The 2008 NFL Draft will provide some significant drama for Nittany Lions fans. Three high-profile players (no, not Baker, Bowman, and Timmons!) are hoping for NFL recognition and, of course, money. I’m talking about Dan Connor, Justin King, and Anthony Morelli. Each of the three has substantial skills in his position; however, the chances of each landing on an NFL roster are vastly different, based on their respective showcases and 2007 on-field performance.
The best chances for a primo NFL roster spot accrue to linebacker Dan Connor. His practices for Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile have been wowing NFL scouts, and his solid, Bednarik Award winning performance in the 2007 season speaks volumes about his potential. Much as Paul Posluszny was drafted high and landed a starter job with the Buffalo Bills, Connor will make an excellent NFL linebacker. His Penn State (Linebacker U.) bloodline can only help him. Since Ohio State’s Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis has decided to defer his entry into the draft, there’s less competition, but names like Sean Crable (Michigan), Ali Highsmith (LSU), and Keith Rivers (USC) populate a talented field. The hard working Connor should go in Round One or Round Two.
Somewhere in the middle of the pack is cornerback Justin King. For some reason, King thinks he did the right thing in declaring for the NFL draft after a mediocre season. He’s even hired an agent in anticipation of some heavy negotiating. King has been working out in Arizona to prepare for the Combine. I hope for his sake that he convincingly shows his speed and reactions to the scouts there. He’s got the raw skills, but he sure as hell hasn’t used them at PSU, whether because of the defensive system and coaching or because he’s not as good as we thought he was. Then, there was that nagging mystery shoulder injury that became an on-again, off-again excuse for his spotty performance. Although somehow he managed to be selected as an All-Big Ten first teamer, he’ll be a project for an NFL team, much like Alan Zemaitis, who was cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the current season. King has better skills than Zemaitis; therefore, his chances of surviving are better. He’ll be drafted in a middle round.
Finally, we have our favorite whipping boy, quarterback Anthony “Statue” Morelli, who is high profile only by virtue of position and notariety. Things haven’t been going so well for Morelli, as evidenced by his non-performance in the East-West Shrine game: two for ten with two interceptions and no touchdowns. This is an exhibition game with rules about not sacking quarterbacks and about running easy pass routes. Yet Morelli still couldn’t get out of the blocks. No surprise, based on what we know. To sum up his skills, Morelli has a rifle arm, no legs, and a dull mentality in the pocket. He stares down receivers, doesn’t check off well, and he frequently throws off target. To compound his lack of desirability, he has displayed precious few leadership qualities, acting particularly juvenile in the fan taunting episode at Michigan. In the NFL, he would be called upon to be a leader of men. I can’t see that happening. Despite being the only Penn State quarterback to throw for 2,000 yards in two seasons, I doubt that he’ll get even as much NFL attention as Kevin Thompson or Zack Mills. He’ll be undrafted and if he’s extremely lucky, he’ll get a free agent tryout. He might make someone’s practice squad. Would you take a chance on him after watching him screw up the past two seasons? Morelli will wind up among the biggest busts in Penn State quarterback history (but at least Tom Bill wasn’t hyped to us like Morelli was).
The NFL Draft takes place April 26-27, in New York.