When it some to the National Football League, few college programs have been a consistent pipeline of talent like Penn State. Heading into this week's 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia, 343 Nittany Lions have been drafted into the league throughout its history, ranking PSU as the seventh best college when it comes to providing NFL Draft talent.
Not surprisingly, Penn State has been a consistent force with a few specific positions. The position reviews below includes numbers since 1967, the draft's common era after the AFL and NFL merged in 1966.
It's only fitting that the school known for decades as "Linebacker U." has had the greatest number of linebackers drafted by the league. Since 1967 the Nittany Lions have had 58 linebackers drafted, with USC (56), Ohio State (52), Notre Dame (42) and Nebraska (41) trailing at the position. Notable linebacker draftees from Penn State include LaVar Arrington, Mark D'Onofrio, Shane Conlan, Tamba Hali and Greg Buttle.
Currently, there are seven Nittany Lion linebackers in the NFL who were drafted into the league, including NaVorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Paul Posluszy.
Considering the stable of impressive backs who have donned the Blue and White of PSU, it's also not surprising to see that Happy Valley has been a force for the NFL when supplying ball-carrying talent. Penn State is currently tied for third with Oklahoma, with 36 drafted running backs all-time. The Nittany Lions trail Nebraska (40) and USC (39). Notables include Ki-Jana Carter, Curt Warner, Franco Harris, Larry Johnson, Curtis Enis and Blair Thomas.
The Lions currently do not have a representative in the league at running back, which is certain to change in the future with Saquon Barkley.
When it comes to the tight end position, Penn State ranks third all-time in total NFL drafted prospects. To date, the Lions have had 19 drafted tight ends, trailing Note Dame (21) and USC (20). Notable drafted tight ends from Happy Valley include Kyle Brady, Ted Kwalick and Mickey Shuler.
Currently, Jesse James holds the Penn State banner in NFL for the Steelers.
The Nittany Lions have placed an impressive 57 offensive linemen into the NFL via the draft since 1967. This places PSU at third for the position, tied with Nebraska and behind Notre Dame (63) and USC (58). Notable drafted offensive linemen from PSU include Jeff Hartings, Andre Johnson, Todd Rucci, Mike Munchak and Sean Farrell.
Currently, A.Q. Shipley, Donovan Smith, John Urschel and Stefan Wisnieweski represent drafted NFL linemen from Penn State.
Starting with top overall pick Courtney Brown in 2000, Penn State began an impressive run of D-linemen being taken early in the draft. In 2003, Jimmy Kennedy and Michael Haynes both went in the first round, and Anthony Adams went in the second round. The 2000s also saw Hali (who played DE and DT at PSU, 2006), Aaron Maybin (2008) and Jared Odrick (2009) taken in the opening round.
Hali, Odrick (free agent), Jack Crawford, Devon Still (free agent), Jordan Hill, DaQuan Jones, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel are drafted Nittany Lions who figure to be on NFL rosters this fall.
NFL Draft Milestones
Since 1967 there have only been three teams who have had players selected as the first and second picks of the NFL Draft; Michigan State in 1967, Nebraska in 1984 and Penn State in 2000. Defensive end Courtney Brown and linebacker LaVar Arrington were selected No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, and Penn State currently stands as the last team to supply the first and second picks in a single draft year.
While Penn State has not had a first round selection since Jared Odrick in 2010, the Lions have had several drafts which have seen multiple first round picks, including:
2003: Jimmy Kennedy, Michael Haynes, Bryant Johnson, Larry Johnson
2000: Courtney Brown, LaVar Arrington
1996: Jeff Hartings, Andre Johnson
1995: Ki-Jana Carter, Kerry Collins, Kyle Brady
1987: Shane Conlan, DJ Dozier
1983: Curt Warner, Todd Blackledge
1982: Mike Munchak, Sean Farrell
1974: Ed O'Neil, John Cappellitti
As Penn State progresses into this new era it will no doubt be exciting to see how the Nittany Lions continue to serve as a talent pipeline for the professional football ranks. With talent currently wearing Blue and White and the impressive prospects coming it, the NFL Draft and corresponding professional careers of former PSU players should be exciting for Nittany Lion fans in years to come.