Who are the five best NFL prospects on the current Penn State roster?
We're not only talking about those Nittany Lions who will be (or may be) eligible for the 2016 NFL Draft, but rather those who ought to be high-round picks in the next few years.
1. QB Christian Hackenberg
Comment: No big shock here. ESPN's Todd McShay has gone so far as to predict that Hackenberg will be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. This despite the fact that Hackenberg will only be a junior next fall and that he is coming off a difficult sophomore season. When Hackenberg played with an NFL caliber receiver and a veteran offensive line that featured a future NFL starter as a true freshman in 2013, he was terrific. When he played with new receivers and a struggling, rebuilt O-line in 2014, well, he was something less than terrific. Hackenberg has all of the tools to be a strong NFL quarterback, and proved during his freshman campaign at PSU that he could handle Bill O'Brien's pro style offense. All of that said, a bounce-back junior season -- one where his O-line should be better and receivers more well-rounded -- will go a long way to re-establishing him as the can't miss NFL prospect he seemed to be in 2013.
2. S Marcus Allen
Comment: I'll go out on a limb here a bit. If the sophomore stays healthy, he will eventually become the first Penn State defensive back to be drafted in the opening round. He is big, quick, fast and fearless. Allen is already strong in run support and has the skills to develop into a good cover safety. One of the best parts of having increased access to practice is it allows you to give somebody the eye test. And this kid passes it with flying colors. He is a legit 6-foot-2, and at that height almost looks out of place with the other DBs. But he moves extremely well.
3. DT Anthony Zettel
Comment: Zettel shifted from DE to DT last season, and used his speed and quickness to dominate. Critics have said (and will continue to say) the 6-4, 280-pounder is not heavy enough to get it done as an NFL tackle. But one need only look at the stats to see that, during his Penn State career, he's been a playmaker whenever and wherever the various staffs have decided to use him. Despite not cracking the starting lineup until defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and company wisely gave him a chance last season, Zettel has 27 career tackles for loss, 16 career sacks (which is tied with some guy named Shane Conlan) and -- this is difficult to believe -- four interceptions. To put that into perspective, through three seasons he has more career tackles for loss and sacks than Aaron Maybin, and more interceptions than Justin King. The point is, the best NFL coaches figure out ways to use playmakers who may not fit conventional roles. Somebody will do that with Zettel.
4. TE Mike Gesicki
Comment: When Gesicki arrived at Penn State last summer, he was already one of the best athletes on the team. Since then, he's packed 30 pounds onto his 6-6 frame (now weighing 257) and has gotten significantly stronger. His 40-yard dash, NFL shuttle, vertical and broad jump numbers are all better than those posted by Jesse James, the former Lion tight end who was recently taken in the third round of the NFL Draft. With James gone and sophomore Adam Breneman limited, Gesicki and veteran Kyle Carter handled the bulk of the first-team contact reps in the spring, and Gesicki emerged as one of Hackenberg's favorite targets. If he can improve as a blocker -- something that escaped James during his PSU career -- he should develop into a top pro prospect.
5. OT Sterling Jenkins
Comment: The athletic 6-8, 321-pounder is like a (very) big lump of clay right now, and spent his early enrollee spring slowly learning the most basic fundamentals of O-line play. If, as expected, he eventually gets those down over the next couple of years, he has the chance to develop into something special. His running and agility numbers are good for a man of his size. For anyone nervous about how raw Jenkins looked in the spring, remember he was only a few months removed from high school. Levi Brown, the last PSU offensive tackle drafted in the first round (2007), played defensive line as a redshirt freshman at PSU in 2002 before moving to the O-line as a redshirt freshman. Compared to Jenkins, Brown was still in high school at this point of his football career. Thinking of it that way, Jenkins is way ahead of the game now. We may be underestimating him here.