Of five ex-Nittany Lions eligible for the draft, two were selected in middle rounds and three were undrafted. Dan Connor was 74th overall pick; he’ll be going to the Carolina Panthers. Justin King was 101th overall and he’ll become a St. Louis Ram.
Just about all the experts expected that Connor would go in the first or second round, and that King would be a second or third round pick. They were wrong. What happened?
I suppose for one thing, the pseudo-experts cannot possibly watch what happens in every player’s games during an entire season. Their assessments are based partially on scouting reports they read, partially on NFL Scouting Combine results, and partially on media hype.
Justin King hurt himself by coming out early. This whole thing about potentially getting injured in one’s final year of eligibility makes it all seem a little too mercenary; yet it is a valid concern for one who would otherwise have to make his living selling insurance. There’s a lot of money to be made in the NFL and you ain’t worth a dime if you’re hurt. However, King’s on-field performance in his last campaign was anything but impressive. The pseudo-experts of ESPN, etc., saw stuff like Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. They apparently did not get the opportunity to see King (PSU’s supposed shut-down corner) being buried by wide receivers throughout the season and, particularly at the end, picked on by opposing quarterbacks. If they saw that, they would have ranked King lower.
Connor to a lesser extent exhibits some deficiencies that might impede his NFL potential. NFL scouts and coaches see these things. Media hypists ignore them. Connor’s lower body strength is somewhat deficient by NFL standards, as is his speed. He is much better at stopping the run that in peeling off in pass coverage. Another issue that might have caused NFL clubs to look past Connor is the character flag on his scouting sheet. Phonegate could have come back to haunt him. Nevertheless, his motivation and work ethic count for a lot. He has matured considerably since he made those harassing calls.
A couple other overall issues might have caused the Nittany Lions to drop down in the draft. This was the Year of the Offensive Tackle—seven OTs were selected in the first round alone. Good wide receivers are always in demand in the NFL, and there were several on the board, yet none at all were selected in the first round. This had to produce a ripple effect that moved all the other positions down.
I also have to believe that Penn State is losing credibility with the NFL due to several busts and injuries in recent years. Elsewhere I’ve mentioned my concerns about the strength and conditioning program’s efficacy (or lack of same), seeing that an inordinate number of Penn State alumni seem to be injured soon after entering the NFL. The only real Penn State success in recent history has been Larry Johnson.
Why should an NFL team take a chance on Justin King when Penn State’s previous so-called shut-down cornerback, Alan Zemaitis, bombed out in two years with the Tampa Bay Bucs? The Sandusky-Bradley soft zone has very little in common with how pass defense is played in the NFL, where cornerbacks jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and play bump-and-run. King has the speed to keep up with NFL receivers, but can he? There is nothing in his history at Penn State to suggest one way or the other whether he can or he cannot. King’s performance in Penn State’s loosey-goosey pass defense does not prove anything.
On the other hand, David Macklin is an example of a Penn State cornerback who adapted to the pros quite well, enjoying a lengthy pro career. What did Macklin have that Zemaitis did not have? Whatever it was, apparently pro scouts did not see it.
It is for lack of validation such as this that I have to wonder why so many people are all gung-ho on sliding Tom Bradley into the head coaching position that ultimately will be vacated by the venerable Joe Paterno. If you’ve read any of my tripe in the past, you’ll know how much I’ve disdained that crappy soft zone pass coverage, formerly entitled the BBDB (bend but don’t break). There’s far too much damn bending going on. It is predictable, and Big Ten coaches do not let nuances like that go unexploited. It bothers the hell out of me that it goes on and on, year after year. NCAA Division I-A (yeah, I know we’re supposed to call it some politically correct NCAA bullshit moniker now, but I’ll reserve the right to eschew that proscribed nonsense)—where was I?—oh yeah, Division I-A football is not played the same way now as it was in 1994, in Jerry Sandusky’s heyday, but Bradley does not seem capable of updating the damn defense to 2008 standards.
I haven’t said much about Kinlaw, Scott, and good ol’ Anthony Morelli. I did not really expect much from any of the three in the NFL Draft, and I got less than what I expected. Kinlaw was a fair-to-middling running back who stepped in and did a manly job of replacing Austin Scott after Scott was kicked off the team. Scott, of course, had that dancing problem that would cause NFL organizations to avoid him like the plague. Things happen fast in the NFL. There is no time to stand around behind the line waiting for holes. Scott, of course, had the all-important character flag on his scouting record, giving him the double-whammy. Morelli not only had the character flag, for all the effort he put into taunting Michigan fans, but also the “mental” flag, which essentially brands him as too stupid to learn a playbook, and the “speed” flag, which rates him as slow for his position. With all that going for him, NFL scouts didn’t have to see much more. However, if they did, they would have confirmed their negative assessment. You know all his flaws at this point; to reiterate them serves none of us.
Other Big 10 notables in the draft, guys you know and love (with overall pick number in parentheses): Adrian Arrington, WR, Michigan (237); Shawn Crable, LB, Michigan (78); Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State (6); James Hardy, WR, Indiana (41); Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (202); Chad Henne, QB, Michigan (57); Jack Ickegwuono, CB, Wisconsin (131); Jake Long, OT, Michigan (1); Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan (95); Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois (23); and Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana (40).
The undrafted Nittany Lions will obviously still have a chance to sign with NFL teams via free agency. My bet is that someone will pick up Morelli as a scout team project quarterback.
On the whole, this has been a pretty blah year for Penn State NFL placements.