Penn State football doesn’t stop Saturday — there are plenty of Nittany Lions playing on Sundays, too.
Twenty-four Penn State alumni are currently on active NFL rosters, four are on injured reserve, and another five earned practice roster spots. So, every week at the Centre Daily Times, we’ll highlight some of those players, whether it’s top plays, top performances, or however we can best sum up PSU’s NFL showing.
After Week 1, we’re looking at the season opener’s top performers, ranked from 1-5. Take a look:
1. RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
First career touchdown? Check. First career 100-yard rushing performance? Check. Impressing the entire NFL nation in your career debut? Check.
Barkley was bottled up for much of the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But Penn State fans know that he can break one at any moment — and he did just that in the second half. In the final quarter, Barkley avoided four would-be tacklers off the right tackle and sprinted for a 68-yard touchdown run.
“It was a great run,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said after the game. “That’s why we drafted that young man.”
Barkley finished his first-ever NFL regular season game with 18 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown. He also had two receptions for 22 yards, although the Giants lost 20-15.
2. WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Godwin started his sophomore season with three catches for 41 yards in a wild 48-40 win over the New Orleans Saints. On paper, not a crazy stat line.
But Godwin stood out in the opportunities he had.
In the first quarter, the Rose Bowl star snagged a one-handed catch over the middle. And before halftime, Godwin bodied Saints cornerback Ken Crawley for a 9-yard, tip-toe touchdown grab.
Godwin — whose receiving yards over the second half of last season ranked second to only Mike Evans in Tampa Bay — could be in for a breakout 2018.
“I think (his) reputation in our building is already growing,” Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter told The Athletic prior to the season opener. “Chris is doing all the things he needs to be doing right now to be a really good player in this league.”
3. LT Donovan Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s difficult for an offensive lineman to get noticed among a field of 23 other active NFL-playing Penn State alumni. But there was never a question about Smith this week.
Smith, who was still limited in Thursday’s practice with a sprained knee, got it together just in time for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints. Although he wasn’t perfect — he did have a block in the back — he was still, overall, solid.
He protected QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s blindside, kept him clean and helped spring him to a career day. Fitzpatrick wasn’t sacked once, and he finished with a near-perfect QBR of 97.1. He was 21 of 28 for 417 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bucs have next-to-no depth on the offensive line. And if Smith didn’t play Sunday, the 48-40 Bucs win might not have come to fruition.
4. S Adrian Amos, Chicago Bears
Despite Chicago’s fourth-quarter collapse, it was a nice night for the budding safety. Amos racked up six tackles, all of which were solo stops, in the Bears’ 24-23 loss to Aaron Rodgers’ heroics.
That performance bolsters Amos’ “secret superstar” status.
In 2017, Amos was graded by Pro Football Focus as the league’s third-best safety, behind only Minnesota’s Harrison Smith and Los Angeles Rams Lamarcus Joyner. His 92.0 rating put him ahead of Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Malcolm Jenkins and other stars.
According to PFF, Amos ranked second in yards allowed per reception (7.1) among qualified safeties. He also held opponents to 3.50 yards after the catch, which was fifth-best among safeties with at least 25 targets.
Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Amos — a fifth-round pick in 2015 — has a chance to become a household name.
5. WR Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
In Robinson’s first game since tearing his ACL 364 days before, the former Jacksonville Jaguar introduced himself to a new fan base.
Late in the first quarter, Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky put one up for Robinson — a jump-ball machine at Penn State — and he dominated first-round rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander in the air. Robinson ripped down the 33-yard catch, and later on the drive, the wideout caught a 13-yarder that set up Cody Parkey’s field goal.
Robinson disappeared a little bit in the second half, as did most of the Bears’ offense.
But the Nittany Lions’ single-season receptions leader showed why he was the NFL’s receiving touchdowns co-leader in 2015. Robinson and contested catches are a match made in football heaven.