Penn State submitted to its most meager NFL draft since 2005, having just one player from its Big Ten championship team selected at the three-day party in Philadelphia. Next year should be quite different.
Receiver Chris Godwin, drafted in Friday's third round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was the only Penn State player selected. That marked Penn State's quietest draft since 2005, when no Lions were chosen.
But if Penn State continues the trajectory it began last season, the 2018 draft will be much more fertile, possibly beginning with running back Saquon Barkley. If he enters, the Whitehall High graduate could lead a group of perhaps six to 10 selections, depending on their health, development and success.
It's also noteworthy that, in a between year for it regarding NFL-eligible talent, Penn State won 11 games and a Big Ten title and finished seventh in the final AP poll. Penn State had the fewest number of players drafted among teams in the final AP Top 20.
To understand why, remember which recruiting classes were being drafted. Penn State's 2012 and 2013 classes were the first of the post-Joe Paterno era. Further, the NCAA sanctions affected the 2013 class significantly, both in recruiting players and retaining those committed.
Last season, Penn State had only six fifth-year seniors. It also lost two players (quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive tackle Austin Johnson) to the NFL draft and another (tight end Adam Breneman) to retirement. Breneman later resumed his career at the University of Massachusetts.
As a result, Penn State started just four seniors against USC in the Rose Bowl. Contrast that with Michigan, which had a program-record 11 players drafted. The Wolverines started 16 seniors in the Rose Bowl, nine of whom were drafted.
Further, injuries hindered Penn State's 2017 draft prospects. Linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White has pro potential but played less than three full games in two seasons because of knee injuries. Fellow linebacker Brandon Bell was injured in the Rose Bowl, limiting his options as well.
Next year projects much better. Beyond Barkley, three Lions who could have turned pro — tight end Mike Gesicki, linebacker Jason Cabinda and safety Marcus Allen — returned for their senior seasons. All are draft prospects, as is senior cornerback Grant Haley.
Penn State also has a replenished senior class of 10 to 12 starters, several of whom could turn themselves into prospects (as defensive end Carl Nassib did two years ago). Receiver Saeed Blacknall might make the biggest move with a breakthrough season. Fellow receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who led the Big Ten with 82 catches in 2014, looks to recapture that magic as well.
Beyond them, Penn State has a collection of seniors on the NFL bubble. Among them are defensive linemen Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren, offensive linemen Brendan Mahon and Andrew Nelson and cornerback Christian Campbell.
Another successful season will bring Penn State back to the draft next year.
Jason Licht, Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager, said he wanted to add more speed to his roster and did so with Godwin. Coach Dirk Koetter said Godwin's 40-yard dash time (4.42 seconds) at the NFL combine surprised "a lot of people."
But Koetter also liked that Godwin shined in important games. Godwin caught 21 passes for 460 yards and four touchdowns in his three bowl appearances. Plus, Godwin is a well rounded receiver.
"He was definitely willing to do the dirty work," Goetter said Saturday in Tampa. "It's great to have all these fast little guys, but at some point you've got to have a wideout who will block a safety."
Defensive end Garrett Sickels, who left early for the draft, was invited to rookie minicamp in Indianapolis. Bell is headed to Cincinnati.
2018 PENN STATE DRAFT
Penn State's NFL draft class should be much bigger in 2018, starting with Saquon Barkley (if he enters).
Running back Saquon Barkley
Tight end Mike Gesicki
Linebacker Jason Cabinda
Safety Marcus Allen
Cornerback Grant Haley
Receiver Saeed Blacknall
Cornerback Christian Campbell
Defensive tackle Curtis Cothran
Defensive tackle Parker Cothren
Receiver DaeSean Hamilton
Offensive lineman Brendan Mahon
Offensive lineman Andrew Nelson