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How Would An All-Penn State NFL Team Do? We Used Madden To Find Out

It’s safe to say Penn State is well represented at the NFL level.

Whether it’s a fresh face in Saquon Barkley or a grizzled veteran in Sean Lee, there are plenty of former Nittany Lions on current rosters. In fact, there are nearly enough to create an entire 53-man roster of Penn Staters.

Although it will never feasibly happen, we were curious about how a team comprised of only Penn Staters would perform in the NFL. Seeing others do the same for other Big Ten teams over the years, it seemed only fitting to see how an NFL team of Penn State players would shape up.

Thanks to the power of EA Sports’ Madden NFL 19, we decided to run some tests. We built an NFL roster consisting only of former Penn State players and ran multiple simulations of the 2018 NFL season to see how this Nittany Lion All-Star team would stack up in today’s NFL.

Before we start, a few disclaimers: Unfortunately, there is no “create a team” option in Madden NFL 19, which meant that we had to make an existing NFL team our all-Penn State squad. Since the New York Giants are the lowest-rated team in the video game, we picked them to be the guinea pig for this experiment.

Because of their low rating, moving around the Giants’ players would have the smallest effect on the rest of the league. The only significant transaction was “trading” Odell Beckham Jr. and Landon Collins to the Chicago Bears in exchange for Allen Robinson and Adrian Amos. Besides Chicago exceeding expectations in a couple simulations, we like to think the league played out mostly how it would in real life.

There were just fewer Penn State alumni in the NFL than would fill an entire roster, so we had to supplement with a few placeholders. Saquon Barkley is the only active Penn State running back in the video game, so his backups were just a few of the placeholders on the team. Who needs a backup when your starter is Barkley, anyway?

Through a painstaking process of manually trading dozens of players to and from the Giants’ roster, the New York Nittany Lions were born.

On paper, the Nittany Lions are, to put it bluntly, the worst team in the game. The team checked in with an overall ranking of 71. The offense was given a score of 71, but the defense got a 75 thanks to a few notable names from Penn State’s past.

Overall rankings are one thing, but how did the New York Nittany Lions perform on the virtual gridiron?

The Depth Chart

As evidenced by its 71 overall ranking, the offense is the weakest part of the all-Penn State NFL team. Christian Hackenberg gets the nod at quarterback as he checks in at 64 overall.

While Hackenberg might not be the best quarterback in the game, he definitely has some weapons to work with. Allen Robinson, Chris Hogan, Chris Godwin, Jesse James, and Mike Gesicki are all solid pass catchers. The offensive rating gets let down by a weak offensive line, with no player coming in with an overall score above 79.

If this squad is going to be successful, it will be on the back of a strong defense. Former Linebacker U starlets Sean Lee and NaVorro Bowman should hopefully keep things steady. Troy Apke isn’t the highest rated player in Madden, but Adrian Amos should help him pick up the slack at safety. Cameron Wake and Anthony Zettel are solid pass rushers who can get to the quarterback when it matters.

Season 1

The first year was a rough one for the Nittany Lions. Although they started the season with wins against Jacksonville and Dallas, the team won just three of its last 14 games to finish with a record of 5-11.

The squad finished as the worst offensive and defensive team in the league, but somehow did not finish dead last in the standings. Both the Jets and Colts finished below Penn State’s all-NFL squad.

Hackenberg finished the season with 3,395 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and seven fumbles lost. Getting sacked 58(!!) times probably didn’t help him think clearly either; it’s a miracle he managed to play in all 16 games.

Saquon Barkley rushed for 922 yards and 4 touchdowns behind that weak offensive line. Sean Lee and NaVorro Bowman each had 125 tackles in a rough year for the defense. Anthony Zettel totaled 9.5 sacks, and Cameron Wake was able to get 8.5. Troy Apke even got himself a pick.

Wide receiver Chris Godwin led the way with three touchdowns and 849 receiving yards. Jesse James seemed to be the preferred tight end in all five of these season simulations, picking up 555 yards and two scores in the air during year one.

Season 2

Statistically, the team saw some improvement, but its record didn’t show it at all. The New York Nittany Lions went 4-12, finishing No. 24 and No. 26 in total offense and defense, respectively. The team even started out season 0-8, but won two straight following its bye week.

Hackenberg had himself a much better year, passing for 3,861 yards with 24 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and an 89.9 passer rating. The 64 overall signal caller certainly outperformed his rating. He still had turnover trouble with 8 fumbles, and he was sacked 49 times in this simulation.

Barkley had himself a slightly worse year with 896 rushing yards and 5 rushing touchdowns. Despite Allen Robinson being the official No. 1 receiver, Chris Godwin once again topped the team’s receiving charts with 1,043 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Cameron Wake had a career year on the defensive line, logging 16.5 sacks to finish second in the league behind Khalil Mack, who was still on the Raiders in this simulation.

Season 3

The Penn State All-Stars finished 5-11 once again, and checked in with the No. 24 and 25 total offense and defense, respectively, in the NFL. The highlight of the season came in Atlanta on Monday Night Football. Penn State beat the Falcons 26-0 behind a 3 touchdown performance from Saquon Barkley.

After Hackenberg had a better year during the second simulation, he regressed a bit this time around. He passed for 3,646 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions proved. He only lost five fumbles, but the 57 sacks he took may have rung his bell a bit.

Barkley finished this season with just 625 yards and seven touchdowns this time around, but he missed seven of his team’s games due to injury.

Allen Robinson finally led the team in receiving yards with 816 as the passing game faltered overall due to Hack’s rough year. Additionally, the Outlaw Jesse James kept up his wizardry, finishing the season as the top tight end with seven touchdowns and 623 yards.

On defense, the duo of Cameron Wake and Anthony Zettel continued to terrorize quarterbacks. They combined for 28.5 sacks, with Wake once again finishing near the top of the NFL with 16 of his own.

Cornerback Trevor Williams, who played for Penn State from 2012 to 2015, led the NFL with six interceptions.

Season 4

Season four was the worst for the Nittany Lions; the team finished with a poor 3-13 record. However, those three wins did come against playoff opponents in the simulation. The team opened the season with a 35-16 victory over Jacksonville followed by Monday night victories over San Francisco and Atlanta in the middle of the season.

Despite the lowly win total, Penn State’s defense was as strong as ever, finishing just outside the top ten in total yards allowed per game. 

Christian Hackenberg passed for 3,304 yards, 22 scores, and 13 interceptions. His yardage was lower in season four than any other simulation, but he only eclipsed his 22 touchdown total in one other simulation.

Saquon Barkley put together one of his best individual seasons in this simulation. He rushed for 911 yards and ten touchdowns throughout the season, establishing himself as the team’s featured running back of the future. Chris Godwin once again was the top receiver on the team, finishing the year with 821 yards and six touchdowns.

The team’s secondary was deadly in this season; Adrian Amos intercepted three passes, and Troy Apke & Trevor Williams each finished with two picks.

The Wake & Zettel pair continued to eat quarterbacks alive, finishing the year with 14 and 13 sacks, respectively.

Season 5

After four long simulations of futility and last-place finishes in the NFC East, the Nittany Lions did the unthinkable.

For the first time in this experiment, the team finished as a .500 team at 8-8. Despite finishing with a lowly 27th-ranked offense, another dominant defense that finished 12th made the difference. The team won 4 of 5 games from weeks 6 to 11, beating the mighty Saints and Eagles — the two top seeds in the NFC in this simulation — in the process.

Hackenberg had himself an average year with 3,639 yards and a 22 to 13 touchdown-to-interception ration. This isn’t anything to write home about, but it was an improvement from the dreary Season 4. One constant throughout these simulations was the offensive line’s futility; Hackenberg was sacked 58 times yet again in this simulation.

Saquon Barkley had an uncharacteristic year. After being more or less the most consistent player on offense in the fourth simulation, he had just 649 yards and 5 touchdowns. The offensive line troubles finally caught up to No. 26 in this simulation.

Allen Robinson saved his best season for the last simulation. He finished with 78 receptions, 981 yards, and five touchdowns, but was also accompanied by plenty of depth at the position. Chris Godwin, Chris Hogan, and Jesse James all finished the year with at least 425 yards and four touchdowns.

The defense had another dominant year. The highlight was an unstoppable air defense, with a host of interceptions from all over. Of all people, Troy Apke led the team with three interceptions, NaVorro Bowman had two, and five others finished tied for third on the team with one pick.

The Wake/Zettel partnership didn’t put up crazy numbers in this simulation, finishing with 12 and 10.5 sacks, respectively.

Conclusion

Madden NFL 19 taught us a harsh lesson about Penn State’s all-NFL squad: it isn’t very good. The team averaged exactly five wins per season and finished at the bottom of the NFC East in four out of five simulations.

What was this team’s downfall? It had glaring weaknesses at offensive line and quarterback while not getting nearly enough depth at every position other than wide receiver and tight end.

Though the results are disappointing, this is certainly not an indictment of Penn State’s lack of talent at the next level. Most college football teams wouldn’t be able to put together a strong 53-man roster of active NFL players on their own, anyways. But it was a fun, albeit slightly disappointing, experiment while it lasted!

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About the Author

Matt Paolizzi

Matt is a freshman majoring in Secondary Education, hoping to minor in philosophy, and is from the fabled land of "just outside Philly." He'll gladly talk your ear off about anything from Picasso to Wu-Tang Clan and lives and dies by Philly sports. Send him seething rants and death threats at [email protected]

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