Is it just us, or is it feeling a little drafty around here?
In case you somehow missed it, the NFL Draft starts Thursday night and runs through late Saturday afternoon. And there are a host of former Penn State players hoping to hear their names called.
We're no draft gurus. But we have seen these guys play a lot of football (and in one case, a lot of basketball). So we think we have a good feel for how they project at the next level.
Read on as we offer player-by-player analysis of the former Nittany Lions, starting with the men who played offense for PSU. We include video interviews with players who made themselves available at Penn State's Pro Day.
RB Bill Belton
Bench: 15 (Pro Day)
Comments: Belton believes he has a chance to make an NFL roster as more of a pass catcher than the conventional running back role he handled at Penn State the past three seasons. He did catch 26 passes as a senior, which was a solid number. But he only turned them into 201 yards (7.7 per catch) and a single score. We love seeing long shots take a chance at their dreams, and Belton's strategic ploy of basically saying I can do more than what you saw on tape is a nice little twist.
Prediction: He'll get a tryout, but will really have to wow people to be invited to a camp.
40: 5.32 and 5.35 (Pro Day)
Comments: Ugh. If not for a torn ACL in the spring of his senior season AND an ankle injury that knocked him out of the Pinstripe Bowl, Dieffenbach could have been a solid mid-round pick. To his credit, he has not let the injuries drag him down, and seemed to be back near full strength for PSU's Pro Day. The ability to play guard and center is a plus, as is the significant experience he built up before 2014. He would be a much more attractive prospect as an NFL backup if he could play tackle in a pinch, something we're not sure he can do.
Prediction: If he is drafted, it will be late. However, he is one of those players who may be better off falling out of the draft, because then he'll be able to take his pick of the priority free agent offers that are sure to come his way.
TE Jesse James
40: 4.66 and 4.71 (Pro Day)
Bench: 26 reps (NFL Combine)
Comments: We'll fess up -- we thought James was making a mistake by declaring early for the draft. But this ended up being a good move for him, as it is considered a weak year for tight ends. Solid performances at the NFL Combine and PSU's Pro Day have resulted in many analysts rating him as one of the top players at his position. James is tremendously athletic for his size, and scouts love that. But as big as he is, he's not a particularly strong blocker. As we know, that does not really bother some NFL coaches (we're looking at you, Bill O'Brien).
Prediction: We're guessing the third round. But if somebody really likes his skill set, it could be even earlier.
TE Matt Lehman
Bench: (21 Pro Day)
Comments: You remember Lehman, don't you? He was a key member of the PSU tight end corps before blowing out a knee in the 2013 season-opener vs. Syracuse. He was lost for the year and was not healthy enough to make a serious run at the NFL in 2014. So he got healthy, earned some cash by working at a pizza shop, and was back at Penn State's 2015 Pro Day. By his own admission, Lehman was rusty. But at the time he was injured, he was probably PSU's best blocking tight end. And in 2012 he finished fourth on the team with 24 catches for 296 yards (12.3 per catch) and three scores. There are some good raw materials here.
Prediction: Someone will look at the 2012 film and give him a free agent tryout. From there, it will be up to Lehman to make the most of it.
40: 4.98 and 5.03 (Pro Day)
Bench: 26 reps (NFL Combine)
Comments: Another early entry we initially scratched our heads over, Smith's decision to leave PSU was probably just as well, too. He had graduated. And he clearly was not particularly motivated to play college ball. The big man was listed at 348 pounds on PSU's bowl roster, and there were reports that he actually was closer to 360. It showed on the field last season, as he just did not have the athleticism that was there earlier in his college career. To his credit, Smith was down to 338 for the NFL Combine and then 328 for PSU's Pro Day, when he ran extremely well. The raw materials are there to have a long NFL career. It will also help that, like many college tackles, it will not be that difficult for him to make the transition to guard if necessary.
Prediction: Someone could be intrigued enough by Smith's potential to grab him in the second round. But we're guessing this is where his spotty tape from 2014 comes back to bite him. Expect him to get a call in round three.
TE Ross Travis
Comments: Travis is the former Penn State basketball player who hopes to be the next athlete to parlay college hardwood skills to the gridiron. Though numbers are not available, he reportedly tested well in everything except the bench in a private Pro Day conducted by his agent. There are two huge issues here: First, he has not played football since ninth grade. Second, he did not begin football training until early April, less than a month before the draft. Travis' toughness (he ranks third in career rebounds at PSU) and athleticism (he had a flare for monster dunks) as a basketball player are unquestioned. But how will any of that translate to the football field?
Prediction: Someone would really have to fall in love with his athletic ability and be willing to allow him the time to develop if they were to spend a draft pick on him. A much more likely scenario will see him land a free-agent tryout where he'll have a chance to show some things on the field before anyone decides to keep him around for camp.
RB Zach Zwinak
Comments: It is difficult to believe that a man who finished 15th on Penn State's career rushing list -- between a couple of fellows named Charlie Pittman and Lenny Moore -- may never get a shot at the NFL. But that could well be the case here. Zwinak was PSU's leading rusher as a sophomore and junior, rushing for right around 1,000 yards each year. He became more of a role player under James Franklin and then saw his final season end due to a serious ankle injury sustained while blocking on the opening kickoff in the Ohio State game. When healthy, Zwinak was a tough runner and showed some flashes of speed. Coming out of his junior season, he looked like he had a shot at an NFL career.
Prediction: Zwinak attended but did not participate in Penn State's Pro Day. So there is no realistic chance of him being drafted. If he wants to pursue an NFL career, he'll have to put his real life on hold for a year, get healthy and make a run at the league in 2016. The good news is he already has a degree in criminology.