A Look At How Penn State’s Draftees Fit With Their NFL Teams
By Will Pegler and Matt DiSanto
Thanks to a busy few days full of draft selections and free agent signings, Penn State’s representation in the NFL increased by 12 players last weekend.
Now that the NFL Draft has come and gone, let’s take a look at each draftee fits in in his new home.
Miles Sanders (No. 53 overall, Philadelphia Eagles)
The Eagles seem to be a perfect fit for Miles Sanders. Taken in the second round of the NFL Draft, Sanders will likely play behind newly acquired back Jordan Howard and could finally bring a one-two punch to the Eagles’ offense, which Penn State’s large “just outside of Philly” crowd has been begging for.
Sanders’ ability to make cuts and create room to run using his speed and lower-body strength blends well with the Eagles’ imposing offensive line.
Considering the Eagles’ emphasis on mixing their running backs into the passing game, Sanders will need to improve his receiving skills to make an impact in this way. Among the top 50 backs in college football in 2018, only six had a higher drop rate than Sanders. Despite these struggles in college, Sanders already seemed to have made strides at the Combine.
The Eagles have dealt with health issues in their running back corps for years, with players like Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood missing time recently. Sanders’ lack of wear-and-tear, having played behind Saquon Barkley for most of his career, makes him an even better fit for the Eagles.
Connor McGovern (No. 90 overall, Dallas Cowboys)
The Dallas Cowboys entered the NFL Draft without the glaring needs that most other teams had, so their choice to select Connor McGovern in the third round was a surprise to some.
If the Cowboys were looking for a solution to the health problems its offensive line has faced in the past, they’ve found it with McGovern. The former third-team All-Big Ten selection started 35 games for the Nittany Lions throughout his career. He played at several different positions along the offensive line including center and right guard. McGovern’s versatility likely boosted his draft stock and made him an attractive option for the Cowboys.
Although he’s moved up and down the offensive line, McGovern’s future likely lies at right or left guard. Dallas noted in its post-draft presser that McGovern is a part of the team’s plans for the future, even though Connor Williams and La’el Collins currently occupy the Cowboys’ guard positions. Even though McGovern may not find playing time right from the get-go, expect him to learn alongside a few veterans and earn playing time for America’s Team in the near future.
Shareef Miller (No. 138 overall, Philadelphia Eagles)
Heading into the NFL Draft, the Eagles knew they needed to strengthen their defensive line by drafting a strong edge rusher. With the uncertain future of defensive end Chris Long, they knew they needed to take one sooner rather than later, which is what they got with Shareef Miller in the fourth round.
Miller should blend nicely with Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s defense. His athletic ability may not be at the desired pro level just yet, but the Eagles’ preference to rotate their defensive line and spread snaps out among several players should allow Miller to see playing time sooner than you’d expect.
The former Penn State defensive end isn’t powerful or consistent enough to win battles around the corner just yet, but working alongside all-pros like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham should help him adjust quickly to the NFL and find playing time sooner rather than later.
Amani Oruwariye (No. 146 overall, Detroit Lions)
After being drafted in the fifth round of the draft, Oruwariye joins a Lions’ secondary that had the eighth-best pass defense in the NFL last season. Detroit’s top cornerback is clearly Darius Slay, who finished with a league-high eight interceptions in 2017. The rest of the group seems fairly open for competition, though.
Teez Tabor and Marcus Cooper are currently listed as Detroit’s second and third corners, respectively. The pair started just 10 games between them last season and didn’t put up dazzling numbers, so Oruwariye definitely has an opportunity to play meaningful snaps for the Lions in 2019.
Oruwariye’s 6’1”, 203-pound frame and athletic ability already make him an attractive option at cornerback. If he can showcase his skills in mini-camp and make plays in the preseason, it’s hard to see a scenario where the Lions don’t give him a shot.
Trace McSorley (No. 197 overall, Baltimore Ravens)
The Ravens now have one of the most athletic quarterback groups in the NFL after trading quite the opposite of that, Joe Flacco, to the Broncos in the offseason. As a rookie, starter Lamar Jackson threw for six touchdowns and 1,201 yards in seven starts last season. By drafting Trace McSorley in the sixth round, the Ravens showed they are fully committed to mobility at the position.
The only other quarterback listed on the Raven’s roster is Robert Griffin III, an NFL journeyman who has already played for three NFL teams in his five-year career. McSorley has done nothing but prove doubters wrong throughout his career, so winning the backup job over the injury-prone RG III is a realistic possibility for the Penn State legend.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has made it clear that although McSorley’s primary position will be quarterback, he is willing to move him around to find a good fit, like the Saints have done with Taysom Hill.
After running the faster 40-yard dash by a quarterback at the NFL Combine, McSorley has proven he has plenty of athletic ability to fill those needs and mesh well with a playbook built for Jackson’s dynamic style.
Nick Scott (No. 243 overall, Los Angeles Rams)
Scott was the last Nittany Lion taken in this year’s draft, sneaking into the final round to the Rams. Although the Rams already have several established players in their secondary, they seem poised to utilize Scott on special teams.
Special teams coach John Fassel was reportedly intrigued with Scott and seems to have plans to incorporate him right from the start. Before starting at safety in 2018, Scott spent plenty of time on punt and kick coverage for three seasons, even recovering a fumbled punt return for a touchdown against Indiana in 2017.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Rams as the 11th best special teams unit at the end of the 2018 season, and Scott can likely add value to the group.
Scott proved his versatility over the course of his Penn State career, even playing a bit of running back during his freshman season. His “do it all” playstyle could allow him to stick around on the Rams roster for seasons to come.
Ryan Bates (Signed With Philadelphia Eagles)
Bates signed with the Eagles just minutes after the finish of the draft. The three-year starter on Penn State’s offensive line is joining an Eagles unit that was ranked fifth in the NFL at the end of the 2018 season by Pro Football Focus.
Bates will likely struggle to crack into an established unit of Lane Johnson, Jason Peter, and Jason Kelce in order to make the 53-man roster.
Despite being named a freshman All-American in 2016 and earning All-Big Ten honors in his sophomore and junior seasons, the main knock on Bates over his career is that he lacks NFL-level athleticism, which could cost him a roster spot with the Eagles.
DeAndre Thompkins (Signed With Philadelphia Eagles)
Former Penn State wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins signed with the Philadelphia Eagles shortly after the NFL Draft. Joining such a talented and experienced receiving corps, Thompkins will also likely have a tough time finding his way onto the field as he begins his NFL career.
The one big advantage Thompkins has is his speed, which could help him earn a spot providing reinforcements on offense and special teams. His impressive 4.33-second 40-yard dash time at Penn State’s Pro Day would’ve tied for third at the NFL Combine had he attended.
Kevin Givens (Signed With San Francisco 49ers)
Givens found his home in San Francisco in the hours following the draft. The 49ers took former Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa with the second overall pick, adding to a strong line that is anchored by DeForest Buckner and the recently acquired Dee Ford.
If nothing else, Givens will be able to learn from several talented players on the 49ers squad. The young defensive tackle decided to skip his senior year and could definitely use a bit more experience in order to utilize every bit of his raw talent.
Koa Farmer (Signed With Oakland Raiders)
The Oakland Raiders gained a valuable prospect when they signed former Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer. In college, Farmer played mostly as a linebacker, but also has experience as a safety and kick returner in his time as a Nittany Lion. His versatility could help him find playing time in Oakland despite his shortcomings on the field.
At Penn State’s Pro Day, Farmer showcased his safety-like speed with a 4.48-second 40-yard dash and his strength with 25 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Farmer isn’t as developed as other linebacker prospects in this year’s draft class, but his athleticism won’t go unnoticed by Oakland’s front office.
Johnathan Thomas (Signed With Cincinnati Bengals)
Despite finishing his Penn State career with just 18 carries and a touchdown, Johnathan Thomas found a home with the Bengals picked up just after the draft finished up. Thomas wasn’t the only running back the Bengals picked up. They drafted Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson and Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams in the sixth round.
These two draft picks along with Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon make Cincinnati’s running back room extremely crowded.
Kyle Vasey (Signed With Atlanta Falcons)
Former Penn State long snapper Kyle Vasey is headed to Atlanta after the Falcons signed him to a professional contract following the 2019 NFL Draft. Despite not starting until his junior season, Vasey had a strong career at Penn State. He helped Blake Gillikin finish the season with a punt average of 44 yards. Vasey also assisted kicker Jake Pinegar to a .963 extra point percentage in his first season as a Nittany Lion, the ninth-best percentage in program history.
While Vasey will join the Falcons, he’ll likely compete for a backup position for now. Atlanta recently signed current starting long snapper Josh Harris to a three-year contract, cementing him as the Falcons’ long snapper of the future.
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About the Author
Penn State alumna and Good Morning America host Lara Spencer will be the guest picker on today’s broadcast of College GameDay, Maria Taylor announced Saturday morning.
From criticizing Good Morning America to wondering who Lara Spencer is to vouching for World Cup champion Ali Krieger, who’s in town for the weekend, fans had plenty to share about their disgust with College GameDay’s guest picker.
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