Don’t forget about Trace McSorley in Penn State’s NFL draft conversation, analyst says
Penn State went 11-3 last season, won the Big Ten and nearly beat USC in a wild Rose Bowl game between teams that could both be ranked in the top five this preseason.
The Lions stunned the college football world by arriving as a national contender so quickly under third-year coach James Franklin, making huge progress in most areas on the roster, in particular on an offense with a new coordinator and new quarterback.
Penn State made a huge jump in scoring — from 23.2 points per game in 2015 to 37.6 in ’16 — despite a huge number of offseason changes. Quarterback Trace McSorley emerged as a Heisman Trophy contender in his debut season, which could be credited to a fresh offensive philosophy that got all the Lions playmakers involved.
Amazingly, Penn State reached that point without a significant presence on 2017 NFL draft boards.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin reshaped that conversation with a huge performance at the NFL combine, where he ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash, logged 19 reps on the bench press and dominated position drills. He jumped into the second-round conversation by showcasing desirable physical tools to go with his game film.
Defensive end Garrett Sickels also vied for the attention of NFL executive at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Safety Malik Golden and defensive end Evan Schwan were among the Lions looking to get late-round attention despite not receiving combine invitations.
Sickels looks more like a late-round pick or priority free agent who must prove he can hold up at either defensive end, his natural position at Penn State, or make a successful move to outside linebacker. Sickels declared early after leading the Lions with six sacks (tie) and 12 1/2 tackles for loss last season.
Sickels’ big breakthrough came in Penn State’s 24-17 win over Ohio State, when he dominated the second half with 2 1/2 sacks. He was suspended for the first half of that game for a violation of team rules, but owned it upon his return, showing his upside on national television.
Golden is in the same boat as Sickels after a productive senior season, in which he emerged as a starter and one of the Lions’ most valuable defensive players. He’s been linked to visits with several teams and is a virtual lock to get a quick phone call after the draft, if not hear his name called in the late rounds.
Schwan didn’t get an invitation to the Senior Bowl or NFL combine, but his length and athletic frame are projectable for the next level. The fifth-year senior is 6-6 and 263 pounds with explosiveness he showed at Penn State’s pro day, where he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds and logged a broad jump of 10 feet, 1 inch.
Penn State’s 2017 draft class might not be heavy on numbers, but it’s also just the first taste of what coach James Franklin could be getting started. It didn’t take long for the Lions’ draft focus to shift to 2018 and beyond, when most of Franklin’s first recruits figure to emerge as prospects.