Penn State Players Draft Stock

Story posted January 3, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by George Stockburger

As the Nittany Lion’s 2015 season officially came to a close Saturday in their 24-17 loss against Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl, many players will be saying their goodbyes to Happy Valley. While some may have played their final football game, others will be pursuing an opportunity to enter the NFL Draft. Among those who have either declared or are eligible include quarterback Christian Hackenberg, defensive back Jordan Lucas, and defensive linemen Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel.

Let’s take a look at how some of Penn State’s draft-eligible players may fare this spring when the draft returns to Chicago from April 28-30.

Christian Hackenberg, Quarterback

Career Stats: 8,318 yds, 48 TD, 30 INT

Christian Hackenberg’s draft stock has been the literal definition of a rollercoaster since winning last year’s Pinstripe Bowl. After a strong performance in Yankee Stadium, Hackenberg quickly rose to the top of the major network’s draft boards and was considered a consensus top 5 pick, and possible No. 1 overall pick by some.

Since then, draft analysts and scouts have become more critical of Hackenberg’s play style and have downgraded his overall draft grade. The biggest thing hindering Hackenberg’s ability to get drafted is his accuracy issues. While the arm strength is clearly there, his ability to hit the target down field is still a work in progress. That may come with some more work on his feet and pocket awareness as we gear up towards the NFL Draft Combine in February. We will also have to keep an eye on Hackenberg’s sprained shoulder following a hit against Georgia that sidelined him for the second half.

While his stock will be much more defined this spring, expect Hackenberg to be drafted somewhere in the middle of the second round. The most intriguing option is obviously former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien’s Houston Texans, who are most likely drafting late in the first round. Other interested teams could include the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, and St. Louis Rams.

Carl Nassib, Defensive End

Career Stats: 17.5 sacks, 64 tackles, seven forced fumbles

If you asked draft analysts in August what Carl Nassib’s draft stock was, they’d probably tell you it’s next to nothing. Amazing how much can change in five months. Leading the nation in sacks, the former walk-on Nassib’s stock is at an all-time high. His proven ability to get to the quarterback will make him a very intriguing prospect for NFL teams.

Like Hackenberg, I would not be surprised to see Nassib show up somewhere in the second round, but I would expect him to be taken closer to the third round. His stats will take him a long way in this process, but he needs to refine his skills and prove he is not prone to injury. Missing those last couple weeks of the season and appearing to aggravate the injury against Georgia will raise some red flags among NFL teams.

Among some of the teams that may be interested in selecting Nassib include the New York Giants (where his brother, Ryan, is the backup quarterback), Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit Lions, and the Chicago Bears.

Anthony Zettel, Defensive Line

Career Stats: 19 sacks, 115 tackles, four interceptions

Primarily a defensive tackle for Penn State, many draft evaluators see Zettel moving back to defensive end. He’s viewed as a much stronger pass rusher than a run-stopper, which would make sense for a position change. Once considered to be a first-round prospect, Zettel’s draft stock took a fall this season despite putting up decent numbers. He put up 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, but those fail to compare to his First Team all-Big Ten season last year.

Scouts look at Zettel and they see a punishing lineman who is relentless and extremely aggressive. Maybe too aggressive in their eyes. Zettel has a tendency to over-commit to the play ahead of him and miss the ball carrier. Maybe that over aggressiveness this year led to his statistical decline. Another factor could be the incredible production from his fellow lineman.

Regardless of what scouts think now of Zettel, many will be clamoring for him in draft rooms. Teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, and San Francisco 49ers could all use Zettel’s services on the defensive line, no matter where he plays.

Austin Johnson, Defensive Tackle

Career Stats: 7.5 sacks, 146 tackles, 22 tackles for loss

The junior defensive tackle officially declared for the draft following Saturday’s loss, making him the third member of the Nittany Lions defensive line moving on to the NFL. Widely under-evaluated by draft analysts at the start of the season, Johnson burst on to the scene with his five and a half sacks and 13 tackles for loss in regular season play. Johnson received a first or second round projection from the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

Rated as CBS’s No. 6 defensive tackle in this year’s draft pool and 43rd overall prospect, Johnson could be a very productive run stopper for an NFL team. While his sack numbers are strong, he’s not known for his pass rushing skills. Most pass rushers will show better quickness and balance, two things Johnson has to improve heading toward draft season. The quickness may not be something he can fine tune too much, but fixing his pad levels and using his hands more effectively are certainly two things he can focus on this winter.

Jordan Lucas, Defensive Back

Career Stats: Three interceptions, 181 tackles, 25 pass deflections

While he did not play in Penn State’s final three games of the 2015 season, Jordan Lucas is still an intriguing draft commodity. With enough versatility to play either cornerback or safety, Lucas is a reliable ball hawk and hard hitter down field. Scout’s biggest concerns with Lucas will be his tackling, where he fails to wrap up players and finish the play. Because of those concerns, Lucas most likely won’t be drafted until the later rounds this year.

Teams such as Philadelphia, Jacksonville, and New Orleans could all use some secondary help and with the right coaching, Lucas could be a steal late in the draft.

Geno Lewis, Wide Receiver

Career Stats: 1128 yards, seven touchdowns

While the redshirt junior did graduate this winter, he could benefit from staying in Happy Valley for one more year. In a draft where over 100 wide receivers could potentially be eligible, Lewis would get lost in the mix and could potentially go undrafted. Getting some offseason work on his hands and route running would greatly benefit his draft stock. We saw Lewis have solid chemistry with Trace McSorley on Saturday, which will also help him if he opts to stay for his final year of eligibility, a decision he said he will mull over in the coming weeks.

George Stockburger is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email gos5187@psu.edu.