How Do 2022 Penn State Draftees Fit With Their NFL Teams?
The 2022 NFL Draft came to a close over the weekend, and a whopping 15 former Penn State football players joined NFL teams through the draft and free agency.
While some already appear to be excellent fits with their new squads, others enter more complex situations and may need more time to show if their landing spot was right for them. With that said, let’s take an in-depth look at each Penn Stater’s potential fit with their new squad.
WR Jahan Dotson, Washington Commanders
Ahead of the draft, many draft analysts projected Jahan Dotson as a late first-round or early second-round selection. However, on Thursday, the Washington Commanders took him at No. 16 overall. As one of the best receiving prospects in the draft, Dotson will presumably play a large role in Washington’s offense from day one.
Joining a receiver room that boasts Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel, Dotson will catch passes from Washington’s new quarterback, Carson Wentz. Although Wentz is a mid-tier NFL quarterback at best, there are undoubtedly worse situations for Dotson to be in.
The team’s other pass-catchers will likely impact opposing defenses’ abilities to cover everyone, which should open up opportunities for Dotson to flourish. In a division with average defenses in New York, Philadelphia, and Dallas, Dotson has a chance to shine.
With its first-round pick, Washington invested a significant amount of draft capital into Dotson. From a longevity standpoint, that’s an excellent sign. McLaurin is entering a contract year, so the team may be angling Dotson to eventually become its No. 1 option.
DE Arnold Ebiketie, Atlanta Falcons
With the No. 38 overall pick, the Atlanta Falcons used their second-round pick on defensive end Arnold Ebiketie. With the Falcons having one of the worst pass-rushes last season, Ebiketie could make an immediate impact.
Atlanta’s weak defensive performances in 2021 may be a cause for concern, but optimistically, they open the door for the man known as “AK” to play a substantial role. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees runs a blitz-heavy defense that should allow Ebiketie’s pass-rush proficiency to shine.
However, the lack of help on the defensive front may also stunt Ebiketie’s rookie season. As seen in the past with Yetur Gross-Matos in Carolina, Ebiketie runs the risk of fading into the background of a weak unit. Facing the stout offensive line of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers twice a year won’t help, too. Even the rebuilding offenses in Carolina and New Orleans possess promising offensive fronts. It may be a marathon, rather than a sprint, for AK in Atlanta.
S Jaquan Brisker, Chicago Bears
In what could very easily become one of the biggest steals of the draft, the Chicago Bears selected safety Jaquan Brisker in the second round at No. 48 overall.
Brisker immediately fills a need at safety for a Bears secondary that is in desperate need of support. Chicago also drafted athletic cornerback Kyler Gordon shortly before grabbing Brisker, and the two should provide some much-needed youth and promise at the backend of the defense. The Nittany Lion has easily shown first-round caliber talent with his versatile defensive approach at Penn State, and he’ll likely start in 2022.
Brisker’s ability to drop back in zone coverage, play man-to-man when necessary, and step into the box makes him an extremely valuable piece. He will certainly be tested by Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and the high-octane wide receiver corps, but after holding his own in the Big Ten, there’s no reason to believe Brisker won’t succeed. If Brisker is willing to shoulder an extra burden (given the gaping holes of the Bears’ defense), he could quickly become a constant in Chicago.
LB Brandon Smith, Carolina Panthers
Selected by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 120 overall pick, linebacker Brandon Smith could be poised to make an impact. There’s significant upside to Smith landing in Carolina, but it doesn’t come without concern.
Despite boasting a handful of successful playmakers and one of the youngest teams in the NFL, the Panthers remain troublesome. Ironically, that bodes well for Smith’s chances. With few earth-shattering players at the linebacker position, Smith could certainly play his way into a contributing role.
Smith was one of the most athletic prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft. Where he had weaknesses on the field, Smith had ample physical talent to potentially offset them. In fact, he scored a Relative Athletic Score of 9.97 out of 10.00, which is the eighth-best at linebacker since 1987.
If head coach Matt Rhule can help coach out the mistakes, which include missed tackles and a fairly weak pass-rush, Smith could very well become a monster. His elite speed, especially at his size, offers tools that are priceless in the NFL.
P Jordan Stout, Baltimore Ravens
Arguably the biggest Penn State surprise in this year’s draft was punter Jordan Stout being picked by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round. Though San Diego State’s Matt Araiza drew most of the pre-draft praise, some pundits, like ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Pro Football Focus, had Stout as the draft’s best punter.
“Stout was the only [punter] we would have drafted,” Eric DeCosta, the Ravens’ general manager, said after the draft.
Baltimore is likely one of the best possible landing spots for Stout. His predecessor, Sam Koch, has been with the team since 2006. If Stout punts the way he did at Penn State, he could stick around in Baltimore for a long, long time.
Since head coach John Harbaugh is known to attempt fourth-down conversions at a 50-50 rate, All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections may not come as often as some would hope. However, joining one of the best special teams units in the NFL will have to serve as consolation.
Plus, who knows? Every now and then, the Ravens like to get creative with their play calling. Perhaps we could see some more trademark fake punts from the Nittany Lions’ former fourth-down quarterback.
CB Tariq Castro-Fields, San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers picked Tariq Castro-Fields in the sixth round at No. 221 overall in the draft. Impressive physical attributes made Castro-Fields an attractive pick for teams willing to work through his on-field deficiencies.
San Francisco’s defense is notorious for its on-field results. Recently, its secondary play has decreased in quality, but the prestige still exists among the coaching staff, as defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans earned head coach interviews this offseason.
Castro-Fields’ size and speed translate into a positive outlook, especially with the coaching now at his disposal. Still, the crowded cornerback room facing him makes it an uphill battle for Castro-Fields, even if it were solely from a numbers perspective.
OL Rasheed Walker, Green Bay Packers
Once seen as a top offensive line prospect, injuries and underwhelming play saw offensive tackle Rasheed Walker fall to the seventh round. The Green Bay Packers eventually selected him with the No. 249 overall pick.
Despite Walker’s late selection, Green Bay might be the ideal landing spot for him. The Packers have been historically successful at developing offensive linemen. In fact, not a single starting offensive lineman on the Packers’ roster was selected in the first round, including $92 million-man David Bakhtiari.
Walker was once an early-round prospect for a reason. He has the size, strength, and traits of a successful offensive lineman, even if it’s not on the left side of the line. Entering the draft, a majority of the critiques of Walker were technique-based. Walker could absolutely fall out of the league in a few years’ time, but it would also not be surprising to see Green Bay’s development help him reach his full potential.
LB/DE Jesse Luketa, Arizona Cardinals
Hybrid defender Jesse Luketa narrowly avoided going undrafted when the Arizona Cardinals selected him in the seventh round with the No. 256 overall pick.
Luketa enters a situation with clear pros and cons. On one hand, the Cardinals have a strong linebacker group, but on the other, their pass-rush is very average. Luketa had enough glaring issues to fall to the final round, but his work ethic and noted leadership abilities may prove beneficial.
Furthermore, defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s scheme values multifaceted play. Joseph expects his linebackers to be able to rush the passer, cover pass catchers, and stop the run. With three seasons of linebacker play under his belt, in addition to his 2021 stint as a defensive end, Luketa could be uniquely situated to thrive in Joseph’s scheme.
DL Derrick Tangelo, Atlanta Falcons
Defensive lineman Derrick Tangelo was signed by the Atlanta Falcons shortly after the 2022 NFL Draft concluded. Tangelo was the first undrafted Nittany Lion to sign with a team — a potential sign of confidence from his new employer.
That said, the same concerns plaguing Ebiketie apply here. Tangelo will have to overcome the weaknesses of a statistically lower-tier defensive front against an unforgiving division. Without Ebiketie’s physical acumen, it will be harder for Tangelo to break onto the squad in a meaningful capacity. If Tangelo’s collegiate body of work is any indication, though, his ability to code-switch between run-stopping and pass-rushing will benefit him as he enters the battle of NFL training camp.
OL Eric Wilson, New Orleans Saints
The next undrafted Penn Stater to sign with an NFL team was offensive lineman Eric Wilson when he signed with the New Orleans Saints. After transferring from Harvard, Wilson’s lone season at Penn State and strong Pro Day boosted his stock enough for him to find a home in the pros.
While not top tier, New Orleans’ offensive line is nothing to fully write off. Epitomizing that is ESPN projecting first-round offensive tackle Trevor Penning to begin 2022 as a backup. As a result, Wilson’s chances of making the team are thin.
Wilson’s tenacity and experience make him an attractive prospect who could certainly make an NFL squad. New Orleans just doesn’t seem like the best spot with the amount of talent already jostling for roster spots.
LB Ellis Brooks, Green Bay Packers
Linebacker Ellis Brooks followed teammate Rasheed Walker to Green Bay when he signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent.
By most metrics, the Packers’ defense is one of the league’s best. Brooks brings his fair share of positive traits to the table, but overaggressiveness and missed tackles also characterized his pre-draft profile. Those are coachable weaknesses, and Green Bay is consistently successful at development. But, the linebacker room is so full that Brooks may have a difficult time making his mark.
S Drew Hartlaub, Carolina Panthers
The signing of Drew Hartlaub is a classic example of a post-draft home run swing. Hartlaub was one of the most athletic prospects in the year’s class. His 2022 Pro Day performance was near perfect, showing incredible burst and speed. Hartlaub’s unofficial 4.22-second 40-yard dash time would have tied the NFL Scouting Combine record.
Carolina is not the most ideal landing spot for a player like Hartlaub, though. Due to his small size (5’11”, 180 pounds), Hartlaub’s ceiling is that of a perennial special teamer.
There is nothing wrong with that role, though. The New England Patriots’ Matthew Slater is entering his 15th NFL season and has earned nearly $25 million, as an almost-exclusive special teams fixture. However, situations like that seem to only arise from coaches with a documented orientation toward special teams. Somewhere like Baltimore, Indianapolis, or the aforementioned New England would have been premiere landing spots for Hartlaub.
RB John Lovett, Carolina Panthers
When running back John Lovett signed with the Carolina Panthers, he became the third Nittany Lion to join the squad this draft season with Brandon Smith and Drew Hartlaub.
With Christian McCaffrey and 2021 draft pick Chuba Hubbard clogging up the top of the depth chart, it seems unlikely Lovett makes the team. There may have been better spots for the former Baylor transfer to land, but ultimately, factors like Lovett’s 3.4 average yards per carry in the 2021 season will be the death knell. NFL.com ranked Lovett as the 33rd-best undrafted running back for a reason.
WR Irvin Charles (New York Jets) & DL Antonio Valentino (New York Giants)
Two players who transferred away from the program during their collegiate careers — Irvin Charles and Antonio Valentino — will head to the Big Apple as undrafted free agents, albeit with different teams.
Charles will try to stick with the Jets in a wideout room that is headlined by Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, and 2022 first-round pick Garrett Wilson. An impressive showing in the offseason and during training camp could allow Charles to earn a bottom-of-the-depth-chart spot on the team.
Valentino, like Charles with the Jets, has an uphill battle to make the Giants’ 53-man roster. As is the case with most undrafted players, he’ll need to open some eyes in training camp to earn a spot on the squad.
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About the Author
Michael Botte decided to combine his refound passion for music and his love for Penn State football in a new country rock release.
From the rainy conditions to beer sales in Beaver Stadium, it was a chaotic Saturday in State College.
The Nittany Lions grinded through some ugly weather to advance to 5-0 on the season.