Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nittany Lions in the Pros - Defensive Ends

The defensive backs have been covered. Now it's time for the defensive ends in my look at former Nittany Lions in the NFL. Much like the DBs, PSU DEs aren't as polished in the NFL as you may think.

Click to enlarge statistics.

There have been only 13 former Nittany Lion DEs to make NFL rosters in the last 43 years. Once again, none of them were 1st team All Pro selections or made the Pro Bowl. Of the 71 accrued seasons, only 31 of them were as starters (~44%). 9 of the 13 were drafted and 4 of them were in the 1st round. Unfortunately that statistic makes this data even worse. Not a single All Pro or Pro Bowler with 4 1st rounders, including the #1 overall pick? Ouch. Now Tamba Hali is still active and had a great rookie season in 2006, but he has seemed to plateau and hasn't garnered any real Pro Bowl talk. He's young and has time. Brow, Haynes, and Clark were definite busts. They combined for only 17 years in the league and 10 seasons of starting. Haynes didn't contribute to those 10 at all and lasted in the NFL only 3 seasons. This is rather depressing. Let's move on.

Again, no one really. It's difficult to judge when you don't have any recognized performances. Based on these stats I'd say Mike Hartenstine. He was in the NFL for 13 years, 9 of which he started. He wasn't a great player but was clearly solid and lived up to his late-2nd round draft pick status. The former PSU All-American won a Super Bowl with the Bears following the 1985 season.

2009 DRAFT
Will the status of Penn State DEs change in this draft? Doubtful, especially because Aaron Maybin will most likely be targeted as an OLB in 3-4 alignments. If he succeeds in bulking up he could be a DE in a 4-3 and bring some respectability to his alma mater at his original position but I'd place my money on him transitioning to OLB. Two other Nittany Lions will enter the draft as DEs, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines. On paper neither looks to be the DE hero Penn State is looking for.

Aaron Maybin burst onto the scenes early in the 2008 season, thanks to the suspension of fellow DE and draft prospect Maurice Evans. By mid-October Maybin was rising up draft and scout boards for the 2009 NFL Draft. He finished his redshirt sophomore season with 49 tackles (21 for loss), 12 sacks, 3 passes defensed, and 3 forced fumbles. He was named to the Big Ten 1st Team Defense and was selected as an All-American. He is currently ranked as the 9th best prospect for the 2009 Draft by ESPNs Scouts, Inc. and as the 2nd best DE by Mel Kiper (need ESPNs Insider to view list). Maybin may end up being a dynamic professional, capable of making numerous Pro Bowls. However it will more than likely be as an OLB which doesn't improve Penn State's image at DE.

Maurice Evans was considered a sure-fire 1st rounder for the 2009 draft prior to the 2008 college season. After all in 2007 he had 54 tackles (23 for loss), 12.5 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 5 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. A marijuana incident and dismal junior campaign later and Evans may not hear his name called until rounds 6 or 7 this April. NFL teams stress good character (OK, most of them do). The arrest and perceived "one-year wonder" status have hurt Evans greatly. Like Maybin, Evans is training diligently for the NFL combine and March Pro Day workouts. With added bulk but maintained speed and quickness, Evans could rise into the 4th or 5th round. If he keeps his head on straight and remains motivated he could be a former Penn State DE we can be extremely proud of. It could spiral downhill quickly, too.

The final DE prospect is Josh Gaines. Gaines was not invited to the combine so, like Tony Davis and Anthony Scirrotto, he will have to prove himself to scouts in March. Gaines is one of those unheralded Penn State players. He appeared in 50 games as a Nittany Lion and had 105 tackles (19 for loss), 5 sacks, 6 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries. Gaines was considered the stout run stopper where as the DE opposite him (Maurice Evans or Aaron Maybin) were more of the pass rush specialist. I truly see Gaines as a better prospect than NFL scouts do (that's what happens when you see the world through Penn State glasses). He isn't flashy but can be a stout DE and the point of attack (like Hartenstine). Gaines has the size and frame to add bulk and could be a situational 4-3 DE. He won't be drafted but some time will sign him as an UDFA. Count on it.

Penn State should have two former DEs drafted in April. Only one of them will play DE in the pros. Evans has the talent to excel and be a real surprise to a team that takes him in the middle rounds. Gaines won't hear his name called but can work his way on to an NFL roster with a great March Pro Day. This does not look like the year Penn State DEs will gain notoriety.

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