10 Rounds of Answers About Penn Staters Who’ve Declared Early for NFL Draft
January 15, 2015 11:40 PM
by Mike Poorman
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At midnight Thursday, the door closed for college football players with eligibility remaining to declare for the May 2015 NFL Draft.

Penn State offensive tackle Donovan Smith, defensive end Deion Barnes and tight end Jesse James have already walked through that door.

And Smith and Barnes did so wearing a cap and gown. After redshirting as freshmen in 2011, both players started 31 games over the next three seasons for the Nittany Lions. And both players leave PSU with their degrees.

James didn’t take a redshirt season and was on the field for three seasons, also earning 31 starts. James, who arrived at PSU in fall 2012, does not yet have his degree, but when he announced his decision to go pro, he indicated it remains a goal.

The three are not the first Nittany Lions to declare early for the NFL – not by a long shot. Just counting subsequent first-round draft picks, a half-dozen Penn Staters jumped to the pros early and received a large paycheck for their decisions. To read who comprises that group of six – and more – read on:

ANSWERS IN ROUNDS

ROUND 31.3 -- Players with remaining college eligibility who are eligible for the draft are permitted to submit a form to the NFL’s College Accuracy Committee, which evaluates a player’s potential draft status. The committee is made up of NFL general managers, college scouting directors and team executives. The NFL reported that over the past several weeks, 147 college players asked for an evaluation of their status for the 2015 draft. Compared to 214 last year – that's a drop of 31.3% percent.

Penn State grad Michael Signora, the NFL’s vice president of football communications, told the Boston Globe that the process works: “Whether or not they decide to declare as underclassmen or stay in school, they should make an informed decision.”

ROUND 23 – Twenty-three is the drop in the number of college players from 2015 to 2014 who declared early, according to NFL.com. Here’s the breakdown over the past seven years: 75 in 2015; 98 in 2014; 72 in 2013; 65 in 2012; 56 in 2011; 53 in 2010; and 46 in 2009. Of the 98 who declared in 2014, 36 were undrafted.

ROUND 12 – A dozen Big Ten players with college eligibility declared for the 2015 NFL Draft. Penn State was highest among B10 schools, with three; nine other schools had one each. The SEC had the most of any conference (21), while Florida State – paced by quarterback Jameis Winston – had the most of any single school, with five.

ROUND 11 – In recent years, the most successful Nittany Lion who departed Penn State for the NFL with eligibility remaining has been linebacker NaVarro Bowman. Bowman, who wore No. 11 at Penn State, is now No. 53 for the San Francisco 49ers. He was a third-round selection of the 49ers in 2010 and has been a three-time first-team All-Pro selection and was the team MVP in 2013. Bowman sat out the entire 2014 NFL season while rehabbing a torn ACL and MCL.

ROUND 8 – While wearing No. 8 at Penn State in 2012-13, wide receiver Allen Robinson had monster back-to-back seasons that produced 174 receptions, 2,445 yards and 17 touchdowns. He declared early for the 2014 NFL Draft and was selected in the second round and 61st overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Until he broke his right foot, ARob was a Jacksonville team leader in 2014 in receptions (48), yards (548) and yards per catch (11.4).

ROUND 6 – The best that I can tell, with help from Penn State football historian Lou Prato and three decades’ worth of PSU media guides, six Nittany Lion football players left Penn State with college eligibility remaining and were subsequently selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. One of them -- Ki-Jana Carter by the Cincinnati Bengals, in 1995 -- was an overall No. 1 selection in the NFL Draft. 

The six: guard Mike Munchak, Houston Oilers, 1982; quarterback Todd Blackledge, Kansas City Chiefs, 1983; Carter; running back Curtis Enis, Chicago Bears, 1998; linebacker LaVar Arrington, Washington Redskins, 2000; and defensive end Aaron Maybin, Buffalo Bills, 2009.

ROUND 3-1/2 – Penn State coach James Franklin said in May that he welcomes – even challenges – his players to earn an undergraduate degree in three-and-a-half seasons:

“Most of them will be taking nine credits of summer school,” Franklin said. “Our plan is to have all our guys graduate in three-and-a half years and then have an opportunity to either go work out, have an opportunity to go to the combine, or if they redshirt, have an opportunity to start working on grad school or a second major. I think there’s a good plan in place, and there has been for a long time at Penn State. We’ve modified a few things, but I’m much more comfortable today than I was on Jan. 11 (2014, the day he was hired) about how we do things, where we’re going and why.”

ROUND 2 – That’s the number of Senior Bowl invitations that went to Penn State players with eligibility remaining. Both Smith and Barnes have earned invites to the Senior Bowl; those offers were to have come only after they declared their intentions to play in the pros and eschew their final season at PSU. They’ll be joined in the game by graduated teammates Mike Hull and Adrian Amos.

The Senior Bowl attracts the attention of all NFL teams, which send their scouting contingents and coaching staffs to Mobile, Ala., to watch pro prospects in daily practices leading up to the all-star game. The Senior Bowl’s executive director is Phil Savage, the former Cleveland Browns’ GM, and on the staff is Patrick Woo, a recent Penn State graduate who is a scouting assistant for the event.

ROUND 2/3rds – That’s about the number of players who declare early for the draft who are actually drafted. OurLads’ NFL Football & Scouting Blog did an analysis of the 1,104 players who declared early for the NFL Draft from 1989-2012, and found that 701 of them were drafted. That’s 63.5%, close to two-thirds. Lowest year – 1990, with 47.4%; highest year – 2009, with 89.1%.

ROUND 1 – Likely draft position of Nittany Lion quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the 2016 NFL Draft.

A true junior next fall, by the end of next season Hackenberg should have 38 starts under his belt. He’ll also have a wealth of experience (both good and bad) to complement the size, savvy, smarts, maturity and arm that comprised the 1982 arsenal of Blackledge – Hackenberg’s Penn State signal-calling forbearer -- who was the overall No. 7 pick in the 1983 draft.

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