TYM: Final Word on Draft

Welcome to another edition of Take Your Marks, the occasional series were FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan discuss and debate timely topics related to the Penn State football program. In this edition, they tackle questions about the Nittany Lions in the NFL Draft.

WHAT PENN STATE PLAYER WENT HIGHER THAN YOU EXPECTED?

Brennan: I didn't expect guard Tyler Reed to be drafted at all, so the fact that he went in the sixth round (to Chicago) caught me by surprise. Reed has the physical skills to be an NFL lineman but I wonder if he has the discipline. Apparently the Bears, who know way more about football than I do, do not harbor such concerns.

Harrington: I have to agree with you on Tyler Reed, and I was downright surprised by his high school coach's comments regarding how allegedly Penn State "held him back for so long." Held him back? His coach realizes he was a three-year starter at PSU right? I was also pleasantly surprised to see Ethan Kilmer get drafted. Despite the hopes of PSU fans, I was skeptical that a team was going to "buy into the hype" and pick him up in the draft. It was nice to see, though.

Brennan: I've been as critical of the Penn State coaching staff as anyone through the years, especially the guys working the offensive line. But for anyone to say Reed was "held back" is nonsense. He seems like a genuinely good guy to me, but his off-field issues — minor though they may have been — had more to do with his stunted development than anything else.

WHAT PENN STATE PLAYER WENT LOWER THAN YOU EXPECTED?

Harrington: I was surprised to see Alan Zemaitis go so low, but then again it wasn't a real shock given his poor choices regarding his (lack of) Senior Bowl and NFL Combine participation. For some reason I thought some team would take a calculated risk on Michael Robinson before pick No. 100. Call me crazy, but I figured his attitude, physical abilities and the fact he was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year would overcome his phantom need to play quarterback at the next level.

Brennan: I was stunned Zemaitis fell to the middle of the fourth round (pick 122, to Tampa Bay). I knew this was a deep draft for defensive backs, but I can't image there being 121 better draft eligible players than Zemaitis. I wonder how much of his slip had to do with skipping the Senior Bowl after agreeing to play in it.

Harrington: I absolutely think that Zemaitis' refusal to participate in the Senior Bowl and Combine hurt him on multiple levels. First, it obviously limited his exposure to the NFL GMs and coaches. Second, it put all the pressure on his PSU Pro Day performance (which was not stellar). Third, and most importantly, it gave the impression of an attitude to the decision-makers. Accurate or not (and personally I don't think it is accurate), he was labeled by many as having "attitude problems," which can serve as a scarlet letter in the draft.

WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE DRAFT FROM PSU'S PERSPECTIVE?

Brennan: Anwar Phillips not being drafted. I still can't quite figure that. He tested well and looked terrific in the Senior Bowl. While I didn't necessarily think he'd be a second-rounder as some folks did, I figured he would be taken at some point.

Harrington: Phillips is a good choice, but I honestly figured someone was going to pick up Chris Harrell. Harrell is the type of "lay the lumber" hitter that can spark a special team's unit. The fact that both of these defensive backs were left on the board had me scratching my head.

Brennan: Harrell not going did not surprise me that much. The neck injury that forced him to redshirt in 2004 had to be an issue around the league. He insists it is no longer a problem and I believe him. But that is one of those seemingly minor things that sends up a red flag for NFL teams. Here's hoping he gets a legit chance to prove folks wrong.

WHAT PSU PLAYER WILL MAKE THE MOST IMMEDIATE IMPACT WITH HIS NEW TEAM?

Harrington: Despite his missteps preparing for the draft, I think Zemaitis is going to the right situation. First, he is playing for the team he roots for: Tampa Bay. Second, he will be in a scheme he is at least familiar with in the Buccaneer's Cover-2. He has the opportunity to make an immediate impact with some nickel and dime play, and possibly serving as an eventual Ronde Barber replacement.

Brennan: I can see Robinson making a splash as a third-down back for Mike Nolan in San Francisco. Robinson can operate out of the backfield or the slot, and, along with standout tight end Vernon Davis, will give QB Alex Smith more options than he had in 2005. San Francisco had an abysmal eight TD passes all of last season. Robinson can also serve as a third QB, which could allow Nolan to jettison third-teamer Cody Pickett.

Harrington: Let's not forget the halfback option. Robinson has shown he is an athlete, a leader and a winner, which certainly won't hurt San Francisco. Best of all, Robinson will be teammates with Anthony Adams, who is sure to show him the ropes. It is a good situation all-in-all for him.

WHAT PSU PLAYER LANDED IN A TOUGH SPOT?

Brennan: At this moment, it looks like Calvin Lowry will have a tough time cracking the second team at safety for Tennessee. The Titans just signed Chris Hope to start at one spot and have veteran Lamont Thompson at the other, with Vincent Fuller serving as a nickel back. They also have 2005 first-round pick Pacman Jones returning punts.

Harrington: If you look at most of the other picks-ups, they seem to have a solid opportunity ahead of them. The Chiefs are looking at Tamba Hali to spark their pass rush, the Buccaneers see Zemaitis as a nickel back and the 49ers expect Robinson to help in third-down situations. You alluded to this earlier, but I think Reed has some work to do with his strength and footwork to make an impact on the Bears. He has the ability to do it, but he really needs to tackle the opportunity head-on.

WHAT PSU FREE AGENT IS THE BIGGEST STEAL?

Harrington: I think the team that picks up Matthew Rice will get a steal. He is a hard-nosed defensive end who has a good work ethic. He just happened to be overshadowed by the All-American on the other side. Rice has the ability to add depth and attitude to a team that needs help with their front seven.

Brennan: Pittsburgh got a good one in defensive tackle Scott Paxson. Of course we will never know for sure, but the guess here is he would have been a mid- to late-round draft pick had he not been hit with what now appear to be very dubious sexual assault charges in the winter (he has since been cleared of the most serious charges against him). Paxson was an unsung hero on the PSU defense last year, typically taking up two blockers and allowing the ends and linebackers to make plays and grab headlines. Whether he can do that in a 3-4 set (where he will presumably move to end) remains to be seen. But giving him a shot as a free agent was definitely a smart move by Bill Cowher and company.

Harrington: I don't think Paxson is equipped physically to effectively play nose tackle in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme. However, I do think he could be an effective end in the defensive set. We shall see, but he will not be the only PSU fresh face in Pittsburgh since fellow Lion Isaac Smolko will be joining him.

WHAT OVERALL LESSON COMES OUT OF THIS DRAFT?

Brennan: This one is simple: Keep your nose clean. Of the Nittany Lions who were considered borderline prospects AND had stumbled into off-field trouble during their careers, only one — Reed — was drafted. Lavon Chisley, Paxson, Phillips and Rice found varying degrees of legal trouble during their respective careers, and none had their names called on draft day. Now that NFL teams turn over every stone when researching potential draft picks, even the type of kids-will-be-kids trouble many of us encountered as college students can have a negative impact on draft day.

Harrington: When opportunity comes knocking, make sure you answer the door. Zemaitis hurt his draft standing by refusing to participate in the Senior Bowl and Combine. This forced him to put it on all on his PSU Pro Day performance, which was less than stellar. Given the sheer amount of cornerback talent in the draft, Zemaitis made a major misstep by not taking every opportunity to showcase his abilities to the NFL personnel. We'll never know, but I'd bet he'd have gone much higher if we had seen him participate in at least one of the earlier events.

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