The Penn State to Seattle connection has been a strong one over the years, most recently through the young careers of Jordan Hill and Garry Gilliam. Although Penn State hasn't sent many players to the draft the past few years, these two important pieces still found their way to the great northwest. This year however, the Nittany Lions have a much more notable presence in Indianapolis than years past. Offensive lineman Donovan Smith, placekicker Sam Ficken, tight end Jesse James, defensive back Adrian Amos and linebacker Mike Hull are all be in attendance. There are two other former Penn Staters who could interest the Seahawks as well, in offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach and defensive end Deion Barnes.
Some of these names will sound familiar to you Field Gullers already, particularly Donovan Smith and Jesse James, but there are a few other names that Seahawks fans should get used to hearing about as we inch closer to April 30th.
OL Donovan Smith
Height/Weight: 6'5"/335 lbs
The key thing that jumps out to me as a Penn State fan right away here, is the weight that Smith has listed on his NFL.com draft profile. Smith played his redshirt junior season this past year at closer to 350 pounds than 335, which had a clear effect on his play as the year went on. After breaking out as a redshirt sophomore in 2013, many expected Smith to take the next step into elite territory, but that never quite happened. He was far from the worst part of Penn State's offensive line (which was terrible), but he also wasn't the dominant bookend for Christian Hackenberg that he was supposed to be. He lost a little bit of quickness, and didn't seem to be completely "there" for the entirety of the season.
Apparently, he's left all of that in the past though. Smith has gotten rave reviews since his postseason workouts and all star games have begun, and has been shooting up draft boards as a result. Daniel Jeremiah of ESPN even ranked him as his #48 prospect, stating that he "has all of the tools to be a solid starting right tackle early on, and he could eventually develop into a left tackle." I actually think he might fit better as a guard at the next level, though. I even had him slated to play at left guard this season with incoming 6'7" Junior College left tackle, Paris Palmer set to battle for a tackle spot. At his best in college, he was a fierce run blocker and an adequate to above average pass blocker, who lacked some lateral quickness but was able to get away with in in college at the tackle spot.
Overall, I think Donovan would be a really nice fit for the Hawks, thanks to the versatility he'll have to alternate between the guard and tackle spots, particularly if the team moves on from James Carpenter. He could also fill the roll of insurance for Justin Britt, should the right tackle fail to take the next step in his development. If he's available for them in the third round, that would be the ideal time to maximize his value and bolster the offensive line for the present and the future (trading down from the second round pick to early in the third to take him seems to be a realistic possibility as well).
TE Jesse James
Height/Weight: 6'7"/254 lbs
Jesse James will go down as one of the most productive tight ends in Penn State history. Yet, it doesn't feel that way, and probably won't for a long time, thanks to all that he didn't do. At his height, James was a dominant pass catcher unlike any other. Tight ends who stand at 6'7", can bench press 225 pounds 22 times and run 4.6 40-yard dashes don't just grow on trees. He was built to be a weapon on the football field, and showed many flashes of being that guy. From high pointing passes in the red zone for easy scores, to breaking tackles and outrunning the defense, James did it all when he was on his game. Arguably his most important moment as a Nittany Lion came in this year's Pinstripe Bowl, when James used his speed and his power to bowl over a defender en route to a first down on a 3rd and 15 in overtime (the video link wouldn't embed for some reason, so just click that last link to see the play).
For all of the upside though, James left a lot of Penn State fans disappointed. It wasn't entirely his fault, as new offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, John Donovan, seemed to go away from the biggest strength of the team and his own positional focus in many big moments. James did a lot to earn the reputation as an occasional underachiever on his own, too. The biggest thing that stood out to me, was that he was never one of those players who gave 100% of his effort on every down. He would commonly take plays off and run uninspired routes or be slow off the line of scrimmage. That's not to say that he would only show interest in plays where he would get the ball, but consistency is definitely not one of the words I would use to describe him. The other aspect of James' game that left Penn State fans begging for injured but supremely talented tight end Adam Breneman to heal quicker, was his blocking.
With his size, you would imagine James to be a guy who could very easily handle an extra guy off the edge. A lot of times, he was able to fulfill that projection. The problem was that the majority of the time, he looked more like a running back trying to block a pass rushing linebacker. In my perspective, this goes back to the lack of energy on every play. James showed during his Penn State career that he could effectively block when he wanted to block. It was pretty apparent that it was not something he wanted to, or liked doing, however.
All in all, James has a lot of holes in his game, but also has a lot of strengths. If a team thinks they can maximize his receiving abilities, make it clear that he won't play if he doesn't leave it all on the field and minimize the amount of actual blocking he'll have to do at the next level, he could be a really nice player in the NFL. I personally wouldn't take him before the early fourth round due to his inconsistent track record, but he's likely going to have an impressive combine performance that will place him in the third round.
DB Adrian Amos
Height/Weight: 6'0"/209 lbs
Adrian Amos was a jack of all trades for Penn State during his four years in State College. He started his career as a cornerback and special teams ace, picking off a pass in his very first game as a collegiate athlete. He stepped his game up another level as a sophomore, and quickly became a lockdown cornerback on one of the country's best defenses (led by now-NFL linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, and Seahawks DT Jordan Hill). The plan for Amos as a junior was to move him to safety to allow his supreme athleticism and hard-hitting ability to shine, but incredibly inconsistent play from the cornerbacks forced him to spend a lot of his time moving back to his former position. This past season, the cornerback spot was infused with multiple talented freshmen who allowed Amos to settle in his role at safety and as the leader of the secondary.
Adrian Amos was to Penn State what Kam Chancellor is the Seahawks, currently. The defense could still function without him, but it wasn't anywhere close to the same level as it was with him at 100%. Not to mention the fact that Amos was consistently the hard-hitting hammer of the defense for much of his Nittany Lion career. This past season though, he took on a bit of a different role. Instead of being the guy who showed up with bone-crushing hits on every possession (that title belonged to freshman Marcus Allen), he was the guy who held the defense together by doing a little bit of everything.
As time went on, his name was announced less and less over the Beaver Stadium speakers, but not because his play was declining. Rather, instead of making the high risk/high reward plays, he turned into more of a steady force that provided support in all areas. CBS Sports says that he is a "sound and quality player, but doesn't make many big plays." This actually shows how Amos has grown as a player over the years, as he used to be more of a guy who would be okay with giving up 30 yards if it meant he had a shot at a huge hit or an interception, where now he is more focused on making the safe play.
Amos has his weaknesses. He doesn't have blazing speed. He is known to take some bad routes both to ball carriers and receivers. He doesn't truly have a position that stands out as his absolute best fit. It is for this reason that Amos is likely to slide a bit more than he should, possibly into the sixth round. If that happens, the Seahawks are the perfect team to take advantage of that slide, and pick him up in a later round. He has the versatility that the desires. He has the ability to backup Chancellor, as well as challenge Tharold Simon/whoever else for an outside corner spot or handle a slot receiver. He also has a lot of experience playing on special teams, and would fit in nicely with the Hawks' coverage teams.
If I had to take a guess as to which Penn Stater (if any) the Seahawks would like to pick up, Amos would be my pick.
OG Miles Dieffenbach
Height/Weight: 6'3"/305 lbs
If the Seahawks end up picking up Dieffenbach, it will force me to lament the lack of the Real Rob Report even more. Miles was widely know as the funniest guy on the team for the last few years, and was always a team leader. As a football player though, Dieffenbach may have been one of the most important players on the 2014 team.
When news broke that Dieffenbach had torn his ACL in spring practice back in 2013, Penn State's offensive line became even more of a focal point than it already was. Everyone knew it was going to be a disaster, and losing its arguable best and most consistent player didn't help matters one bit. The Nittany Lion running game was a disaster, and defensive tackles put Hackenberg under extreme duress (the Lions started two converted defensive tackles at guard, and not the good kind like JR Sweezy). When Miles finally returned, after missing the season's first eight games, it was night and day.
Granted, the rest of the line had time to gel and learn from their mistakes, but Dieffenbach's return also signaled the return of some semblance of a running game, and far less pressure right in Hackenberg's face. Simply put, Miles was a difference maker, all the way up until the Pinstripe Bowl, which he missed most of with an "undisclosed lower body injury".
The senior captain was initially recruited as a four star center, so he has experience in the middle as well as both guard positions. He represents a different style than the Seahawks are used to, as he is more advanced as a pass blocker than a run blocker. In that way, he could be a nice fit to alternate snaps a bit with James Carpenter (assuming he stays) or JR Sweezy. He is very athletic for his size (although the injury possibility will be scary). He's more of a smart player than an overpowering one, and will use his technical abilities to defeat blockers rather than pure power. CBS Sports projects him as a fifth round pick, but I could see him slipping a little bit and being a bargain pick, especially for a team that could use a little more competition at guard and a competent backup at center.
The other three Penn Staters could be possible fits for the Seahawks as well, so I'll run through them quickly.
DE Deion Barnes (6'4"/260)- Barnes is someone who I thought was going to be a first round pick after his freshman season saw him named to the Freshman All-American team. Unfortunately, he never really took the next step in his development. He experienced a very disappointing season in his redshirt sophomore campaign that saw him face lots of double teams that he couldn't fight out of. He bounced back in major way in 2014, partially thanks to the emergence of the fantastic DT duo of Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. Barnes has the look of a future difference maker off the edge in the NFL, and with the right coaching and proper strength training, he could be. Seattle could be a nice place for him, with plenty of time to work on his game behind Avril, Bennett, Irvin, Marsh and co. He's projected in the 5th-6th round range, but I could see him going un-drafted after an uninspiring pre-draft season (no combine invite).
LB Mike Hull (6'0"/232)- If Hull was just a few inches taller, he would have all the makings of the next great NFL linebacker to come out of Penn State. He was a monster and the emotional leader for Penn State's fantastic 2014 defense, which was his first full season healthy since 2012 he played through almost all of 2013 with an injury). Hull started his career as an outside linebacker, and was seen as the playmaker of the unit. He always displayed a nose for the ball, with some huge turnovers in his time at PSU. He is a strong tackler and has great instincts. He showed the ability to hang with tight ends and running backs in coverage, but maybe not NFL-level ones. He excelled at middle linebacker during his senior season. He has all the makings of a stud special teamer and backup linebacker, possibly in the mold of a Heath Farwell. He could be had in the 8th round, or as a UFA.
K Sam Ficken (6'2"/186)- ESPN's number one rated kicker for this year's draft would really only make sense for Seattle as a UFA, and could provide the team a little bit of insurance if they decide to move on from Hausch Money in a few years. You may know Ficken's name as the guy who missed four field goals and an extra point to lose a 13-12 game against Virginia in 2012. After that, Ficken rebounded to set the Penn State record for consecutive field goals, as well as multiple game winning kicks, including the one to beat a ranked Wisconsin team in overtime to end that same 2012 season. He also recently won the Quicken Loans speed kicking competition. He also does a fantastic job filling his assigned lane on kickoffs. It probably speaks more to Penn State's special teams than his own abilities, but Ficken isn't afraid to mix it up with a kick return, and had several special teams tackles over the last three years.
So there you go. 2,500+ words about seven guys that might (but probably won't) get drafted by the Seahawks. Isn't draft season the best/worst?