In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 19
2012 NFL Draft picks: 4 – DT Devon Still (2nd round, 53rd overall), OG Johnnie Troutman (5th round, 149th overall), DE Jack Crawford (5th round, 158th overall), LB Nathan Stupar (7th round, 230th overall)
After the most tumultuous off-season in college football history, Penn State is anxious to get on the field and past all the off-field controversy that has dominated the headlines. Despite a tainted legacy, Joe Paterno turned Penn State into a mainstay on draft weekend, sending hundreds of players from State College to the NFL (a remarkable 251 draft picks during the Paterno era to be exact).
With head coach Bill O'Brien the face of the Nittany Lions' fresh start, the next few seasons will be interesting in Happy Valley. Since 2000, Penn State has averaged almost four draft picks every year, but with the loaded sanctions strapped to the program for the next few years, that average will almost certainly decline. With Penn State players given the freedom to transfer without penalty, the program lost several draftable players to other schools, including arguably the team's highest-rated NFL prospect RB Silas Redd, who bolted for Southern Cal. Nonetheless, over 90% of the roster stayed true to O'Brien and Penn State and a few of those seniors will be given draftable grades for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. OLB Gerald Hodges (6-2, 235)
It's only fitting that the top senior prospect at “Linebacker U” is linebacker Gerald Hodges (pictured above), one of the top defenders in the Big Ten. He didn't become a full-time starter until last season, but led the Nittany Lions in tackles as a junior. Hodges was one of the top linebacker recruits as a prep player in New Jersey, originally choosing Rutgers before switching his commitment to Penn State. After spending his freshman season on the bench, he saw more playing time as a sophomore, but battled a leg injury, earning just one start and finishing with 31 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Hodges earned First Team All-Big Ten honors in 2011 as a junior with a team-best 106 stops, adding 10.0 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. A former safety, he has near-ideal physical traits for the position with a good blend of size, strength and athleticism, flashing above average foot speed and quickness for his frame. Hodges is an aggressive downhill player, doing a nice job avoiding blocks as a blitzer and blowing up the pocket (finished second on the team last season in tackles for loss). He is an explosive chase-and-strike player with the aggressive play style and motor to be a heat-seeking missile on the football field. With only one season of starting production on his résumé, Hodges is still growing as a linebacker and developing between the ears, but his athleticism and active mentality could land him in the top-60 picks next April.
2. ILB Michael Mauti (6-2, 235)
Usually high-profile recruits out of the state of Louisiana end up in Baton Rouge, but Mauti followed his brother north to Penn State in order to be a part of the school's rich linebacker tradition. However, knee injuries have stunted his development and put his NFL future in doubt because of long-term durability concerns. Mauti, whose father starred at Penn State in the ‘70s and went on to have a seven-year NFL career, spurned several SEC offers out of high school and played in every game as a true freshman reserve in 2008. He suffered his first ACL injury (right knee) prior to the 2009 season and took a medical redshirt. Not yet at full health, Mauti was a part-time starter in 2010 before starting the first four games in 2011, but another ACL tear (left knee) ended his season. He is expected to return as a starter in 2012 as a senior, but with two surgically repaired knees, fans and scouts alike will be anxious to see how Mauti plays post-injury. He is a good, not great, athlete with adequate physical tools for the next level, but his best attributes are his natural awareness and decisive read/react skills. Based on his instincts and playing temperament, Mauti reminds scouts of former Lions Paul Posluszny and Sean Lee (both second round NFL Draft picks), but his durability, including a healthy senior season, will determine his NFL draft value.
3. DT Jordan Hill (6-1, 290)
With Devon Still playing on Sundays in 2012, Hill will be expected to step up and fill the leadership and production void this season on the Penn State defensive line. With a team-high 17 career starts, he is the most experienced member of a very young Nittany Lions' defense and will be an important voice in the locker room. A mediocre prep recruit out of Harrisburg, Hill signed with Rutgers, but changed his mind after Penn State, his dream school, offered him a scholarship. He was forced to take off his redshirt in 2009 and get on the field to help with depth issues, starting a combined four games over his first two seasons in College Station. Hill had his breakout campaign in 2011 as a junior (13 starts), recording 59 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble and earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honors. He has only average size for the position and lacks the dominating strength to bully or overpower blockers at the point of attack. Hill has nice burst off the snap with the lateral quickness and movement skills to be an active, relentless interior defender. He looks most comfortable as a one-gap nose tackle, but could be moved around a bit as a senior. Playing next to the conference's Defensive Player of the Year last season, Hill flew under the radar, but all eyes will be on him in 2012 and he will have every opportunity to impress NFL scouts and improve his mid-round grade.
4. C Matt Stankiewitch (6-3, 300)
The veteran member of the offensive line, Stankiewitch is entering his second year as Penn State's starting center. With limited experience last season, he had some hiccups as a junior, but grew into his role and should compete for All-Conference honors as a senior. A Pennsylvania native, Stankiewitch signed with Penn State as a junior in high school and redshirted in 2008 in College Station. He was the off-and-on starter at guard as a freshman in 2009, but was sidelined most of the 2010 season with an illness. Stankiewitch started all 13 games at center as a junior last year (led the team in snaps) and appears on the Rimington Award watch list entering the 2012 season. Considered a better run blocker than in pass protection, he is a tough, gritty player who does a nice job extending off the snap with good hand placement and strong wrists. Stankiewitch is an assignment sound player and looks to eliminate defenders from the play, blocking through the whistle. He has only one year of true starting experience, but does have playing experience at guard and is a team leader. Although better known as “Linebacker U,” Penn State has also produced several nasty interior linemen to the next level and Stankiewitch has draftable potential.
5. DE Pete Massaro (6-4, 265)
Another talented, but snake-bitten defender, Massaro has torn his ACL in both knees, but should be back to full health in 2012 as a senior, his final season to show NFL scouts that he can stay healthy. A three-star high school recruit out of Pennsylvania, he redshirted in 2008 and missed all of the 2009 season after tearing his ACL (right knee) during spring practice. Massaro returned in 2010 and started 11 games as a sophomore, finishing with 37 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He was slated to start opposite Jack Crawford last season, but tore his ACL in his other knee (left) and missed all of last year. After almost a year of rehab, Massaro is back on the field for 2012 and is penciled-in as one of the Lions starting defensive ends. He has adequate size and length, but loves to pin his ears back and get after the passer, showing some pass rush moves and raw strength. Massaro plays with an intense, non-stop motor, but isn't overpowering and has a tough time shedding blocks. Returning from another knee injury, he will be under a microscope as a senior and will have one final shot to be productive for Penn State and will need to stay durable if he has any hopes of playing in the NFL.
QB Matt McGloin (6-1, 200)
FB Michael Zordich (6-1, 240)
OG John Urschel (6-3, 290)*
OG Miles Dieffenbach (6-3, 290)*
DE Sean Stanley (6-1, 245)
OLB Mike Hull (6-0, 215)*
CB Stephon Morris (5-8, 190)
Photo credit: US Presswire