Jesse James Becomes Third Nittany Lion To Enter 2015 NFL Draft
“The Outlaw” is officially joining the NFL’s “Most Wanted List.”
Junior tight end Jesse James will forgo his senior season to enter the 2015 NFL Draft, joining offensive tackle Donovan Smith and defensive end Deion Barnes as the other Nittany Lions to forfeit a final year of eligibility to enter the professional ranks. Penn State announced James’ decision on Monday afternoon.
The 6-foot-7, 254-pound target has earned the attention of pro scouts since his first day of practice for his prototypical size, and his 78 catches for 1,005 yards and 11 touchdowns after three seasons at Penn State has solidified the Glassport, Pa., native as a legitimate offensive threat.
“After serious consideration and much discussion with my family, teammates and coaches, I have opted to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft,” James said in a statement. “Competing on Sundays has always been my dream and I believe the time to pursue this dream is now. This was an extremely difficult decision to make — my time at Penn State has been amazing and unforgettable. I would like to thank Penn State University, Coach Franklin, Coach Donovan, along with everyone on our incredible coaching staff.
“I want to personally thank my teammates for the memories and lifelong friendships that we have created together,” James added. “I would especially like to thank the Penn State fans who have stood by us and have provided unconditional support for our team. I will never forget the remarkable experiences that we’ve shared. We Are!”
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. rated James as the seventh-best draft eligible tight end for 2015, the only Penn State player to make any of Kiper’s top 10 position lists. Were James to stay an extra year on campus, CBS Sports has James ranked as the second-best NFL tight end prospect in the 2016 class, behind only Rutgers’ Tyler Kroft.
“[Playing in the NFL] is something you always think of since you started growing up playing football,” James told PennLive following Penn State’s 31-30 win against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl. “It’s always been a dream. It’s something you have to look at, and we’ll see what happens.”
The loss of James will undoubtedly hamstring the potency of Penn State’s passing offense, spearheaded by quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Though James never had more than 40 catches or 400 yards receiving in a single season, the true junior always had a knack for finding the endzone. As a true freshman, five of his 15 receptions went for touchdowns, and his 3 touchdown catches this year were a team-best. He’s been a consistent redzone threat to boot, with seven of his 11 career touchdown catches coming inside the 20-yard line.
“We want to thank Jesse for all he’s done at Penn State and wish him all the best in the NFL,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “Jesse has been a big contributor for the program on and off the field and we’re looking forward to watching him at the next level.”
The knock on James that could keep him out of the first two rounds is his inability to block downfield. Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com pointed toward his 27 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press during the Uplifting Athletes charity event as a sign of the junior’s strength, but said he’s not as powerful a blocker as his size and strength suggest. However, Rang said James is “broad and competitive enough to seal off defenders,” even if he doesn’t get much push past the line of scrimmage.
While his blocking might be suspect, anyone who watched James convert the critical 3rd and 15 in Boston College territory in overtime of the Pinstripe Bowl by bowling over an Eagles defender will tell you that what the tight end lacks in blocking skill, he more than makes up for in his ability to run after the catch.
Unlike the offensive line, tight end is one of the deepest positions on the Penn State roster. Replacing James will be a combination of Pinstripe Bowl hero Kyle Carter, Mike Gesicki, and Adam Breneman, who will return to the team following a knee injury that sidelined the tight end for his entire sophomore season. Carter is the most experienced of the three with 70 career catches for 828 yards and four touchdowns. As freshmen, Gesicki caught 11 passes for 114 yards while Breneman hauled in 15 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns.
While it’s sad to see James leave early, we wish him the best as he begins his professional career. Good luck Jesse!
Photo: Hannah Bryne