Hey rookie, welcome to the NFL.
For 13 Nittany Lions, those words are the culmination of a lifelong dream that has come to fruition. Six Penn State players were selected in this weekend’s 2018 NFL Draft, and seven more were signed as undrafted free agents. Here’s a look at how the six Nittany Lions drafted will fare in their new homes this summer.
Saquon Barkley, First Round Second Pick-New York Giants
There isn’t much to say about the newest Giants’ running back that hasn’t already been said in his illustrious career at Penn State. A rare combination of elusiveness and strength, Barkley was the highest Penn State draft pick since Courtney Brown and Lavar Arrington were selected with the first two picks in the 2000 NFL Draft. Barkley will join a New York backfield that is crowded, but devoid of superstar ability. Orleans Darkwa, Wayne Gallman and Shane Vereen took most of the snaps at running back last season for the Giants, who ranked 26th last season, averaging 97 yards per game. Barring an injury or an extremely productive summer from one of the aforementioned backs, the starting job should be Barkley’s to lose from the onset. I’d expect the Giants to attempt to give Barkley as close to 200 touches as possible this season, getting as much out of the young back as the can before his shelf life expires.
Mike Gesicki, Second Round Tenth Pick-Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins were in desperate need of a functional tight end when they selected Mike Gesicki with the 42nd overall pick this weekend. Julius Thomas caught 41 passes last season for 388 yards and three touchdowns, but was released by the team in early March to clear cap space. Gesicki is a long, athletic, receiving tight end who will certainly become a matchup problem in the NFL. He’ll be too fast for linebackers to stay with, and too physical for smaller safeties to deal with. Gesicki possesses soft hands and is able to grab the ball mid-flight at its apex due to his tremendous leaping ability. The concern with Gesicki is well documented: he struggles blocking. This will limit Gesicki, at least in the beginning of his career, in the amount of snaps he can receive. As his blocking improves, so too will his time on the field. I expect Gesicki to be a factor for this Dolphins team that is without its 2017 leading receiver, Jarvis Landry, whom Miami traded to Cleveland earlier this year.
Troy Apke, Fourth Round Ninth Pick-Washington Redskins
I was shocked that Apke was taken as early as he was. Apke was a combine wonder, showcasing his freakish athletic abilities. He ran a 4.34 40-yard dash, jumped 41 inches in the vertical and wowed scouts with his foot work in the cone drill. Why I was shocked was his lack of production at times at Penn State. I’m not entirely convinced still that Apke can be a conver safety in the NFL. I felt that Apke’s skill set would leave him on the board longer than his athleticism would hope. But it appears that the Washington Redskins felt otherwise, adding Apke with the ninth pick in the fourth round. What he will do well with the Redskins is hit and be in the right spot consistently. The Redskins beefed up their secondary by bringing in Orlando Scandricks this offseason, and Apke will have to contend with the likes of D.J. Swearinger and Deshazor Everett to crack the starting lineup, but he’ll be a nice addition to the Washington special teams unit immediately.
Daesean Hamilton, Fourth Round 13th Pick-Denver Broncos
Four picks after Troy Apke was selected, and a round after I projected, Daesean Hamilton was taken by the Denver Broncos. I predicted a third round selection based on a combination of Senior Bowl love and senior season productivity. Hamilton caught nine touchdowns and picked up nearly 900 receiving yards in his final season as a Nittany Lion. As I said in a previous article, his slip in the Draft is due to his lack of explosiveness off the ball. Hamilton is, however, a tremendous route runner. Denver clearly felt it needed to address an offense that 17th in total offense and 20th in passing offense by adding multiple receivers to the fold. The Broncos also selected SMU wideout Courtland Sutton in the second round and Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli in the fifth round. With the addition of Case Keenum under center, and Royce Freeman added to the running back core, the Broncos could have an entirely new offensive look for 2018.
Marcus Allen, Fifth Round 11th Pick-Pittsburgh Steelers
Just as Apke being selected so early surprised me, so too did Allen falling to the fifth round of the NFL Draft. I may be biased toward Allen because I’ve admired his work ethic during his tenure at Penn State, but I felt he was a late third, early fourth round selection through an objective viewpoint. I think the reason he fell so far was because of coverage concerns of stronger, more physical tight ends. He’s not the faster safety, either. But Allen sure can hit. He’s a ferocious hitter who levels his opponents with square, clean wrap ups. He finished with 181 tackles in his final 17 collegiate games. The Steelers will be very happy they made Allen their fifth round selection if he can sure up his coverage. Pittsburgh must have believed their secondary was a concern, as the Steelers also selected Terrell Edmunds from Virginia Tech with their first round selection. For a secondary that finished fifth in passing yards per game in 2017, the rich continue to get richer.
Christian Campbell, Round Six Pick Eight-Arizona Cardinals
This is one of the few I nailed when I predicted Campbell would be a sixth round selection. Campbell continually got better as his Penn state career progressed, recording 45 tackles his senior season. He’s a long-armed, physical cornerback who can cover both the outside and the slot well. Campbell is slightly undersized, despite standing at 6’1″, and may struggle at times with larger receivers. In the sixth round, teams are looking for tough, hard working player who can contribute on special teams. Campbell could provide exactly that for the Cardinals in year one. It’s a crowded secondary in Arizona, but with the departure of Tyrann Mathieu to Houston, it isn’t as daunting as it once was.
Undrafted Free Agents
WR Saeed Blacknall-Oakland Raiders
LB Jason Cabinda-Oakland Raiders
DL Curtis Cothran-Minnesota Vikings
DL Parker Cothren-Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Grant Haley-New York Giants
OL Brendan Mahon-Carolina Panthers
K Tyler Davis-Buffalo Bills
Mandatory Credit: Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports