Penn State offensive tackle Ryan Bates, a redshirt junior, became the Nittany Lions’ third underclassman to declare early for the NFL draft on Wednesday in the most surprising move yet.
Earlier in the day, offensive guard Connor McGovern decided to forgo his final collegiate season — but he was ranked by ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. as the top guard in the 2019 class. Defensive end Shareef Miller also declared, but his decision was well-known by many in the previous months.
Bates was always a possibility, but it seemed as if staying was his best option. Drafttek, one of the few websites that runs mock NFL drafts for all seven rounds, didn’t even have him rated as one of the Big Ten’s 65 draft-ready prospects.
“These past four years at Penn State have been some of the most memorable years of my life,” Bates wrote on Twitter. “Attending Penn State and being a part of the football program has been a blessing for me and my family. ... After much discussion with friends, family and coaches, I have made the decision to forgo my final year of eligibility and declare for the NFL draft.”
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All five of Penn State’s starting offensive linemen had eligibility to return again for the 2019 season. But, now, at least two will leave — and the status of starting offensive guard Steven Gonzalez isn’t currently known. He also has the opportunity to leave early.
Soon-to-be redshirt sophomore Mike Miranda will likely take over one of those open starting spots, but the other is a question mark. It will almost certainly be one of the talks of spring camp.
Bates was a three-year starter who played in 37 career games and started in all but two of those. He was third-team all-conference in each of the past two seasons and boasted the versatility to move from the left to the right as needed.
He graduated with a degree in Labor & Employment Relations and obviously felt ready for his next step. Hopefully for fans, the Nittany Lions’ offensive line is prepared, too.