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Predicting When & Where Nittany Lions Will Go In The 2020 NFL Draft

After several weeks of replays and old highlight reels, the sports world finally has something to watch and discuss. That’s right, baby. It’s draft time.

The 2020 NFL Draft will kick off at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 23 and take place virtually for the first time in its history. Commissioner Roger Goodell and other team representatives will announce picks from the comfort of their own homes, while results will be broadcast nationally on ESPN, ABC, and the NFL Network.

Hundreds of young football players will hear their names called over the course of the weekend, several of whom will likely be Nittany Lions. While plenty of experts have offered their thoughts on the draft, we decided to throw our proverbial hat in the ring and brainstorm our own predictions.

Without further ado, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Yetur Gross-Matos

The Team: Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: No. 25 overall, Round 1

The Seattle Seahawks have been connected with Gross-Matos in trying to sure up a defensive line that may be without Jadeveon Clowney, but I don’t think Minnesota will give Pete Carroll’s squad the opportunity to scoop him.

Gross-Matos is clearly one of the top defensive linemen in this year’s draft class, and further proved his athletic ability at the NFL Scouting Combine. The 6’5″, 266-pound edge rusher had a vertical jump of 34 inches, a broad jump of 120 inches, and posted 20 reps on the bench press. Those figures gave him the fourth-best vertical among defensive lineman at the combine and sixth-best broad jump.

The prospect’s speed and strength off the edge were on full display throughout his three-year career in Happy Valley, leaving Penn State with 19 career sacks and 37 career tackles-for-loss. One of Gross-Matos’ most productive campaigns during his junior season this past fall, when he put up 15 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, and seven quarterback hurries.

Even as a sophomore, Gross-Matos was nearly impossible to handle for opposing offensive lines. He consistently attracted double teams in efforts to try and slow him down.

The Vikings have lost a lot of talent on defense, including veteran defensive end Everson Griffen. It’s been decades since Minnesota’s front line was referred to as the “Purple People Eaters,” but if they want to return to that level of success, Gross-Matos would be a good start.

KJ Hamler

The Team: Philadelphia Eagles
The Pick: No. 53 overall, Round 2

The early-to-mid second round has been a popular landing spot for Hamler in many mock drafts. The Cowboys and Rams have both been rumored to be in the mix, but the Philadelphia Eagles have reportedly shown plenty of interest in the speedster.

The Eagles have been known to draft Nittany Lions in recent years, including running back Miles Sanders. In fact, the former second-round pick confirmed he’ll announce that pick for his team Friday night. If you needed a quick reminder, Sanders was drafted with the No. 53 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Strange coincidence or history repeating itself? We’ll let you decide.

Anyway, if Hamler is still on the board when it comes time for the Eagles to pick, I’d be shocked if they didn’t grab the wideout. Aside from his connection with his former Penn State teammate, he would be a great fit for Doug Pederson’s offense.

The Eagles have a roster of several aging wide receivers and could use a burst of energy and playmaker like Hamler. The 5’9″, 170-pound wideout leaves Penn State with 98 career receptions for 1,658 yards and 14 touchdowns (in just a two-year career). He was a consistent option for both Trace McSorley and Sean Clifford and fans should be ready for him to do the same at the next level.

Thanks to his raw talent and athleticism, I expect Hamler to be the highest-drafted Nittany Lion receiver since Allen Robinson in 2014.

Robert Windsor

The Team: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pick: No. 135 overall, Round 4

Windsor has found himself landing in the mid-to-late rounds of the NFL Draft in most mocks, and I expect him to be a fairly early pick Saturday.

TJ Watt and Cam Heyward are obviously both talented defensive stars, but Pittsburgh could definitely use some shoring up of its interior defensive line unit. While there are several big boys ranked ahead of him, I think the 6’4″, 290-pound Windsor would be a wise pick for the Steelers.

Windsor was never really considered a superstar during his time at Penn State, but he was without a doubt one of the most consistent members of Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs. He leaves Penn State with 120 career tackles, 19 for a loss, and 13 sacks. Windsor was named a second-team All-Big Ten player after a junior season in which he recorded 38 tackles, 10 for a loss, and 6.5 sacks.

While the Wisconsin native undoubtedly had a successful collegiate career, he also proved he’s more than just a big body up front at the combine. Windsor ran a 4.9-second 40-yard dash and had a 111-inch broad jump. His 4.44-second 20-yard shuttle time even ranked eighth among all defensive lineman.

Even without prolific stats or records, Windsor’s ability to make tackles and get to the quarterback makes him a quality NFL Draft pick. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers pick him up earlier than some may expect.

John Reid

The Team: Carolina Panthers
The Pick: No. 152, Round 5

The Carolina Panthers are expected to go defensive in the 2020 NFL Draft, and I think John Reid is going to be a part of their plan.

First-year head coach Matt Rhule’s squad has been rumored to spend one of its first two picks on a top tier defensive back, but Reid would still be a worthy pick up later in the draft. I also think Rhule, a former star linebacker for Penn State, would love to grab a fellow Nittany Lion to bolster his team’s defense.

Reid had a long and productive career as a Nittany Lion cornerback, even while battling through a torn ACL before the 2017 season. He leaves Penn State with 30 career pass breakups and seven interceptions and was considered a top defensive back for James Franklin’s squad dating all the way back to 2016.

A strong combine performance likely boosted Reid’s draft stock in many teams’ eyes. He would add plenty of late-draft value to a Carolina team that is in need of a defensive rebuild.

Juwan Johnson

The Team: Minnesota Vikings
The Pick: No. 219 overall, Round 7

Due to the fact that they’ll spend their first-round pick on Gross-Matos, I expect the Vikings to look for some wide receiver depth in the late rounds of the draft. Johnson would be an intriguing grab for Minnesota on Saturday afternoon.

While he didn’t have a banner career at Penn State, Johnson’s final season of college football at Oregon clearly boosted his draft value. After recording 81 catches for 1,123 yards and two scores in three seasons played for the Nittany Lions, the 6’4″, 225-pound wideout elected to play for the Ducks in Eugene.

Johnson hauled in 30 catches and four touchdowns during his final season — a level of production should be enough for him to hear his name called late on Saturday afternoon.

The Vikings still have Adam Thielen, but the loss of Stefon Diggs means they’ll likely be looking for a pass catcher in this year’s draft. Johnson did have his struggles with drops throughout college, but his size and athleticism make him worthy of a late-round pick for a team in need of a wide receiver like Minnesota.

Cam Brown

The Team: Arizona Cardinals
The Pick: No. 222 overall, Round 7

The Arizona Cardinals will be in search of linebacker depth in this year’s draft, and Cam Brown will offer exactly that.

Despite the fact that the Cardinals may take other defensive prospects earlier, I expect them to use their final pick on Brown. The 6’5″, 233-pound athlete has simply too much upside for a defensively-needy team like Arizona to pass up on.

Brown played meaningful snaps on Brent Pry’s defense for three seasons and made big plays on special teams in his freshman year in 2016. The linebacker’s most important play of that year was the, well, other massive special teams play from the Nittany Lions’ win over Ohio State.

After paying his dues as a true freshman, Brown now leaves Penn State with 199 tackles, 15 for a loss, five sacks, and four forced fumbles. While he’s commonly knocked for his smaller size, Brown’s length and speed give him the ability to be a “do-it-all” linebacker or special teams addition.

Undrafted

Steven Gonzalez: Gonzalez has clearly proven to be a talented offensive lineman after a long career as a Nittany Lion. Despite this, I think there are simply too many guards in line waiting to be drafted ahead of him to hear his name called this weekend. He’ll likely sign with a team in the days following the draft.

Blake Gillikin: Quite frankly, I feel Gillikin is absolutely deserving of a late-round NFL Draft pick. Unfortunately for the Georgia native, though, there are several punters that professional teams will likely grab before they consider him. I expect a team to sign Gillikin as quickly as possible after the draft.

Jan Johnson: After an extremely productive career as a Penn State football walk-on run-on, Johnson will likely need to once again battle his way onto an NFL roster. He’s buried beneath a ton of linebacker talent in this year’s draft, but he’ll certainly get a chance and sign with a team.

Garrett Taylor: After working his way up to a key safety role as a senior in 2019, Taylor was an important contributor to Penn State’s defense. He still finds himself ranked fairly low among other defensive backs in this year’s draft pool, so I expect him to sign as an undrafted free agent.

Tommy Stevens: Nittany Lion fans have a special place in their hearts for the athletic Stevens. While he had an interesting career as Penn State’s “Lion” and a season at quarterback for Mississippi State, teams will likely wait until after the draft to give a chance to Touchdown Tommy.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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