2016 was a year of surprises for Penn State football and it continued early on in 2017 when redshirt junior, Garrett Sickels, announced he was forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. This may have come as a head-scratcher to some who might have thought the New Jersey native would be back in Beaver Stadium when the season kicks off in September.
With the NFL Draft just a few short months away there is a lot of question where Sickels might land in the draft, if he even gets drafted at all. When thinking about Sickels’ decision and his uncertain future one cannot help but think about former Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes, who also declared for the NFL Draft after his redshirt junior season in 2014.
There is no doubt that Sickels and Barnes were both talented and productive players while they wore the blue and white. But there are a few similarities represented in Sickels that Barnes also possessed on the field which could be tell-tale signs of why Sickels might sign as a free agent instead of getting drafted.
On paper, Sickels and Barnes are nearly identical in both the stat sheet and measurables. Sickles stands in at 6-foot-4, 260 lbs. compared to Barnes at 6-foot-4, 255 lbs. In their careers in Happy Valley, Sickels compiled 94 total tackles, 21.5 of which came for a loss. He also added another 11.5 sacks and Barnes added 99 total tackles, 26.5 for a loss and 14 sacks.
After Barnes opted for the 2015 NFL draft each of the seven rounds passed by and he never got a call. The defensive end ended up signing as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets before being waived. He then spent only a week with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Numbers aside, when thinking of Sickels, it is hard not to have the comparisons to Barnes cross your mind. Both are pass rushing defensive ends who also stick their nose in the run game, but you can only wonder what could have been both for Penn State and their personal futures if they returned for their senior campaigns.
By returning for his senior season Sickels would have had more time to improve in the areas he struggles. He seemed to struggle most throughout the season when he was faced with double teams and his inability to chase down plays from the back side was a hindrance as well.
The veteran Sickels had a productive junior campaign in which he saw his sack production more than double and his tackles for loss nearly triple in comparison to his sophomore season. Sickels was awarded the defensive MVP of the 2016 season by James Franklin, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the defensive end is seen as valuable in the eyes of NFL teams.
While observing the defensive end, the one thing that will stand out is his motor. Just like Carl Nassib, Sickels took defensive line coach, Sean Spencer’s ‘Wild Dog’ label and put it on display with relentless effort each snap. That wild dog mentality was evident more than ever when Sickels stepped on the field for the second half against Ohio State this season. In just the third and fourth quarters, Sickels racked up nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and another 3.5 tackles for loss.
With flashes of productive potential it is realistic to picture the 22-year old being a 5th-7th round selection, in which he will have time to prove himself once more at Penn State’s upcoming pro day and the NFL combine if he receives an invitation.