Penn State players mulling draft options
UNIVERSITY PARK — Penn State won’t have any players skipping out on the bowl game in order to start preparing for the NFL draft, but several Nittany Lions will have decisions to make after the game about possibly turning pro early.
Defensive end Shareef Miller, for instance, already has made his decision. He’s just not ready to share it yet.
“(I’ll) make an announcement after the bowl game,” Miller said Friday during PSU’s bowl media day.
No other player asked about his plans gave any sort of definitive answer Friday, with each saying he’s focused on playing Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 and then going from there.
That includes running back Miles Sanders and offensive lineman Connor McGovern, the ones most likely, along with Miller, to possibly forgo their final year of college eligibility. Receiver Juwan Johnson also could be in that mix, based perhaps on measurables and potential more so than his disappointing performance during the year.
As he sat down to field questions from reporters, the first thing asked of Sanders was about his future plans.
“That’s the first question?” Sanders said with a laugh.
It’s that time of year.
Sanders took over for Saquon Barkley as the starting tailback this season and has rushed for 1,223 yards (5.9 per carry) and nine touchdowns. The junior also has caught 22 passes for 132 yards.
“I haven’t really made a decision,” Sanders said of his draft plans.
It was an easy decision for him, however, about playing in the bowl game, at a time when some players are choosing to skip.
“Oh no, 100 percent I’m playing,” Sanders said.
Sanders battled fumble issues this season and can improve his pass-catching skills, reasons he could come back to college for another year. But as a running back, he could decide to turn pro early and save his body from the pounding he would receive playing for free in college for another year.
Sanders is rated as the No. 4 running back available for the draft by Draft Tek, which has him going with the 42nd overall pick (second round) in its latest mock draft.
If that estimate is anywhere close to being accurate, then Sanders may have a very difficult time coming back to college, even if he does have things he can improve on.
Coach James Franklin is open and honest with each and every player about his pro potential and has meetings with each one about what it could mean to leave early for the draft. He and the assistant coaches already held meetings with the players the Sunday after the regular season ended.
“To me it’s not about convincing them to stay, it’s let me give you all the information that I can get based on my resources and contacts so that you can make an educated decision, make a great decision,” Franklin said.?“Where I think people struggle sometimes is they think the coach is always going to tell the guy to come back. I told Saquon Barkley a year before his last season that he needs to leave. Obviously at the end of the season, it was a pretty easy decision. But I told him a year before.”
Franklin said the coaches and players are “working together” to make the best decision for everyone involved.
“It really should be a very complementary process in decision making,” Franklin said. “What I mean by that is if the guy leaves early and he’s a first- or second-round draft choice, that’s good for him and his family. That’s also good for Penn State football. If he leaves early and gets drafted very late or not drafted at all, that’s bad for him and his family, and that’s bad for Penn State football.”
McGovern, a junior, has been rated as the No. 1 guard available for the draft by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. That type of hype would give any player reason to consider turning pro early.
“I have to make some decisions,” said McGovern, a three-year starter.
McGovern called his meeting with Franklin “helpful” to the decision-making process.
“I learned a couple new things,” he said. “Coach Franklin had different perspective on different things. I was able to see what other people outside the immediate (Penn State) family had to say about me.”
Miller has seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss this season, and the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder is rated the No. 18 defensive end available by Draft Tek.
Johnson has 23 catches for 339 yards and one TD, but he also dropped about 10 balls this season. Still, he’s got the size (6-4, 230) and speed the NFL wants, and if he were to decide to turn pro early, he potentially could put up impressive numbers at the combine or pro day and make scouts overlook some of his drops issues.
Franklin said Friday that there are fluid conversations with the players about these matters, and that things are constantly evolving. The coach also likes to see players take their time with the process rather than decide early.
“You want to have as much information as you possibly can to make a great decision,” Franklin said. “The later you can do that, the better.”