Jesse James is hightailing it out of Happy Valley.
The true junior who set Penn State's career record for touchdowns by a tight end (11) has decided to forego his final season of eligibility to enter the 2015 NFL Draft. He joins offensive tackle Donovan Smith and defensive end Deion Barnes in making early exits from the Nittany Lions.
The 6-foot-7, 271-pounder was Penn State's third-leading receiver in each of the past two seasons, scoring three TDs both years. His five scores as a freshman in 2012 tied for the most ever by a Lion tight end.
James finished his career with 78 catches for 1,005 yards, starting 31 games (including every game the last two years). He caught at least one pass in 18 straight outings.
James' decision likely stems from the fact that he knows he'll test well for NFL scouts. He obviously has the measurables. And during his career with the Lions, he ran a hand-timed 4.6 40-yard dash and a 4.35 NFL shuttle -- both great numbers for someone of his size.
The knock on his game is that he is not a particularly strong blocker for his size. Also, as his career went on, he became less and less of a deep threat. He averaged 18.4 yards per grab as a rookie, but saw that clip go down to 13.3 and then 10.4 during his sophomore and junior seasons, respectively.
Given his size and speed, we estimate James to be a mid-round pick. He has the potential to go higher (perhaps in the second round) if a team can get past his poor blocking. Keep in mind that only 10 tight ends were taken in the entire 2014 draft, and only one in the first round.
With James gone, Penn State is still fairly well stocked at tight end.
Senior-to-be Kyle Carter had a big redshirt freshman season in 2012, but has struggled the past two years. He came up big in the Lions' Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College, though, with three catches (including the game-tying score in OT). Carter has proven he has the skills to shine at this level. Now it is a matter of achieving some measure of consistency. There were four games last season where he did not log a single catch and four others where he had only one reception.
Sophomore-to-be Mike Gesicki eased his way into action as a true freshman last season, with 11 catches for 114 yards. The 6-6, 240-pounder is one of the best pure athletes on the team, but he did not have more than two catches in any game last fall.
Also, State will welcome back redshirt sophomore-to-be Adam Breneman from an unspecified knee injury that cost him the entire 2014 season. Breneman was effective as a true freshman in 2013, with 15 catches for 186 yards and three scores. However, his history of knee issues must be taken into account when predicting how much of a factor he might be in 2015.
Redshirt junior-to-be Brent Wilkerson was used almost exclusively as a blocker in multiple tight end sets last season, making only a pair of catches for 18 yards (both in the blowout of UMass).
As of this writing, Penn State had only one potential tight end committed for its Class of 2015. Jonathan Holland is a 6-5, 225-pounder who played on both sides of the line at The Bullis School in Potomac, Md., but has expressed an interest in playing tight end for the Nittany Lions.