The 2020 NFL draft may still be eight months away, but we’ve spent this entire offseason looking ahead — so we thought we’d spin it forward once more and check in on the future crop of Nittany Lions draft picks.
Penn State could have more than seven players selected in 2020 — which would make it James Franklin’s biggest draft class since arriving in 2014 — so there are a lot of players to track. But we wanted to look at the five biggest names who’ll be eligible for 2020, the players who are virtual locks to be drafted and are hoping to improve their stock this season.
Here are the five worth following, along with their early projections:
1. DE Yetur Gross-Matos (junior)
Last season’s stats: 54 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 6 QB hurries, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles.
Preseason watch lists: Bednarik, Lott IMPACT, Nagurski.
Early big board/draft projections: ESPN — No. 6 overall; Walter Football — No. 6 overall; CBS Sports — top-10 overall; DraftTek — No. 27 overall; NFL Spin Zone — No. 27 overall
Memorable quote: “The big thing that stood out to me is his motor is ridiculous; he just never stops. Every play, he’s going 110 percent so that’s why we had so much respect for him.” — Rutgers OL Zach Venesky, to the CDT.
Synopsis: Yetur Gross-Matos is sure to face more double-teams this season but, as long as he can approach last season’s production, the 6-foot-5 and 264-pound junior will be the headliner of Penn State’s 2020 draft class. It’s early, but summer suspension or not, it’s no secret he’s in line to be a first-round pick. He’s strong, lanky and both teammates and opponents have lauded his non-stop motor.
2. LB Cam Brown (senior)
Last season’s stats: 63 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 6 pass breakups, 5 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles.
Preseason watch lists: Butkus.
Early big board/draft projections: Pro Football Network — third round; DraftTek — No. 163 overall (late fifth round); Draft Scout — No. 10 OLB.
Memorable quote: “He’s taken a big step in terms of being a leader on the team, and I think that might be his biggest bump this year. He’s always been a guy who’s going to work extremely hard every single day and try to compete and win every single rep. Just his competitive nature and his ability to be a leader are his two greatest attributes.” — OL Michal Menet, to the CDT.
Synopsis: Do you know how long it’s been since a Penn State linebacker has been drafted? Six years; Michael Mauti was the most recent in 2013. The only longer gap between drafted linebackers for PSU was from 1950 to 1961. Although Brown doesn’t generate most of the PSU linebacker hype — hello, sophomore Micah Parsons — the senior is still solid and has the ability to cover a lot of ground. He should be a Day 2 or Day 3 pick, depending on how his final season goes.
3. OG Steven Gonzalez (redshirt senior)
Last season’s stats: 13 starts.
Preseason watch lists: N/A.
Early big board/draft projections: DraftTek — No. 172 overall (late fifth round); Draft Scout — No. 6 OG.
Memorable quote: “One thing that plays to his advantage is that he’s a massive kid. If he keeps his weight (to around 325 pounds), then the NFL people will be really happy with what they see out of him.” — Penn State OL coach Matt Limegrover, to the Allentown Morning Call.
Synopsis: Gonzalez was seriously considering declaring early for the NFL draft earlier this year, and the left guard said he was told he would’ve been projected to go late Day 2 or early Day 3, meaning around the fourth round. He’s currently listed on the roster as 6-foot-4 and 341 pounds, and Limegrover — and the NFL — would prefer he gets that weight down a bit more. He’s a safe pick to be drafted ... just not early on.
4. DT Robert Windsor (redshirt senior)
Last season’s stats: 39 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles.
Preseason watch lists: Nagurski, Outland.
Early big board/draft projections: DraftTek — No. 202 overall (late sixth round); Draft Scout — No. 8 DT.
Memorable quote: “People didn’t really know about me last year but, going into this year, I feel like people kind of know about me a little more — so that’s exciting for me. But at the end of the day, I’m just going to focus on playing the best football I can play. I’d like to be the best defensive tackle in the country.” — Windsor, to the CDT.
Synopsis: If there’s one overlooked starter on the defensive line this year, that’d be Windsor. The 6-foot-4 and 285-pounder clearly made strides toward the end of the year, earning the title of Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week following the Nov. 10 game against Wisconsin and then, a week later, earning a spot on Pro Football Focus’ Big Ten Team of the Week. With such a strong presence at defensive end this season, Windsor could be freed to make even more plays — and increase his draft stock.
5. CB John Reid (redshirt senior)
Last season’s stats: 24 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 8 pass breakups, 2 INTs, 2 QB hurries
Preseason watch lists: N/A.
Early big board/draft projections: Draft Scout — No. 22 CB.
Memorable quote: “It might be 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock on Friday night when everyone is going out. I’ll be like, ‘Yo, I’m going to work out at 11.’ Other people will be like, ‘But it’s Friday.’ I’ll be like, ‘I’m going to work out at 11. I don’t know what you all are doing, but if you want to get work in, I’m going at 11.’” — Reid, at Big Ten media days
Synopsis: Reid has been forgotten by a lot of NFL analysts because he was out for the season in 2017 with a torn ACL, and he suffered a slow start to 2018. But Penn State fans know what this cerebral player is capable of. He started two games as a true freshman, became a full-time starter as a sophomore and was twice an All-Big Ten honorable mention. He might leave Penn State having watched more film than other player to come through the program; some NFL team is going to love hearing that. He’s a great NFL interview waiting to happen and, as long as he stays healthy in 2019, odds are more outlets will start including him in their draft rankings by mid-season.
Honorable mentions: CB Tariq Castro-Fields (Jr.), WR KJ Hamler (RS Soph.), S Garrett Taylor, LB Jan Johnson, OL Michal Menet (RS Jr.), P Blake Gillikin, TE Nick Bowers