A 2019 Penn State football team that looked like it would return the vast majority of its starters now has some major holes to fill.
That's because five Nittany Lions who still had eligibility to play next season for PSU have decided to declare themselves eligible for the 2019 NFL draft.
That latest player to give up remaining Penn State eligibility was running back Miles Sanders, who announced his decision on Twitter on Thursday.
Sanders' decision follows announcements by four PSU lineman on Wednesday. Offenslive linemen Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates and defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Shareef MIller have also opted to turn pro.
“I want to start by saying that this decision was not an easy one. I have so many people to thank for my experience here at Penn State and so much love for my teammates, coaches and the FANS,” Sanders said in his Twitter statement. “The Penn State culture has allowed me to grow on and off the field while teaching me valuable life lessons along the way.
“I owe a huge thank you to my mother and my family — none of this is possible without their support through every high and low. Thank you to the fans for bringing an unbelievable energy every single week, no matter the circumstances. Thank you to my coaches, Coach (James) Franklin and Coach (Terry) Smith, who recruited me to come to the greatest university in the world, Coach (Ja'Juan) Seider and Coach (Ricky) Rahne for pushing me beyond what I thought I was capable of and to the entire athletic staff for giving me room to develop into the player and man that I am today. Thanks to you all, I’ve achieved some of my wildest dreams and set high goals for the future.
“I’ve made the decision to forgo my senior year and declare for the 2019 NFL draft. As I prepare for the road ahead, I truly believe this is the best next step for my future. Thanks to so many of you, my future is bright and I’ll never forget my home here at Penn State.”
Sanders rushed for 1,223 yards in 2018 in his first year as a starter after spending two years backing up Saquon Barkley. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in the Pittsburgh area.
“So appreciative of Miles and his family for how they handled this entire process,” PSU head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “Miles is a student of the game and made the most of his opportunities when his time came. He did a great job leading the running back room this season.
"We are very proud of Miles and how he has grown during his entire Penn State career. We are looking forward to seeing what he can do at the next level."
Sanders is generally regarded as a second- or third-day pick in the draft and is expected to be one of the top 10 backs drafted. In the pros, he will likely need to improve his pass-catching talents and his ability to hold onto the ball. He fumbled five times this past season.
The primary contenders to replace Sanders next season are redshirt freshman Journey Brown and true freshman Ricky Slade. Two four-star running back prospects will also join PSU for the 2019 season: Noah Cain and Devyn Ford.
Reach Steve Heiser at firstname.lastname@example.org.