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Penn State 2022: Long on Youth, Short on Draft Prospects

Emmet Mahon

By the end of this coming weekend, most FBS football programs will have played their first game. The start of a new season is cause for celebration for students, family, and alumni. Tales of great performances at spring and summer camps can be quickly confirmed or disproven in the space of 60 minutes. For fans, it is the first chance to engage in friendly, or not so friendly, trash talk and banter. For NFL scouts, it is the first opportunity to get a jump start on their draft boards for April 2023.

The last two seasons have not produced on field results satisfactory to the Penn State faithful. To NFL talent evaluators, there was much to like. In the drafts that followed those seasons, several PSU players heard their names called in the first two days of the NFL’s annual talent acquisition spectacular. Those names were highlighted by the likes of Johan Dotson, Micah Parsons, and the Steelers 2021 second round selection, TE Pat Freiermuth.

Heading into the 2022 CFB season, the Nittany Lions have a handful of intriguing draft eligible players. This year’s squad is not heavy on veteran players. Many of these veterans will have the opportunity to play their way up draft boards. Of course, over the course of the season, injuries, performance, positive or negative, and position changes all impact a player’s value by the end of the season. As Penn State moves deeper into their season and into the meat of conference play, further attention and analysis to individual players will be documented. As the draft approaches, and the NFL Combine, also known as the Penn State Invitational, has concluded, possible rounds and team fits will be addressed. For now, we offer an overview of players to pay attention to this fall.

From the outset, the offensive side of the ball does not have as much high-end promise as the defense. Quarterback Sean Clifford is the only one in the QB room that is draft eligible. Over his long tenure (no, a discounted AARP is not part of his NIL deal), Clifford has shown glimpses of real game changing ability. His inability to play at a consistently high level has been one of the reasons for PSU to not live up to expectations. The hope is that in year two of Mike Yurcich’s offense, he will finally be able to live up to his potential. He possesses serious draft helium. Clifford is on numerous preseason watch lists, including Maxwell and Camp Awards for National Player of the Year and the Davey O’Brien Award for top QB.

The Nittany Lions running back room is very young. In a couple of seasons, we could be writing columns on potential first round picks. The only player who meets draft criteria is Devyn Ford. Currently 4th on the depth chart, he will need for several things to break his way to merit much consideration next fall.

Much like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the fate of Penn State rests largely in the hands of the offensive line. Last season the offensive line did not open enough holes for a single 100-yard game rusher. The running “attack” finished the season 13th in the Big Ten and 118th in all of FCS. To say there is room for improvement is an understatement. Keeping a recurring theme going, it has a lot of youth and inexperience to it. Leading the way are two linemen with many snaps under their belts and who have the potential to catch scouts’ eyes. Center and captain, Juice Scruggs and RT Caeden Wallace will be counted on to keep things calm for the youngsters until they get their feet under them. Scruggs is on the Rimington Award (best center) watch list.

While questions abound for the rest of the offensive, there is no such quandary for the receivers and tight ends. The program has sent many impactful players into the last several drafts. The 2023 Draft should be no exception. Graduate transfer Mitchell Tinsley has all the makings of a top three selection. Depending on how this season unfolds, Parker Washington could join him by making himself eligible to be selected. Both are on the Bilitnikoff Award for top receiver watch list.

Tight end Brenton Strange sits atop the depth chart heading into the season. He is on the Mackey Award watch list for best tight end. His draft potential will hinge on how many touches he receives in a stable of highly talented and versatile tight ends.

The defensive side of the ball will be called on to win many games for the Nittany Lions. Not surprisingly, their best draft prospects will carry heavy expectations with them. Fitting of the mantra, games are won in the trenches, new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has four solid, to exceptional, defensive lineman leading the way. On the edges are ends Nick Tarburton and Adisa Isaac, who has flashed game changing ability in the past. Between them are tackles Hakeem Beamon and captain PJ Mustipher, Mustipher was having a first-round worthy season last fall before he was lost for the year in the Iowa game with a leg injury. He is on the Nagurski Award watch list for Top Defensive player.

Like the defensive line, the defensive backfield has both quality and quantity. If this defense is going to be known nationally, it will be due to these high-end prospects. All four starters will garner serious draft consideration. The top of this list is occupied by the name most familiar to Steeler fans, CB Joey Porter, Jr. Porter is a legitimate first round talent possessing all the qualities any NFL defensive coordinator would covet. He joins Mustipher on the Nagurski Watch List. He is also on the Watch List for the Jim Thorpe Award for top defensive back. Joining him on that list is teammate and S Ji’Ayir Brown. Brown is the captain of the secondary and a possible day one selection. While those two receive the most accolades, CB Marquis Wilson, S Keaton Ellis, and nickel back Daequan Hardy will keep evaluators studying tapes on them throughout the season.

As crazy as it sounds, there are no linebackers at this point from Linebacker U that are serious draft prospects. While there are seasoned players on the roster, they are further down the depth chart and will have force their way onto the field before they can hope that their dreams of the next level can be realized.

The slamming oversized helmets of teammates is over. The scoreboard counts for real. The process of determining who plays on Sunday and who gets on with their life’s work begins. Enjoy the journey and do what fans do best, play out being an NFL General Manager in our minds. Enjoy Penn State 2022 football.

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