Eight former Nittany Lions have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove themselves to NFL coaches, scouts and executives.
Invitations to the 2018 NFL Combine were announced Tuesday afternoon, and Penn State will be well-represented.
Saquon Barkley headlines the group invited to Indianapolis from Feb. 27 to March 5. Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki round out the offense, while linebacker Jason Cabinda and defensive backs Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, Christian Campbell and Troy Apke represent the Nittany Lions’ defense.
Eight invitees are the most for Penn State since 2009. That group featured State College native Jordan Norwood and star wideout Derrick Williams.
The eight former Nittany Lions are also the second-most in the Big Ten and tied for seventh nationally.
Barkley’s invite was no surprise, and neither was Gesicki nor Hamilton. The Maxwell Award finalist, Barkley, is a sure-fire first-round selection, while the latter two combined for 110 catches, 1,420 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2017. Hamilton torched cornerbacks all week at the Senior Bowl, and Gesicki could be the next Nittany Lion drafted after Barkley, given the NFL’s emphasis on athletic tight ends.
Allen was a no-brainer invitee, as well. The lively hard-hitter is the No. 5 free safety in the draft class, according to CBS Sports.
This opportunity is important for Barkley, Hamilton, Gesicki and Allen — but the argument could be made that it will make a bigger difference for the other four Nittany Lions.
Cabinda, who led Penn State with 88 tackles in 2017, is a projected mid- to late-round selection who can boost his stock significantly at the Combine. Campbell — a lengthy corner with high upside, according to a bevy of NFL scouts — could separate himself from the pack and climb to a Day 2 pick. Haley and Apke, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl MVP, are fringe draft prospects who could further solidify their status.
The team interviews during the week will be critical, and so will on-field performance. Barkley’s time to shine will be March 2 with the rest of the running backs. Hamilton and Gesicki go the following day, Cabinda will showcase his skills on March 4, and the defensive backs are scheduled for March 5.
The NFL Network and NFL.com will have coverage of the Combine.