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Penn State Football’s NFL Draft History By The Numbers

With the 2021 NFL Draft set to begin at 8 p.m. Thursday night, it’s time to take a deep dive into the history books, folks.

It’s no secret that Penn State has a rich draft history. Just last year, the program tied Nebraska for the seventh-most NFL draft picks of all time. Now, it’s time to take a closer look at the numbers behind the Nittany Lions’ draft history.

Penn State has produced 361 draft picks in the program’s history, which ties it for third-most in the Big Ten behind Ohio State and Michigan.

Among those 361 picks, 37 of them have been first-rounders — the most recent being Saquon Barkley in 2018 as the No. 2 overall pick.

Speaking of top-five picks, Penn State has had 12 alumni drafted inside the top five. Before Barkley, offensive tackle Levi Brown (No. 5 overall in 2007) was the last Nittany Lion to earn a top-five selection.

When talking about the No. 1 overall pick, it’s a pretty prestigious club. Two Penn Staters have been the first name called on draft night, as Ki-Jana Carter (1995) and Courtney Brown (2000) did it five years apart.

The first-ever NFL draft took place on February 8, 1936, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Philadelphia. Ever since then, the draft has taken place every year to let teams select the NFL’s next stars in the making. Penn State has had at least one draft pick in 78 of the drafts that followed.

Penn State has had at least one player drafted for 15 straight years dating back to 2006. In that 15-year span, 62 Nittany Lions have heard their names called.

The 1987 NFL Draft was a special one for the Penn State football program. Following the 1986 squad’s 12-0 record en route to a national title, 13 Nittany Lions got drafted in 1987, the most in a single class in Penn State history. However, it’s important to note that in 1987, there were 12 rounds in the NFL draft. The most Penn Staters drafted under the current seven-round format in a single draft happened in 1996, which saw 10 Nittany Lions get drafted.

When a team makes a draft pick, the hope is that the player selected goes on to have a long, successful career with the organization and maybe even reach the Hall of Fame one day if they’re that great. Well, among Penn State draftees, five have gone on to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Those five players, and their induction years, are Dave Robinson (2013), Mike Munchak (2001), Franco Harris (1990), Jack Ham (1988), and Lenny Moore (1975).

Finally, we’ll look at where it all started and where we most recently left off. Penn State’s draft history runs from 1940 to the present day. In 1940, the Nittany Lions had one player drafted, as the Steelers selected center Leon Gajecki in the 16th (!!) round.

Most recently, in 2020, Penn State had five players drafted — Yetur Gross-Matos (Panthers, second round), KJ Hamler (Broncos, second round), John Reid (Texans, fourth round), Cam Brown (Giants, sixth round), and Robert Windsor (Colts, sixth round).

That’ll do it for our Penn State NFL Draft history lesson. Make sure to tune in at 8 p.m. tomorrow night on ESPN, ABC, or NFL Network to watch the 2021 NFL Draft and potentially see more Nittany Lions make history.


Please note that players who transferred away from the program and were drafted do NOT count toward these totals. For example, Tommy Stevens, who was drafted last year, doesn’t count toward the 361 total Nittany Lions drafted.

247Sports and Pro Football Hall of Fame were used to find information for this post.

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He grew up in Lindenhurst, NY and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail and death threats to [email protected]

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