We are finally heading into the span of bowl games that features ranked teams with the top prospects that will make up the first few rounds of the draft. As he has throughout the bowl season, Joe Malfa has a list of the top names to watch in each of the biggest games.
Matchup: Penn St. vs. Washington
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Penn State’s prospects:
1) RB Saquon Barkley
2017 stats: 199 carries, 1,134 yards, 16 TDs; 47 catches, 594 yards, 3 TDs; 15 kick returns, 426 yards, 2 TDs
Career stats: 653 carries, 3,706 yards, 41 TDs; 95 catches, 1,157 yards, 8 TDs; 18 kick returns, 500 yards, 2 TDs
If Kristaps Porzingis is the unicorn of the hardwood, Saquon Barkley is the unicorn of the gridiron. Credit Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller for that comparison, and he is spot on. If you tried to design the perfect running back in a lab, you’d come out with Barkley. He will probably run a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. With his 5-foot-11, 230-pound muscular frame, he’s two inches shorter than Leonard Fournette and two pounds heavier, but he will likely run a faster 40. Just let that sink in. His combination of strength and speed allows him to knock linebackers over as he runs up the middle and leave defensive backs in the dust once he gets to the second level. Oh, and he also has great hands and does a good job in pass protection. There is nothing he can’t do. He also returned two kicks for touchdowns this season and threw a perfect touchdown pass on a trick play. He has no history of injuries. He has no history of off-field issues. He. Is. Perfect.
Barkley is the best player in the draft by far and should be the number one overall pick. The Browns could still have their pick of the litter in terms of the available quarterbacks with the fourth overall pick considering the Giants might not take one with the second pick and the Colts certainly won’t be taking one with the third pick. Both the Giants and Colts, however, could opt to take Barkley. He is a generational talent and the Browns should not pass on him.
2) S Marcus Allen
2017 stats: 64 tackles, 1 sacks, 1 INT, 2 passes defended
Allen is not great in any specific area as a safety, but he does a lot of things very well. In that aspect, he reminds me of Marcus Maye as a prospect last season — a very well-rounded safety that could start on an NFL team immediately. Allen has the size, speed, instincts and tackling ability NFL teams looks for. It is possible he is taken in the first round, but I think he falls to the top of round two like Maye and Marcus Williams did last season. Side note: if you name your son Marcus, odds are he be comes an NFL safety drafted in the second round, apparently — Marcus Maye, Marcus Williams, Marcus Allen.
3) TE Mike Gesicki
2017 stats: 51 catches, 501 yards, 9 TDs
Career stats: 123 catches, 1,419 yards, 15 TDs
I had the privilege of watching two very good Big Ten tight ends in person this year, and Gesicki was one of them (you can read about the other in my Orange Bowl preview). He excels as both a receiver and a blocker. He is a major red zone threat at 6-foot-6, 255-pounds, and he proved this to me in person with a stellar one-handed touchdown catch against Maryland in the season finale. This is a deep draft at tight end so Gesicki may end up as the fourth off the board somewhere in the second round or even at the top of the third, but he is going to produce like a first rounder and have a very successful career in the NFL if he stays healthy.
4) MLB Jason Cabinda
2017 stats: 84 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
The well has run dry in recent years at a school that has been dubbed “linebacker-U,” but Cabinda will be the first linebacker drafted out of Penn State since 2013. He has good size at 6-foot-1, 235-pounds, a good first step that allows him to blow up runs in the backfield and the agility to successfully drop back into coverage. Inside linebacker is another deep position in this draft so Cabinda, a solid prospect who could immediately start in the NFL, will probably have to wait until the third or fourth round to hear his name called.
5) WR DaeSean Hamilton
2017 stats: 48 catches, 747 yards, 7 TDs
Career stats: 209 catches, 2,732 yards, 16 TDs
Full transparency — Hamilton is a guy I do not know a ton about. He has flown under the radar throughout his entire collegiate career and did not flash when I watched Penn State in person in either of the last two seasons. Reports on him are that he does not have any major strengths that would propel him up the draft board, but he does not have any glaring weaknesses that push him down the draft board. With his size (6-foot-1, 205-pounds) and hands, I could see him being a very thick slot receiver in the NFL that could be a nice third or fourth receiving option for a team. He is a late day three pick, but he could be a nice, under-the-radar find for a team (a la Quincy Enunwa in the seventh round in 2014).
More names to watch:
- DL Parker Cothren
- OL Brendan Mahon
1) DL Vita Vea
2017 stats: 12 games, 38 tackles, 3.5 sacks
Vea may have taken a step back in 2017 after a very strong 2016, but I still view him as a first round pick. You cannot coach 6-foot-5, 340-pounds, but size alone does not a prospect make. Vea is quick off the ball and uses his hands very well at the point of attack. He can be a top-notch run-stuffer in the NFL, and he is capable of providing a pass rush from the inside as well. Look for him to come off the board to a playoff team at the end of the first round.
2) WR Dante Pettis
2017 stats: 62 catches, 721 yards, 7 TDs; 22 punt returns, 428 yards, 4 TDs
Career stats: 162 catches, 2,216 yards, 24 TDs; 93 punt returns, 1,274 yards, 13.7 yards per return, 9 TDs
I enjoy staying awake for Pac-12 after dark so I have watched a lot of Dante Pettis, and I am not very impressed with him as a receiver. As a punt returner? Absolutely electric. But as a receiver? Not a fan. It is no accident his numbers are pedestrian. He drops passes, struggles as a route runner and does not have the size or strength to go up and get the deep balls. His strength lies in his quickness and elusiveness. It is why he excels as a punt returner and why he could be a good secondary option for a team in the slot. Depending on how he performs at the combine, Pettis will be either a third or fourth round pick.
3) RB Myles Gaskin
2017 stats: 208 carries, 1,282 yards, 19 TDs; 18 catches, 228 yards, 3 TDs
Career stats: 672 carries, 3,957 yards, 43 TDs; 43 catches, 384 yards, 4 TDs
There are two major knocks on Gaskin that will push him back to the 4th or 5th round — his size (5-foot-10, 190-pounds) and the wear and tear on his body (715 touches in three seasons). We have seen larger running backs flop in the NFL (Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, LenDale White, etc.) due, at least in part, to being overworked in college. How will all of those touches end up impacting a smaller running back like Gaskin? I don’t know what his NFL future holds or how a team will use him, but all he does is make plays when he has the ball in his hands.
More Names to watch:
- RB Lavon Coleman (7th round-undrafted free agent)
- DL Greg Gaines (3rd-4th Round)
- MLB Azeem Victor (recently arrested on suspicion of a DUI; 3rd-4th round pick)