The Nittany Lions are coming off a magical season that saw them narrowly fall to USC in the Rose Bowl after rebounding from a 2-2 start. There’s talk of a potential National Championship run next season, and for good reason — Penn State returns almost every key contributor from its 2016 squad. The team mostly avoided the NFL Draft purge that plagues most top teams — much like this year’s Michigan squad endured — as it saw only two juniors declare early for the draft.
Chris Godwin, Garrett Sickels, and Brandon Bell are arguably the team’s top draft eligible prospects, so we examined overall rankings with the help of Walterfootball.com to get an idea of where these talented individuals will end up come April’s draft.
WR Chris Godwin
Statistically speaking, Godwin could’ve shattered a number of Penn State receiving records had he stayed in Happy Valley for another season. Regardless, his decision to enter the 2017 NFL Draft makes sense; he more than doubled his total touchdown output in 2016 with 11 scores on the year and is coming off his best game as a Nittany Lion (nine catches, 187 yards, two touchdowns). His stock is at an all-time high, and he wisely decided to cash in.
At 6-foot-1, 208 lbs, Godwin has a pretty typical NFL frame — not too big, and not too small. He uses his body extremely well in high-pointing the ball in the air and possesses a freakish catch radius.
Hell of a catch and adjustment by Chris Godwin. Whew. pic.twitter.com/YNYMyjLwVQ
— Ty Wurth (@WurthDraft) January 2, 2017
He’s been as reliable as any receiver can be during his time in Happy Valley, and has a chance to progress nicely at the NFL level. Walterfootball.com ranks Godwin the No. 35 receiver in the draft, putting him in the 5-7 round range. I don’t necessarily agree with this ranking; Godwin won’t be drafted ahead of top-flight prospects like Clemson’s Mike Williams or Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, but he’ll be a steal for whichever franchise decides to draft him. There’s no doubt Godwin will test well at the NFL Scouting Combine assuming he gets an invite and should turn some heads in the 40-yard dash. Godwin is an elite closer — if given even the smallest bit of space, he can turn a short gain into a home run.
I don’t necessarily see Godwin being a second round selection, but wouldn’t count out a team grabbing him in the third or fourth rounds. Athletic traits aside, his reliable hands are what franchises will be enamored with, making him an ideal NFL prospect with a good chance to be the first Nittany Lion selected in April.
DE Garrett Sickels
A major part of the heralded 2013 class, Sickels’ decision to leave his final year of eligibility on the table took some by surprise. He’s not ranked on Walterfootball.com’s rankings given the fact it hasn’t been updated to reflect recent announcements, but Sickels has a good chance to be a great value pick for a team in the middle of the draft.
He finished the 2016 season with 47 total tackles, 12.5 TFLs, and six sacks. He was already on NFL radars, but his performance in Penn State’s season defining upset of then No. 2 Ohio State put him firmly on the map. After being suspended for the first halfdue to a skipped class, Sickels turned in his most impressive performance of the year with nine tackles, two and a half sacks, and one TFL — all in the second half.
— Tim Owen (@Tim_OwenBWI) January 5, 2017
At 6-foot-4, 260 lbs, his frame could use 10 pounds or so, but his athleticism reflects that of a prototypical NFL end. He’s a natural pass rusher with a desirable motor; rarely does Sickels give up on a play, and he’s relentless in pursuit of the quarterback. His best role at the next level right now is similar to current Cleveland Brown Carl Nassib: a situational pass rusher with the flexibility to take on additional responsibilities if need be.
This year’s crop of defensive end talent is relatively top-heavy; most of the premier ends — especially those worth hefty investments — will be found at the top of the draft. This plays into Sickels’ favor; Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett should be the top pick, and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett will likely follow suit as the next end taken. Stanford’s Solomon Thomas and Michigan’s Chris Wormley both make convincing cases when it comes to their first round merits, meaning a bulk of the top talent will be gone by the first two rounds.
Realistically, the fifth round is where Sickels could hear his name called, but a lot can change in a short amount of time with a stellar Combine or Pro Day performance.
OLB Brandon Bell
Brandon Bell turned some heads when he decided to don LaVar Arrington’s iconic No. 11, but he’s worn it well and forged his own legacy in helping to lead the Nittany Lions to Pasadena. He finished the season with a career-high 75 tackles and made his presence felt wherever the ball wound up. He’s instinctive, athletic, and possesses a freakish motor.
His season-defining play came in the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin where his strip-sack of Badgers quarterback Bart Houston bared a striking resemblance to Arrington’s famous LaVar Leap. The play helped swing momentum in favor of the Nittany Lions, who stormed back from a two touchdown deficit to capture the Big Ten crown. Under normal circumstances, he’d be a lock to be drafted. The only factor playing against him is the wrist injury he suffered after intercepting Sam Darnold in the Rose Bowl. There’s been no news on the severity of the injury, meaning we’ll have to wait until at least his Pro Day to find out more.
Players like Alabama’s Tim Williams will come off the board first, while players like Tennessee’s Jalen Reeves-Maybin might find their homes on the draft’s second day. There are talented players in this pool of prospects, and Bell certainly deserves a spot on an NFL roster. The health of his wrist will likely be the deciding factor in his draft stock.
Let us know what you think about these rankings in the comments below!