. If he runs really fast, he can go in the third round. But if not, you’re probably looking at him in the fourth-round area.
Q: Out of the remaining Penn Staters, who is the most intriguing prospect, and why?
Muench: I think it’s (Christian) Campbell, the corner. We have him right now as a fringe third-round guy. He’s a one-year starter. I wish I saw him make more plays on the ball. Same thing with Marcus Allen. But Campbell’s intriguing because I think he needs to get stronger; you can see him get pushed around a bit at the top of the stem. But he has the potential to develop into a starting corner in a zone-heavy scheme. He’s willing to step up and play the run. He shows good instincts breaking down routes in front of him. I also think he has the length and size to develop into an effective press corner. And he’s probably going to test well. Some positions it’s not as important as others, but when you’re a defensive back and you test well, teams are going to think this kid has a lot of potential and will be willing to work with him. The other aspect of him is — still, he needs to get stronger — but he played safety in high school, and he has that frame that if you wanted to bulk him up and move him to free safety, you could. He has some versatility. He’s an intriguing player.
Shonka: Both corners, (Grant) Haley and Campbell, are both guys who are going to be on NFL rosters next year. I know Campbell is very well thought of, and he’ll be playing in the Senior Bowl. Haley is playing in the East-West, and the East-West Game, every corner who plays in it ends up making it in the league. That’s a good sign for Haley. You’ve got (Jason) Cabinda playing in the East-West; he’ll have a great opportunity there to show what he can do. He’s a downhill guy. His stock will go up according to how he covers. That’s the big thing, how to cover backs. Is he a two-down linebacker or is he a three-down linebacker? Teams will have to make that assessment for themselves. You’re talking about fourth or fifth round for Cabinda. ... Campbell, you’re going to see in the fourth or fifth, and Haley probably in the fifth or sixth. And then those defensive tackles, they’re going to have a chance to go into camp somewhere, too. Parker (Cothren), he would be an under tackle in a 4-3 scheme. I could see him getting drafted late. And (Curtis Cothran), he could play end or tackle in a 4-3 or a 3-4.
Q: Adam Breneman played for Penn State a few years back, but is still a fan favorite. What’s your outlook on the UMass tight end?
Muench: With his history, how well is that knee going to hold up? Some teams might pass on him; some teams might not. In terms of the tape, you like the frame. He’s a big target. There are times where he sits over the middle, and he could be a real zone-buster. ... On the flip-side, I thought there were times that he could’ve made some contested catches, but didn’t. He needs to be more consistent in that area because big tight ends like that, they’re not guys who separate extremely well. He shows that ability to box out defenders and make contested catches, but he has to be more consistent in that area. And he’s not a great blocker. He needs to be more aggressive and strong at the point of attack. Not a guy who’s going move guys off the ball in the run game. Needs to take better angles when he’s climbing up to the second level to pick off linebackers. The good news in that sense is that he does have that athletic ability and frame to develop into an effective blocker. I’d like to see more tenacity and aggressiveness. But when you throw on his highlights, it’s impressive. There’s a catch he makes against Florida International where it’s down the seam and a one-handed catch and a guy draped over him. If you were just looking at this kid’s highlights, you’d be really excited. But with the durability, blocking and consistency of his game, there are some concerns.
Shonka: Some teams are going to eliminate him because of his physical problems. He’s just been beat up. But he can catch the ball. Every team is different in the way they look at guys. Some won’t take him because of the knee problems. Some will say, “Hey, we can get a couple years out of him.” The highest we would take him would be the fourth or fifth round. ... He would go higher if he was physically well. Again, some teams might take him in the third round. It’s a crapshoot out there.