Can Penn State replace some truly special talent?
Penn State football players dominated the NFL Scouting Combine. We all knew Saquon Barkley had special talent and athleticism he would show off in Indianapolis, but former Nittany Lions Mike Gesicki and Troy Apke also put on a show for pro scouts.
In fact, Penn State players rolled to the top of the Combine “medal count,” as noted by Chase Goodbread of NFL.com. With Barkley and Gesicki leading the way, the Nittany Lions won nine gold medals and 13 overall – the next closest programs, N.C. State, UCLA and Oklahoma had six medals apiece and combined for five golds between them. Of course, the trio’s outstanding showing in Indy won’t help Penn State on the field in 2018, and James Franklin and his reworked coaching staff must find a way to replace several other key contributors.
Offensively, the Nittany Lions welcome back one of the top quarterbacks in the country – which is a big reason why we think the team is capable of competing for a playoff spot. However, Barkley was the team’s leading rusher, and also a weapon as a receiver and a playmaker on special teams. Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton, a departed senior tied for the team lead with nine touchdown catches. Guard Brendan Mahon must also be replaced.
The numbers are bigger on defense with eight starters gone from last year’s unit. Apke is one of four starters that graduated from the secondary, and the Lions lost two on the defensive line and two linebackers as well. Overall, the top five tacklers from last year’s group must be replaced. Talent remains and Franklin signed one of the highest rated recruiting classes in program history, but there will be a lot of new faces playing big roles in 2018.