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How Do New Penn State Draftees Fit With Their NFL Teams?

Over the course of the most recent NFL Draft cycle concluding on Saturday, many former Penn State football standouts found new homes at the next level. In total, six Nittany Lions heard their names called throughout the seven-round event, including two-first round selections for the first time since 2003 in Micah Parsons and Odafe Oweh.

For the first time in program history, three Penn Staters were picked in a row toward the latter half of the final round. Safety Lamont Wade was the only Nittany Lion in this year’s draft process to sign as an undrafted free agent.

Although each players’ days of donning the blue and white at the collegiate level are over, many draftees are set to make an immediate impact on Sundays. With offseason training quickly approaching, let’s take a look at the roles each Nittany Lion could play for their new NFL squads.

Micah Parsons, Dallas Cowboys

Many expected the Cowboys to use their first-round selection to bolster their secondary, but Jerry Jones and Co. went in another direction by landing perhaps the top defensive player in this year’s draft.

The Harrisburg product will immediately boost Mike McCarty’s injury-prone linebacking corps by aiding Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch off the edge and in the second level. Furthermore, Parsons brings much-needed depth to a position group that suffered a transformational offseason with the departure of Joe Thomas and the retirement of Sean Lee.

Last season, the Cowboys finished with the second-worst rush defense in the NFL, giving up nearly 160 yards per game on the ground at an abysmal five-yard-per-carry clip. According to Pro Football Focus, Parsons was listed as the best run defender, blitzer, and tackler in the draft cycle. His innate ability to find the ball should immediately transform Dallas’s inconsistent defensive play into an area of strength.

Odafe Oweh, Baltimore Ravens

With the team’s second selection in the opening round, the Ravens addressed their biggest positional need by nabbing Jayson, now known by his birth name, “Odafe,” Oweh to anchor one of the edge positions on Don Martindale’s defense. After the departure of Matthew Judon, Yannick Ngakoue, and Jihad Ward during free agency, Baltimore had only three defensive ends on its roster before selecting Oweh.

Despite earning just seven sacks in three seasons as a Nittany Lion, Oweh’s freakish athleticism and untapped potential make him worthy of a first-round draft choice. During his pro day, the New Jersey native ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash, which would have led all defensive ends and linebackers at last year’s combine.

Although Oweh played exclusively in the trenches for James Franklin’s program, many NFL analysts believe he has the ability to make a splash at outside linebacker. With more upside than the film has to show, Oweh’s polished build and unique length make him a brute force as a run defender, and a difficult assignment for any NFL tackle as a speed rusher.

While Oweh is regarded as more of a project than an instant impact centerpiece, the Ravens’ lack of proven edge defenders on its depth chart may shuffle him into the starting mix from week one.

Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers

Prior to the selection process, several analysts notched the former Nittany Lion tight end as a sure-fire second-round pick, but not many predicted the Steel City as his final landing destination. Throughout the scouting process, Freiermuth has drawn comparisons to former Steeler legend Heath Miller for his ability to attack soft spots in zone coverage.

Similarly to Miller, the most recent Big Ten Tight End of the Year is a matchup nightmare in the red zone. In three campaigns as one of Penn State’s most reliable targets, Freiermuth hauled in 16 touchdowns, good for the most scores at the tight end position in school history.

The proven athlete will likely serve as a backup to former top-10 pick Eric Ebron as a rookie but could end up being the franchise’s long-term replacement as a starter once Ebron hits the free-agency market next year. The pick also allows the Steelers to run an increased number of 12-personnel sets to expand the passing attack beyond JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool’s services.

Zech McPhearson, Philadelphia Eagles

The former Nittany Lion turned Texas Tech Red Raider is starting the next chapter of his playing days back in the Keystone State. After passing on several viable options in the secondary with their first three picks, the Eagles addressed their most important positional need by adding McPhearson to an otherwise depleted cornerback room.

Aside from Darius Slay, the backside of the Eagles defensive lacks a premier, established cover corner. In two seasons as a starter, McPhearson tallied 104 total tackles and 11 passes defended — good enough to reap First-Team All-Big 12 honors as a senior.

In a secondary riddled with question marks, McPhearson has the ability to earn reps from the get-go in Philadelphia. Following several years of puzzling selections from Jeffrie Lurie and Co., the Eagles certainly made a great value pick in the fourth round by grabbing one of the most polished coverage players in this year’s draft.

Shaka Toney, Washington Football Team

Washington may have landed the steal of the draft by snatching the First-Team All-Big Ten edge rusher as the nineteenth pick of the draft’s final round. During his five-year stint in Happy Valley, Toney finished with 20.5 sacks, equating to the eight-most of such in program history.

Although Toney brings tremendous upside as a speed-centric defensive end to the Football Team’s unit upfront, the franchise’s starting defensive line consists of four former first-round selections, including proven edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat. With Toney’s staunch array of competition ahead of him, it is unlikely the Philadelphia native will earn valuable minutes as a rookie.

As a two-year starter for the Nittany Lions, the matured pass rusher will be able to improve his physical stature and learn from Washington’s loaded cabinet of talented, experienced defensive linemen before immediately competing for snaps at the highest level.

Michal Menet, Arizona Cardinals

Directly after Toney’s name came off the board, Menet found himself as the newest member of the Arizona Cardinals. The thought-to-be mid-round selection fell further than most scouts expected, but the two-time Nittany Lion captain should provide Kyler Murray with a safety blanket as an experienced reserve on the offensive line.

In his most recent campaign with Penn State, the senior garnered Third-Team All-Big Ten recognition for anchoring Penn State’s offensive that finished second in the conference in total yards. While his impressive resume shows no flaws, Menet lacks the typical length possessed by tackles in the NFL, making his versatility a massive question mark.

Arizona didn’t enter the draft with a distinct need upfront, but Menet’s value with their last draft choice made him too difficult to pass up. His leadership, character, and work ethic will immediately enhance the Cardinal locker room upon arrival.

Will Fries, Indianapolis Colts

Fries’ selection capped off an unprecedented run of three-straight Nittany Lions picked off the board just before the draft’s conclusion. The Colts entered the draft needing an established tackle following the retirement of longtime staple Anthony Costanzo, and for the benefit of injury-prone quarterback Carson Wentz.

At Penn State, Fries made 42 starts, including 26 games protecting the blindside of Trace McSorley and Sean Clifford at right tackle. In one-on-one protection against Chase Young, Fries struggled mightily but ultimately grew into a Second-Team All-Big Ten lineman as a senior.

In 2020, Fries helped fill the several voids in Phil Trautwein’s depleted unit by shuffling to right guard for the final six regular-season matchups. At the next level, Fries will have the chance to learn the ins and outs of each position from Hall of Famer and position coach Kevin Mawae.

Lamont Wade, Pittsburgh Steelers

Wade rounded out the latest class of Nittany Lions to enter the league by signing as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday evening. The former five-star prospect is returning back to the City of Bridges after an illustrious career at locally-renowned Clairton High School, resulting in three Western Pennsylvania championship victories.

After choosing Penn State over other power five programs, Wade endured a difficult position change from cornerback to safety in order to satisfy Brent Pry’s roster design. The transition nearly led to Wade’s transfer, but he later excelled as a third-team All-Big Ten safety as a senior.

The productive defensive and special teams ace finished his career in Happy Valley with an impressive 153-tackle output in the back end. Additionally, Wade proceeded three forced fumbles during his tenure, good for the ninth-most in school history.

In order to make the full-time roster, Wade will likely need to outperform former Oklahoma safety Tre Norwood, whom the Steelers selected in the seventh round. Many scouts have cited Wade’s ability to make game-changing plays on special teams as his most important skill at the next level.

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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