A Look At The Landing Spots Of Penn State's 2016 NFL Draft Class
The Nittany Lions saw five players hear their names called this past weekend in Chicago, fulfilling their NFL dreams as they embark on the next chapter of their careers. While each player enters a slightly different system, all fit in a unique way on their new teams. Let's take a look at how each player projects at the next level.
We begin with the biggest name on the list: QB Christian Hackenberg. The record-holding gunslinger went No. 51 to the New York Jets despite speculation that QB-needy teams like the Denver Broncos could pull the trigger on him in the back end of the first round. Many thought if Denver waited, the Buffalo Bills -- owned by Penn State alum Terry Pegula -- would take a flier on him as they add to their QB room. Buffalo wound up taking Ohio State's Cardale Jones, and the Jets seem as though they've found their quarterback of the future. The team has announced that if incumbent starter Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't resigned, then Geno Smith would become the starter as Hackenberg sits and learns. This would be ideal, because as talented as Hackenberg is, there are issues to correct. Throwing him to the wolves would only stunt his growth and prevent him from truly realizing his potential."
On the defensive side of the ball, three of Penn State's four starting linemen heard their names called on days two and three of the NFL Draft. Defensive tackle Austin Johnson became the first Nittany Lion selected, joining fellow Penn Stater DaQuan Jones along Tennessee's talented line. Though he doesn't project to start, expect Johnson to compete for reps up front as a situational defender.
Sack artist Carl Nassib heads to Cleveland as a third round pick, but does so with a number of questions swirling. Does he have what it takes to build off his breakout 2015 campaign? Can he be more than an edge rusher? My gut tells me yes, as it appears Cleveland has one of the next great sackers on its hands. Expect Nassib to begin his career lining up with his hand in the dirt in passing situations.
The next Lion defender off the board was DE/DT Anthony Zettel, who heads back to his home state of Michigan as a member of the Detroit Lions. At roughly 277 pounds, Zettel projects as an end at the next level, but expect him to contribute both against the pass and the run. He's got the skill set to last in the league, and the motor to outwork anybody who stands in his way. It really is a great fit, and Detroit could walk away from this draft with a steal if Zettel can embrace the nuances of the defensive end position.
The final Nittany Lion to hear his name called was CB/S Jordan Lucas, who selflessly switched to safety after three years of playing corner. A bit small by NFL standards as a safety (he's 6-foot. 200 pounds), Lucas figures to bump back to cornerback in the NFL. The Dolphins find themselves with a uniquely talented player with the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary. Lucas could shine as a nickel defender, while possessing the athletic capabilities to hold his own on the outside on an island. A tireless worker, Lucas will also have to earn his stripes on special teams -- something he'll surely embrace with open arms.
Another talented crop of Nittany Lions head to the NFL, and this year's bunch figures to be special. It will be fun to watch some of the most important players in program history grow and develop as they carve out their own unique career paths in the NFL.