The Penn State Nittany Lions are traditionally known for their defense, particularly the linebackers. It’s been reflected not only on the field but on draft day. Nine Nittany Lion linebackers have been drafted since 2007, the most for the school in an 8-year draft total since the 12 LB’s that were pumped out from ’89 through ’96. But what about the Lions in ’14? Who are the top NFL draft prospects on defense for PSU this fall? As usual, only those eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft will be discussed.
Up front, I like the potential of DE’s Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan. Barnes has the burst and bend off the edge to be an effective pass rusher, and he’s noticeably an impressive athlete on film. He’s still raw though, and he took a huge step back from ’12 to ’13 (from 6 sacks and 10 TFL’s to 2 sacks and 4 TFL’s), so he’ll need a strong bounce back year in ’14. Things he needs to work on is staying low after his first step (he has a tendency to pop up and expose his chest), improving his handwork and developing a sound counter-move. A move to 34 OLB may be in store for him.
Olaniyan enjoyed a nice breakout season in ’13, racking up 11 TFL’s and 5 sacks. He doesn’t appear to have quite the natural athleticism or explosion of Barnes, but he is more polished, showing a nice arsenal of rush moves and displaying violent hands and punch. He’s a guy that flies under the radar somewhat but has good football IQ and is regularly in the right place at the right time. At 6-foot 3, 252-pounds, Olaniyan will also likely be making the move from DE to OLB at the next level.
Senior MLB Mike Hull is the top LB prospect, and he’s making the move from the outside where he racked up 154 tackles the past two seasons. Hull doesn’t have elite size or strength, but he makes up for it with speed, athleticism and an incredibly high football IQ. He’s quick in diagnosing plays and putting himself in the right position, and has shown flashes of being a playmaker, both on defense and on special teams. I think his skill set translates best at the next level to playing outside in an even front, where his speed and ability to play in space can truly be taken advantage of. Making the calls in the middle for a year certainly won’t hurt his stock, either.
In the secondary there’s two more intriguing prospects, junior CB Jordan Lucas and senior safety Adrian Amos. Amos is entering his third year as a starter and has plenty of experience at both CB and S, though he’ll likely play more of the latter in ’14. Amos is highly athletic (4.45-40, 37.5-inch vert) who can step up in the box and play the run but also shows strong coverage skills and awareness. I think safety is his pro position, though his versatility and ability to play CB in a pinch will help his stock as well.
Lucas is highly underrated at this point, but could be a top 2-3 CB in the B1G by seasons end. As a sophomore last year Lucas really emerged as a top playmaker, tallying 65 tackles, 4.5 TFL’s, a sack, 3 INT’s and 13 passes defended. He’s a physical prospect with good size and strength who is sturdy in run support but shows the coverage skills to play off-man or press-man, something rare for a college DB.