Giger: Ranking Penn State’s real ‘Supa Six’ when it comes to NFL potential

Penn State’s “Supa Six” needs a new member, particularly when it comes to NFL potential.

Tight end Jesse James isn’t part of the self-proclaimed Supa Six, but if you break down the best NFL prospects on the Nittany Lions, he’s in the mix with five of the other members – left tackle Donovan Smith, receiver Allen Robinson, cornerback Adrian Amos, defensive end Deion Barnes and tight end Kyle Carter.

Running back Bill Belton is Supa by association only so far, and he figures to be no more than the third-string tailback this season.

Penn State didn’t have a strong presence in this year’s NFL draft, with only three players selected and just one before the fourth round (defensive tackle Jordan Hill in the third).

The Lions do have some outstanding young talent, though, and here are my rankings of the Supa Six NFL prospects on the squad (among those who have played already, so that doesn’t include freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg or tight end Adam Breneman).

1. Donovan Smith

Besides quarterback, left tackle is the most important position in football. Want proof? The top two and three of the top four picks in this year’s draft were left tackles.

A sophomore, Smith is a mountain of a young man at 6-foot-5, 327 pounds. He might not be a dominant, pancake-blocking tackle just yet, but he’s only played one season.

Smith stands to benefit greatly from Penn State’s strength program over the next few years. It helps, among other things, offensive linemen gain explosiveness off the ball and build strength to sustain blocks.

If Smith progresses as expected and continues to get stronger – and since he’ll be playing in a pro-style offense that throws the ball a lot – he has a chance to develop into a top 10 pick, if not higher.

2. Deion Barnes

The Big Ten’s top freshman last year also plays a highly coveted position, and like Smith, he has up to three more years in college to get substantially better.

Barnes had six sacks and 10 tackles for loss last season, and he’s already proven to be outstanding against the pass. He admitted he needs to against the run, but at 6-4, 244, he has the size and will only continue to add strength the longer he stays in school.

It’s hard to fault Aaron Maybin for leaving PSU early since he was a first-round pick and got a huge contract, but physically he wasn’t ready for the NFL. Barnes could find himself in a similar situation after this season or next, and if he does decide to leave early, hopefully things turn out better for him than they did for Maybin.

3. WR Allen Robinson, Jr.

He’s already a great route runner, and even though he had a school-record 77 catches for 1,013 yards last year, he dropped a good number of balls. He also has good size (6-3, 204) and speed to succeed in the NFL.

Don’t be surprised if Robinson’s receiving totals drop this season, perhaps substantially. The Lions will have a new, young quarterback who will struggle at times with reads and throws, plus there are so many receiving targets, led by an abundance of tight ends.

Robinson will only improve his route running if he stays in school two more years, and that will help make him a good NFL receiver.

4. CB Adrian Amos, Jr.

It seems odd having Amos this low on the list because he’s a terrific talent who could become a mainstay on an NFL roster. Some will argue he’s the best player on the team, and they can make a good case for it.

Amos is counted on to be the shutdown corner for PSU, but he might be better suited to be a hard-hitting, nose-for-the-football safety at the next level.

5. TE Jesse James, So.

He’s massive at 6-7, 258 and has outstanding receiving skills, plus he’s only going to get better and better playing in Bill O’Brien’s offense.

Longtime PSU reporter Mark Brennan of surprised me when he ranked James No. 2 on his pro potential list, behind only Smith. But the rationale is sound since James is a huge guy who can catch the ball, and with the way tight ends are being utilized in the NFL, he could become a major weapon in the pros.

6. TE Kyle Carter, So.

He came out of nowhere to catch 36 passes last season, and he, too, will only get better with three more years of college. He might have been better than James last season, but at 6-3, 240, Carter is significantly smaller, so James gets the nod in these rankings.

The best thing about this list is that all six players have at least two years of eligibility remaining, so as long as no one turns pro early, they will continue to be the cornerstones of the team.

When they do decide to turn pro, most of it not all of them should be considered good draft prospects who could be picked in the first two or three rounds.

Until then, it will be entertaining for Penn State fans to watch this slightly altered Supa Six continue to grow into college stars.