STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- A year after having just one player selected in the NFL Draft, the Nittany Lions were expected to have a much different NFL outlook after this past season and that certainly appears to be the case.
Eight former Nittany Lions -- headlined by projected top-5 pick Saquon Barkley -- were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine where early next month they will go through the most important job interview of their lives. Barkley, safeties Marcus Allen and Troy Apke, linebacker Jason Cabinda, cornerbacks Christian Campbell and Grant Haley, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton and tight end Mike Gesicki round out Penn State's contingent.
While an invitation to the Combine still doesn't guarantee anything in terms of draft value, former Nittany Lion offensive lineman Brendan Mahon was not among the invitees and neither was wide receiver Saeed Blacknall. Defensive tackles Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran also will have to wait for pro day for their shot to test in front of scouts.
Former Nittany Lion tight end Adam Breneman, who rounded out his collegiate career at UMass, also was not among the invitees. Breneman, whose Penn State career was marked by multiple knee injuries, was at the Senior Bowl last month but didn't participate in the game after tweaking his hamstring. Breneman's medical evaluation was going to be the most difficult hurdle for him to clear during NFL interviews and it's unclear if he didn't make the list of invitees because of the injury at the senior bowl.
Each of Penn State's combine invitees was given a projected NFL grade, part of a system that ranks them from zero to 8.99, with zero meaning they'll likely need time in a developmental league and 8.00-8.99 making them a likely perennial All-Pro. Here were the grades, projections and what they mean:
Grade: 7.5 (Future All-Pro)
Projection: Round 1, top 5
Grade: 5.6 (Chance to become NFL starter)
Projection: Round 4
Grade: 0.0 (Likely needs time in developmental league)
Grade: 5.0 (50-50 chance to make NFL roster)
Projection: 7/Potential Free Agent
Grade: 5.12 (Better than average chance to make NFL roster)
Projection: Rounds 6-7
Grade: 5.14 (Better than average chance to make NFL roster)
Projection: Round 7/Potential Free Agent
Grade: 5.5 (Chance to become NFL starter)
Projection: Rounds 6-7
Grade: 5.95 (Chance to become NFL starter)
Projection: Rounds 2-3
Following the NFL Scouting Combine will be Penn State's annual pro day, an event that should garner lots of extra attention this year because of Barkley's high draft stock. Penn State is reportedly eyeing March 20 as their pro day. The last time their pro day garnered an added level of attention was two years ago when the NFL Network was on site to watch quarterback Christian Hackenberg's workout.
Since the Fiesta Bowl concluded Barkley was set to head to Orlando where he'd continue training while the rest of his former teammates are scattered throughout the country doing the same. Hamilton's draft stock continues to rise after he impressed at the practices leading up to the East-West Shrine game and did well enough that he was a late add to the Senior Bowl.
Hamilton and the rest of the Lions who are projected to go in the six or seventh round or later can all help themselves with strong workout numbers at the combine. Hamilton, long viewed as one of Penn State's top performers in the weight room according to Penn State strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt, could turn some heads with solid testing numbers in Indianapolis.
The return to Lucas Oil Stadium will also be the first time Barkley and the former Nittany Lions are back out on the field since winning the Big Ten title game there two years ago.
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