Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nittany Lions in the Pros - Defensive Backs

Nittany Lions in the Pros is a new feature article that I will be posting in the football doldrums that is February through July (minus the draft, naturally). I hope to have at least three different posts on former Penn Staters in professional football every week up to the draft (April 25-26, 2008). The first entries into the series will focus on each football position, thier NFL success, and who will be making the jump this year. I'll start with the positions that will be meaningful come April, when at least 15 former Nittany Lions hope to latch on to an NFL squad. We have 3 WRs, 3 DEs, 3 DBs, 1 OT, 1 OG, 1 OC, 1 FB, 1 OLB, and 1 K that could be drafted or signed as a free agent at the end of April. Today I'll be looking at the past performance of Penn State DBs and what that could mean for Lydell Sargeant, Tony Davis, and Anthony Scirrotto.

First, a few guidelines. The data I am using for these articles are from Pro Football Reference and only players who were active or drafted from 1966 through 2008 are included. Why 1966? That is the year that the AFL and NFL met for the first Super Bowl. The two leagues later officially merged in 1970. It's just a nice reference point. Plus, the game has changed a lot since football began way back in the early 1900's. 43 years of data should be enough.

Here are your Penn State DBs in the pros since 1966...

Click to enlarge statistics.

No one really jumps out here. Apparently Penn State doesn't produce the best DBs. In fact, no Penn State DB has been drafted in the 1st round and the highest was Bryan Scott, taken by the Falcons in the second round in 2003. NFL scouts apparently know a thing or two about Nittany Lion DBs, too. Not a single alum has made All Pro or the Pro Bowl as a CB or S.

This is a tough one. I'd narrow it down to David Macklin, Kim Herring, Paul Lankford, and Mike Zordich (name sound familiar?). Only Lankford and Zordich were in the league for more than 10 years, and Zordich started for 8 of his 12 seasons. He may be the most decorated Nittany Lion DB.

2009 DRAFT
Penn State is presenting at least three DBs for the 2009 draft: CBs Lydell Sargeant and Tony Davis and S Anthony Scirrotto. Only Sargeant has been invited to the combine.

Obviously the NFL and its scouts think Lydell Sargeant could be drafted in April. Right now he's probably a fringe 6th-7th rounder. He's a bit on the small size, at only 5-10, 186 lbs, so he'll have to show great speed and hands during combine drills. Sargeant never was a real standout at Penn State, but that may have been because the defensive scheme didn't utilize his strong points - breaks on the ball and his aggresiveness. We all know how PSU defenders play 15 yards away from the receiver, right? Not the best for players like Sargeant. He had a strong performance in the Texas vs The Nation All Star game which may have earned him the combine invite. If Sargeant displays the same knack for pass break ups and aggressive approach he should hear his name called late on April 26th. Sargeant appeared in 38 games as a Nittany Lion and amassed 108 tackles (2 for loss), 12 passes defensed, and 7 INTs.

Tony Davis is similar to Sargeant (5-10, 195) though isn't as aggressive or quick. He will not be in Indianapolis but can look forward to the Penn State Pro Day in March. There he will have to show added bulk but quicker feet if he wants to latch on as an Undrafted Free Agent. Davis may be better suited as a SS in the NFL, though he will never be a starter. Special teams is the best way for him to make his mark in the pros. Davis played in 46 games for Penn State, recording 121 tackles (3 for loss), 1 sack, 20 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries (both returned for TDs), and 3 INTs.

Anthony Scirrotto - if he'll even pursue the NFL - has a long ways to go. Though he had a penchant for big hits he was not the best overall tackler and was a liability at times in coverage. He could make a living as a special teams guy and maybe a dimeback but he does not have the size and speed combination teams want. Too often will he go for the big hit or play, leaving him vulnerable to smart QBs and WRs. Plus he has some character issues that will scare teams away. He won't be drafted but could be a priority UDFA. Scirrotto participated in 39 games for Penn State. He accumulated 184 tackles (2 for loss), 16 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery, 11 INTs, and 1 blocked kick.

The best bet for Penn State is to have Sargeant drafted and both the undrafted guys to latch on - and stay - with teams this summer. It's clear that Nittany Lion DBs are never dominant nor long-lasting in the NFL. It could be the scheme or it could be the type of players. Nevertheless, Penn State DBs haven't made much of an impact in the NFL. That probably won't change this season but adding at least two more alums to NFL rosters would be nice.

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