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Staff Picks: Penn Staters In the 2016 NFL Draft

Football fans rejoice — the 2016 NFL Draft is finally upon us! While it’s unlikely any of Penn State’s draft participants will hear their names called on Thursday night, Friday figures to be especially busy, with most Nittany Lions slated to be selected in either the second or third round. Four of our knowledgeable draft pundits voiced their opinions on where and when Penn State’s NFL ambassadors will be selected this weekend.

Ethan Kasales

Christian Hackenberg – Chicago Bears (2nd round, No. 41 overall)

After a strong Pro Day, Hackenberg could likely find himself in the mid-second round range and Chicago would be an intriguing destination given its growing disdain with Jay Cutler. Hackenberg wouldn’t be asked to start from day one, which seems paramount to his chances of becoming a franchise quarterback.

Austin Johnson – Cincinnati Bengals (2nd round, No. 55 overall)

Johnson was Penn State’s most valuable defensive lineman the past two seasons – notwithstanding Carl Nassib’s record-breaking 2015 campaign – given his consistent power and athleticism at the one-technique. The Bengals could certainly use another imposing presence up front and Johnson more than fits the bill in a draft loaded with talented tackles.

Carl Nassib – Carolina Panthers (3rd round, No. 93 overall)

Nassib’s coveted length as a pass rusher will certainly help his case despite the naysayers citing too small of a sample size. Remember, he didn’t start a football game until the season-opener at Temple. However, his dominant performance this past fall was more indicative of the player Nassib could become with the right franchise. He has the work ethic and the Super Bowl runner-ups seem like a good fit where Nassib could take the next step in his development.

Anthony Zettel – Tennessee Titans (5th round, No. 140 overall)

Though Zettel is somewhat undersized and there are questions as to where he would fit along a team’s defensive line, the man is a freakish athlete who can crush a golf ball farther than PGA Tour pros, among many other tree-sacking abilities. Zettel worked out at linebacker and tight end on top of his duties in the trenches at Pro Day, so scouts must understand his upside as a pure football player who can do a little of everything.

Jordan Lucas – Detroit Lions (7th round, No. 236 overall)

Lucas followed in the footsteps of former teammate and current Chicago Bear Adrian Amos by moving from cornerback to safety prior to his senior season. Despite going down with a shoulder injury late in the year, Lucas showed ample versatility and a hard-hitting mentality throughout his career. Lucas was unable to participate at the Combine for precautionary reasons, but turned in a solid Pro Day and could find a place for himself in the Detroit secondary, likely as a corner.

Jacob Abrams

Christian Hackenberg – Dallas Cowboys (2nd round, No. 34 overall)

The Cowboys need to start thinking of a future without Tony Romo. Hackenberg will thrive behind an offensive line that is arguably the best in the NFL, and I think Jerry Jones snags Hack at the top of the second round.

Austin Johnson – Jacksonville Jaguars (2nd round, No. 39 overall)

The Jaguars should think about upgrading their defensive line. They’ll be looking for one in this draft. Jacksonville will most likely go offensive line in the first round to help protect Blake Bortles, so they should be all for a defensive tackle in the following round. That’s where Johnson comes in.

Carl Nassib – New England Patriots (2nd round, No. 61 overall)

Nassib is probably one of the biggest question marks of this year’s draft. He has the size, speed, and athleticism, but does he have the experience? Nassib reminds me of Connor Barwin and I think Belichick will see that too.

Anthony Zettel – New Orleans Saints (4th round, No. 112 overall)

There shouldn’t be much analysis here. The Saints were historically bad on defense and will need all the help they can get. Zettel gives the Saints an option on defense by being the strong, elusive defensive tackle that they wish they had last year.

Jordan Lucas – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6th round, No. 183 overall)

Much like Adrian Amos, I think Lucas can be a huge steal in this year’s draft. Going to a young team like the Buccaneers would be one of the best things for Lucas, as he would be able to develop and possibly be a starter by the end of the season. Tampa Bay needs help in the secondary too, so going with Lucas in the later rounds makes sense.

Everyone else undrafted

Steve Connelly

Christian Hackenberg — Denver Broncos (1st round, No. 31 overall)

Hackenberg has fallen pretty far from that projected top 10 pick he was expected to be selected at prior to last season. After a rough combine and the reports that he trashed James Franklin for a poor last two seasons, he fell as far as the third round. He has risen up the boards in the past couple weeks and by draft day, he will be a first round selection.

Austin Johnson — Denver Broncos (2nd round, No. 63 overall)

It has happened far too often a player has a huge junior season, stays at school for his senior year and has a less than stellar year that hurts his draft stock. Well, Johnson isn’t going to let that happen and will be taken by the end of the second round and will likely play a secondary role to former first round pick Sylvester Williams.

Carl Nassib — New England (3rd round, No. 96 overall)

Nassib will be a quality second day pick with a huge upside as he develops his game.

Anthony Zettel — Tennessee Titans (7th round, No. 222 overall)

His season wasn’t great, but that doesn’t mean he’s dropping completely off the board. He’s definitely a third day pick, but projections that he will be an undrafted free agent are inaccurate. Expect a fifth or sixth round selection.

Jordan Lucas — Philadelphia Eagles (7th round, No. 233 overall)

Lucas filled a gap at strong safety during his senior year after two years at cornerback. He was injured for portions of the past season and not that spectacular at safety during the games he did play. Expect a late third day selection with the idea he will be reverted back to a cornerback with whatever team he lands with.

Patrick Koerbler 

Christian Hackenberg — Dallas Cowboys (Second round, No. 34 overall)

While John Elway and the Broncos might pull the trigger on Hackenberg in round one, I think it’s more likely Hackenberg ends up in Dallas — and it’s a good fit. With the Cowboys, Hackenberg will be able to sit and watch while he’s groomed as the heir apparent to Tony Romo.

Austin Johnson — Washington Redskins (Second round, No. 53 overall)

There might not be a team in the league that needs defensive line help more than the Redskins. Johnson should provide Washington a versatile defender that can stuff the run and get after the passer, all while being ready to play day one.

Carl Nassib — Buffalo Bills (Third Round, No. 80 overall)

With Mario Williams out of Buffalo, the Bills have a hole upfront. Nassib might need a little time to add more weight and strength to adjust to the NFL game, but there’s few defensive ends in the draft with the upside Nassib possesses.

Anthony Zettel — Houston Texans (Fifth round, No. 159 overall)

I feel bad for the 31 other teams that passed on Zettel because he might honestly eat them. Bill O’Brien proves to be the smartest man in the world again, scooping up Zettel in the fifth round.

Jordan Lucas — Jacksonville Jaguars (6th round, No. 201 overall)

Lucas is a versatile defensive back that can play both safety and corner — he has a home in today’s NFL. At this point it’s a true crapshoot to predict where Lucas will end up, but let’s say he joins the myriad of other Penn Staters in Jacksonville.

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