How Do 2023 Penn State Draftees Fit With Their NFL Teams?
Three days, seven rounds, and 259 picks later, the 2023 NFL Draft has come to a close. This year, six Nittany Lions heard their name called during the draft, and four more signed contracts as undrafted free agents upon the spectacle’s conclusion.
While some former Penn State players are expected to immediately serve as instant impact pieces on their new squads, others will have to fight for a roster spot and prove that they have what it takes to thrive at the next level.
After analyzing the closing results of this year’s draft, let’s take a look at how the Nittany Lion draftees and signees will fare heading into their rookie seasons.
CB Joey Porter Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers
Joey Porter Jr. was expected to fall within the first round in most pre-draft mock compilations, but he sat in the green room all of Thursday night before the Pittsburgh Steelers took him with their second pick in the draft at No. 32 overall. Porter, son of former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter Sr., will enter a largely unproven cornerback room with lofty expectations in the Steel City.
Porter will be joined by star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, newly-signed cornerback Patrick Peterson, and defensive end T.J. Watt to build on a defensive unit that finished No. 10 in scoring a year ago. At the NFL level, Porter’s ability to disrupt passing lanes resulting in breakups could immediately help the Steelers’ boom-or-bust style, but penalty concerns could hinge his early usage.
The Bakersville, California, native fell responsible for 11 penalties called on him during his last two years at Penn State, including nine defensive pass interferences and two defensive holding calls. Penalties at every level are detrimental, but pass interference yardage in the NFL mounts quickly as a spot foul.
Through early scouting reports, Porter’s ceiling is extraordinarily high with the Steelers, but if he can’t learn to control his length to play clean, he could find himself in a reserve role to begin his tenure.
QB Will Levis, Tennessee Titans
Former Penn State quarterback Will Levis had an uncomfortable Thursday night at the draft when the projected top-10 prospect shockingly fell out of the first round. After the public slip, displayed by constant television coverage of a dejected Levis in the green room as teams passed over his services, he was drafted by the Tennessee Titans with the No. 33 overall pick.
Levis struggled during his career at Penn State as Sean Clifford’s backup but instantly morphed into a two-campaign starter after transferring to Kentucky. Levis’ natural arm strength garnered severe attention heading into the draft cycle, but his injury history, including an injured toe that forced him to miss two games, could’ve drawn squads away from a first-round selection.
The Titans possessed a wide array of needs heading into this year’s draft, but they didn’t have any glaring holes at quarterback, occupied by 11-year veteran Ryan Tannehill and 2022 third-round selection Malik Willis. Tennessee possibly hinted toward its commitment to the future with Levis, potentially as its pick to be the next franchise quarterback after Tannehill retires and Willis’ initial flare fizzles.
Luckliy, Levis will have Tannehill to rely on throughout training camp to learn, grow, and eventually prosper as a potential first-year impact player.
TE Brenton Strange, Jacksonville Jaguars
Penn State sent yet another tight end to the NFL when Brenton Strange was selected with the No. 61 pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Strange will spend his rookie year behind Evan Engram, who was slapped with a franchise tag distinction during the offseason and will most likely leave the position vacant after the 2023 season.
Jacksonville desperately needs someone to step up and fill the potential void that Engram, one of the league’s best tight ends, will eventually leave. It’s unlikely that Strange will see a ton of action during the upcoming season, and he’ll primarily serve as a blocking tight end with limited pass-catching duties.
Strange is an athletic route-runner who, once he improves his production through the air, could develop into a two-way weapon in nearly all formations moving forward. Strange has the ability to fit in well with the Jaguars’ scheme, as he’s a polished blocker who can reliably stave off edge rushers.
C Juice Scruggs, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans also had a lot of needs for the 2023 draft, and they grabbed Juice Scruggs with the No. 62 overall pick to fill some vacancies on the line. Scruggs played the entirety of the 2022 season at center, but he has shown versatility on the line and played guard throughout his early career in the blue and white.
The Texans used the second overall pick to draft quarterback C.J. Stroud out of Ohio State. With Stroud tapped to most likely take over the reigns at quarterback right away, the Texans will need great protection for their rookie.
Scruggs has incredible off-the-ball speed and physicality that are an asset to an offensive line that will be under increased scrutiny during the upcoming season. Scruggs will have to make an immediate impact on the Texans, but should he do it, he’ll be a great asset to the team.
S Ji’Ayir Brown, San Francisco 49ers
For the second straight year, the Nittany Lions sent a safety to the big leagues with Ji’Ayir Brown being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers No. 87 overall pick.
San Francisco already has Tashaun Gipson at free safety and Talanoa Hufanga manning the opposite side at the strong slot, so it’s unlikely that Brown will warrant meaningful game reps right away. However, once given an opportunity, it could be tough for Kyle Shanahan’s staff to keep him on the pine.
Brown boasts extreme athleticism and turnover production that, if he can make the transition into the league smoothly, could be rewarded with immediate in-game snaps.
QB Sean Clifford, Green Bay Packers
A few days after officially dealing Aaron Rodgers to the Jets, the Packers sent a message to expected replacement Jordan Love by taking quarterback Sean Clifford in the fifth round at No. 149 overall.
Clifford was widely expected to go undrafted, with only a few mock drafts even showing him on the board in a very late-round capacity. Clifford silenced previous doubters when he rose all the way to a fifth-round pick that will see him battle Love for the starting spot.
Love has only appeared in 10 NFL games, and he’s completed 50 passes on only 83 attempts. Due to Clifford’s extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 hindered slate, Clifford and Love are also the same age.
If Clifford is to succeed in Green Bay, he’s going to need a more talented receiving corps to help counteract his arm strength and accuracy shortcomings.
WR Parker Washington, Jacksonville Jaguars
Penn State wide receiver Parker Washington will be joining tight end Brenton Strange in Jacksonville for the upcoming season after he was selected No. 185 overall.
While he was a star receiver during his career at Penn State, Washington has shown his willingness to step up and fill any spot that he’s needed, whether it includes starting in the slot or even taking reps in the backfield. Washington’s versatility fits well into a Jaguars team that fails to lack talent within skill position areas.
Washington has the ability to come down with jump balls and foster electricity out of seemingly broken plays, which impressed Jacksonville’s scouting unit. Washington also returned 18 punts during the 2022 season, reaffirming the fact that the wide receiver is a true do-it-all Swiss Army knife.
LB Jonathan Sutherland, Seattle Seahawks
After going undrafted, linebacker Jonathan Sutherland signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent. Sutherland excels on special teams, a spot that could give him instant reps as a playmaker, similar to how Nick Scott and Dan Chisena began their professional careers.
After beginning his tenure in Happy Valley as a safety and then transitioning to linebacker, Sutherland holds the versatility to play multiple positions. It will be a long shot for Sutherland to retain his roster spot beyond this year, but Seattle’s gritty culture gives him a chance at potential success.
Continuing to play on special teams is the most likely path Sutherland will have to make the 53-man roster cut.
LS Chris Stoll, Seattle Seahawks
Seattle took another Penn State undrafted free agent signee when it inked long snapper Chris Stoll on Saturday after the seven-round showing halted.
Stoll wasn’t keen on his chances of finding a home after Penn State Pro Day, so his move to the Northwest likely resulted in a surprise for the Ohio native.
“Yeah, so there are only 32 jobs, and zero are open,” Stoll told Lions247. “That’s kind of how it works. [I] just kind of got to find my niche on one team and hopefully that team has confidence in me, and I gotta perform at my very best during those camps and give myself an opportunity to make the 53-man roster.”
Stoll has always proven to be low maintenance, appearing in every game since 2019. With no long snappers on the current roster after the team didn’t re-sign longtime staple Tyler Ott, Stoll has the chance to carve out a starting role right away for the Seahawks.
DT PJ Mustipher, Denver Broncos
Penn State’s defensive big man was signed by the Denver Broncos on Saturday following the draft. Mustipher was expected to be selected, but he never heard his name called during the event, leading him to free agency.
Mustipher brings production and strong leadership qualities to the Broncos locker room, which will likely attract the coaching staff’s attention should he develop into a leader throughout training camp.
The Broncos are currently in a difficult spot with their defensive line, and defense as a whole, leading to multiple positions that are available for the taking. Currently, Denver appears to have openings on the defensive line, which gives Mustipher a favorable chance to break into the roster.
WR Mitchell Tinsley, Washington Commanders
Mitchell Tinsley became the second Nittany Lion wider receiver to head to the NFL after he was signed by the Washington Commanders Saturday. Tinsley will join last year’s No. 16 overall pick and Nittany Lion Jahan Dotson in the Commanders receiving corps.
While Tinsley doesn’t have the numbers that Dotson put up, he had a solid season with the Nittany Lions, where he put up 577 yards on 51 passes and capped it off with a 49-yard touchdown in the Rose Bowl.
Tinsley wasn’t highly rated going into this year’s draft, but the initial short-term deal with the Commanders gives him a chance to show whether or not his playmaking ability will transfer over to the big leagues and earn him a roster spot for this season.
However, with Curtis Samuel, Dotson, and Terry McLaurin currently at wideout for the Commanders, it’s going to be difficult for Tinsley to become a mainstay in a crowded room.
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